Book Review: Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology Behind the World’s Most Pungent Food — With Over 100 Recipes by Robin Cherry
A history of the world and medicine as seen through the eyes of garlic, plus a lesson on the many varieties of garlic, how to grow it, and where to find other garlic lovers. Topped off with a collection of over 100 recipes from all over the world featuring garlic, both historic and new.
When I saw this book on NetGalley, I knew I needed a review copy. I’m a passionate home chef with a love of garlic and a never-ending interest on the history of food. This book’s title indicated it would hit all three of those interests, and its content did not let me down.
The book is divided into two parts. Part One focuses on everything but the recipes. Part Two is the recipes. Part One’s chapters cover the history of using garlic for health and for food, garlic in legends and lore, and how to grow your own. This is the section that most entertained my friends and fiancé, as they found themselves the recipients of random facts about garlic. One friend received an email of all of the types of garlic that originated in the country of Georgia; another a tip that growing some near her fruit tree might be beneficial for the tree. Here are a few of my favorite facts that I learned in Part One:
- The world’s first-known medical text also mentions medical uses of garlic (loc 129)
- Garlic is designated as a drug in Japan (loc 222)
- Spanish immigrants were the most likely to survive during the colonization of the Western hemisphere, thanks to their consumption of garlic. Carrying the cloves protected them from disease-carrying mosquitoes. (loc 309-313)
- Garlic vodka is used as an antiflu remedy in Russia (Bonus: the book has the recipe for making this for yourself). (loc 392)
- “In addition to preventing colds, garlic is effective in killing viral meningitis, viral pneumonia, influenza, and herpes.” (loc 423)
- “Garlic also kills bacteria directly, by invading its cells and causing them to explode, thus bacteria has not opportunity to develop a resistance to it.” (loc 427)
- “Green-colored garlic is stronger than white garlic because it contains more of the aromatic sulfuric compounds.” (loc 922)
- The earliest bridal bouquets incorporated garlic to ward off the evil spirits. (loc 1067)
- There are over 200 varieties of garlic. (loc 1203)
Part One ends with tips on how to cultivate garlic and a selection of the various types of garlic, including notes on where they grow best, how they look, and how they taste. Garlic may be broadly divided into hardnecks and softnecks, but there are subvarieties within these two main ones. (Softnecks are the ones that you can braid). My one criticism of Part One is that I wish it had gone more in-depth into the history of garlic all over the world. It left me wanting more. Perhaps there isn’t more, but I certainly wish there was. I would additionally note that, although I personally enjoyed reading about the many varieties of garlic and took copious notes, some readers might find the listing of the types a bit tedious to read and may not be expecting it in a book of this nature.
Part Two is the recipes. It starts with notes on how to handle and prepare garlic. The recipes are then divided into: dips, sauces, and condiments; bread, pizza, and pasta; soups; salads and salad dressings; appetizers; poultry; lamb; beef; seafood; vegetarian; side dishes; dessert; and historical recipes. I marked off a total of 19 recipes that I definitely want to try, which is quite a lot for me. Often I’ll read a cookbook and only be interested in one or two of the recipes. The recipes cover a nice variety of cuisines, and the historic recipes are fascinating, although most readers will probably not try them as they require things such as fresh blood. Besides the historic recipes, the dessert ones are probably the most surprising. I actually did mark one off as one I’d like to try–Roasted Garlic Creme Brulee.
I have managed to make one of the recipes so far: Garlic Scape Pesto (loc 1649). For those who don’t know, garlic scapes are the green stalks that grow out of the bulbs. They must be trimmed (on most varieties). They taste a bit like a cross between garlic and leeks. Our local produce box happened to give us a bunch of them right around when I read the book, and I’m a big pesto fan, so I decided to try the recipe.
The recipe is supposed to make 2 cups. I halved it, and somehow still wound up with 2 cups of pesto. The recipe suggests storing the leftovers under a layer of olive oil. I found that unnecessary. My extra kept in the fridge in a tupperware container for a week without adding a layer of protective oil. The pesto was truly delicious though. I partially chose it since I have made garlic scape pesto before, and I must say I found this one much more delicious than the other recipe that I tried. I am looking forward to trying the others I am interested in, although I will probably continue to halve the recipes, as I am only cooking for two.
Overall, foodies with a love of garlic will find this book both fascinating and a source of new recipes to try. Some readers may wish for more information, while others may find themselves a bit more informed on the varieties of garlic than they were really looking for. All will find themselves chock full of new information and eager to try new ways to use garlic…and perhaps even to start growing some heirloom varieties for themselves.
4 out of 5 stars
Cookbook Review: Moosewood Restaurant Favorites: The 250 Most-Requested, Naturally Delicious Recipes from One of America’s Best-Loved Restaurants by Moosewood Collective
Moosewood Restaurant is a famous vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York, founded in the 1970s. According to their website, they have published twelve cookbooks prior to this one. This cookbook aims to collect together the recipes that have proven themselves to be the most popular in their restaurant over the last 40 years.
Moosewood is pretty famous in the vegetarian crowd. It’s a name most vegetarians have heard, and I know some vegetarian who have even eaten at the restaurant. I’d always been curious about their cookbooks, so I was excited to see the newest one available on Netgalley. Given the fame, I was expecting something inspiring and special. Instead I found a rather ho-hum collection of decidedly average pescetarian recipes.
Moosewood claims everywhere (including on the main page of their website) that they are a vegetarian restaurant. But they aren’t. They are pescetarian. There is an entire fish section in the book. Calling yourself vegetarian when you’re not is misleading and wrong. (If you would like to read further on why it’s offensive for pescetarians to call themselves vegetarians, check out this post). I’m kind of shocked there isn’t more of an outcry in the veg community about this.
The rest of the cookbook (that is actually vegetarian) consists of: appetizers; dips and spreads; soups; sandwiches; burgers; main dish salads; curries and stews; beans; frittatas and pies; casseroles; stuffed vegetables; wraps, rolls, and strudels; tofu; pasta; side salads; sides; side grains; salad dressings; condiments and salsas; sauces and gravies; desserts; baking pan sizes and equivalents; and guide to ingredients and basic cooking. It’s a huge, long cookbook. But out of all these recipes, I only found eight I wanted to try. Usually I want to try at least every other recipe in a cookbook. The recipes here that failed to spark my interest fell into one of three categories: 1) they were painfully obvious and overly simple 2) they were deeply unhealthy, swimming in cups of oil, heavy cream, and tons of eggs or 3) they weren’t vegetarian because they contained fish.
Some examples of the painfully obvious include quinoa with veggies, basic chili, thai vegetable curry, and black bean sweet potato burritos. You don’t need a cookbook from a famous restaurant to give you these recipes. I’d say otherwise if there was anything about their recipes that at least made them a variation of the norm, but I have seen the same thing over and over again in multiple recipes in cookbooks, blogs, and websites.
As for the unhealthy recipes, beyond the already mentioned high fat and an unnecessary quantity of eggs, there were things like the suggestion to top your corn on the cob with mayonnaise. Or the fact that most of their dressing recipes contained 1/4 to 3/4 cup of oil. The recipes routinely don’t take a well-rounded diet into consideration. Protein doesn’t get enough attention. For instance, a vegetarianized jambalaya recipe has zero protein in it. And perhaps it’s not unhealthy, but I found it very odd that a restaurant’s cookbook called for canned pumpkin for their pumpkin pie.
On the plus side, the cookbook is well-organized and illustrated with beautiful pictures. Although, the recipes are written out in paragraph form. I generally prefer a numbered list. But this is a personal preference, and the recipes are easy enough to follow.
I have made one of the eight recipes I selected out as possibilities so far. I made the Winter Salad Plate (page 110). Since the recipe states it serves 8 as a side salad and my intention was to have it as a side salad with egg sandwiches with my partner and a friend, I halved the recipe. Also, since I didn’t have greens from my CSA that week, I replaced the greens with more root vegetables. The consensus was it was yummy, but the dressing needed a touch of bitterness like a vinegar and less oil. I don’t mind having to adapt a recipe a bit to get it just right but with a high-quality cookbook you don’t have to do that.
In spite of the shortcomings, the recipes do indeed work, and the cookbook is well organized and prettily illustrated. Recommended to pescetarians and omnivores who don’t cook a lot, so the recipes would be less familiar to them, who also don’t mind a high fat/oil and low protein content in their food. Also recommended to long-time fans of Moosewood.
3 out of 5 stars
Sophie Mae and her best friend decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) as soon as the opportunity popped up in their small town. One day when they’re volunteering at the farm, a dead body is found in the compost heap. Sophie Mae is determined not to get involved this time, after all, she’s got enough on her plate with her soap making business and trying to make a baby with her husband, Detective Barr. But Barr’s boss asks her to help identify the body by talking to the folks in the community , and she just can’t say no.
Cozy mysteries consist of a mystery (that’s not too explicit or bloody) paired with an unlikely investigator, some sort of crafting, a good dose of humor, and a punny title. In other words, they were basically made for me. (Some even come with recipes!) So when this one popped up on NetGalley, I snatched it up, and I’m so glad I did! McRae successfully pulls together everything that makes a cozy great.
The plot is excellent. The murder mystery isn’t too gory, but is also realistic. The body is found in a compost heap, yes, but it’s just a dead body. There aren’t slashed off heads hanging out in tea kettles or something. Everyone is appropriately disturbed by the finding. There’s no ho-hum just another day element at play. Although I admit I had figured out whodunit before the end, the why and when were still a mystery. Plus I never felt that Sophie Mae was being stupid and just missing something. Why it was taking her a bit to see whodunit made total sense. I also really appreciate that GLBTQ people are included in the plot without a big deal being made out of it. They are just another character, which is just how I like my diversity in genre literature.
The characters are fairly three-dimensional for a cozy. Everyone had something I liked and didn’t like about their personality, even the heroine, which is key to characters seeming realistic. There were also a wide variety of people present from Sophie Mae’s best friend’s daughter to an elderly friend of the family. This range is something that is often missing in literature, and I liked seeing it here.
What I really come to cozies for, though, I admit, is the integration of crafting. In this case the theme is participating in a CSA, so parts of the book are devoted to how a CSA works from acquiring your weekly allotment to figuring out how to use it to cooking with it. I really appreciated the quips about having so much of a certain produce that they’re coming out your ears. I also really enjoyed the scenes that discussed taking real time out to cook dinner and what that feels like, such as talking about how garlic smells when you first throw it into a hot pan. I know not all readers enjoy this, but honestly that’s part of the point of a cozy. Taking the time to linger on crafts and talents that take time to cultivate but are well worth it, and McRae incorporated this element very smoothly into the book. I do wish some recipes or CSA tips had been included, but it’s possible I just didn’t see them since I had an advanced copy.
Overall this book has a dash of everything enjoyable about a cozy mystery. Recommended to cozy fans, particularly those in or considering a CSA.
4 out of 5 stars
Cookbook Review: Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World by Gil Mars
Vegans beware. When this says it’s a vegetarian cookbook, it really means it! Almost every recipe is drenched in animal products, primarily dairy and eggs.
The Introduction explains the various food cultures that have sprung up in Jewish communities around the world, complete with maps and such. This part was fascinating, although I felt that it was a bit too Old Wold focused. I know for instance that there are strong Jewish cultures in Argentina and Brooklyn, but they are not included in the book.
After the Introduction is an explanation of vegetarian foods incorporated into Jewish holidays. I found this part rather averagely done and skimmed over it.
The recipes are oddly divided up. The chapters are: cheese and dairy spreads; pickles, marinated vegetables, and relishes; salads; soups; savory pastries; cooked vegetable dishes; vegetable stews; legumes; grains; dumplings and pasta; eggs; sauces and seasonings. As you can tell, some of the recipes are put together based on the type of dish (salad, soup) and others based on the ingredients (eggs, legumes). This makes the book appear disorganized. Also the complete lack of dessert is sad.
Beyond the maps in the Introduction, there are no pictures. Additionally, the recipes are mostly designed to serve 6 to 8. I’m not sure what planet the author is from, but that is not a typical family sized meal in America. I must admit, that I didn’t try any of the recipes because I couldn’t find a single one I wanted to try. They are all completely swimming in cholesterol and insane food portion sizes. Looking at the soups, which should presumably be a healthier option, the Persian Onion Soup on page 123 contains 3 eggs and the Hungarian Cream of Mushroom Soup on page 125 contains TWO CUPS of sour cream. Similarly, almost all of the breads and pastries are fried. My cholesterol practically spiked just looking at the cookbook.
Essentially, then, this book is a good introduction to Old World style Jewish food but ignores the healthier options that I know from experience exist in Jewish communities in the Americas. It is difficult to enjoy the cookbook since there are no pictures or colors. Additionally, all of the recipes are designed for 6 to 8 servings, which is a bit large for the typical American household. Overall, then, I would recommend this book to those with a vested interest in Jewish culture and cuisine who can see past the dull layout and design of the cookbook.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
With an intro endorsement from actor Woody Harrelson, who just so happens to also be vegan, Chef Renee Loux Underkoffler seeks to present not just the ins and outs of raw cooking, but also the beauty in it.
So, I picked up a copy of this via Better World Books back when a close friend and I were getting into trying some new raw food recipes. They’re great in the summer for a change from salads when you want something cool, fresh, and healthy to eat. Plus, I’m always interested in learning more, so I was excited to see that Underkoffler provided more than just recipes, but also chapters featuring the benefits of the various raw ingredients and preparation techniques. Unfortunately, ultimately this cookbook really did not work for me.
First there’s the fact that a book seeking to show the beauty of raw foods has zero color pictures and almost no black and white illustrations. It is almost entirely straight text. Very unattractive in a cookbook!
Second, the background information goes on for an excruciatingly long time. The recipes do not start until page 261 of the book! And as much as I like learning more about some veggies and fruits, it felt like information overload to me. If I really wanted to know all the properties of every fruit and vegetable out there, I’d become a nutritionist. Knowing the basics, such as what is provided by the scientists in DASH–lots of servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables are good for you–that’s really all the consumer needs to know. Well, that and how to properly assemble the foods for the right tastes and textures.
So I was pleased to get to the recipes, but only found three that I found to be at all doable by me. The rest required either an insane amount of prep time, special tools, or special ingredients that even with all of my grocery options in a city like Boston I was unable to even fathom where I would find them. (Vegans should also note that the recipes make abundant use of raw honey).
I, admittedly, have yet to try the three recipes I did find, primarily because they all require a blender, and mine is broken. I did save them to try in the summer during a hot spell of a week. But even if Underkoffler’s recipes are delicious, they are overly involved and intimidating, even to someone like myself who cooks a ton. I suppose her market might be raw chefs, but then why have the entire beginning of the book be toned toward beginners with no idea what’s in fruits and vegetables? The book is a bit of a mystery to me, honestly.
Ultimately, although the title of the cookbook is lovely, the recipes and content themselves are not. Underkoffler’s cookbook lacks a true direction. It is unclear if her target audience is talented raw chefs or the average American developing an interest in raw foods. As such, neither audience is properly served. I would not recommend starting with this book if you have a new interest in raw cooking, but chefs may be interested in flipping through the recipes in the back to see if any are new ideas to them.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Better World Books