Food from the Earth

By Stuart Mitchner

“After all there’s a lot in that vegetarian fine flavour of things from the earth….”
—James Joyce, from Ulysses

So thinks Leopold Bloom on his way to lunch at Davy Byrne’s in Dublin on June 16, 1904. He settles for a cheese sandwich. I’m beginning with a vegetarian-friendly quote from Ulysses in recognition of its 100th anniversary. For a whole book of Joycean recipes, there’s Alison Armstrong’s The Joyce of Cooking: Food and Drink from James Joyce’s Dublin (Station Hill Press $14.99), which has a foreword from novelist Anthony Burgess.

Although I’m neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, my fondness for Moby’s music and my memories of India have led me to two volumes recommended by a discriminating colleague: Moby’s Little Pine Cookbook: Modern Plant-Based Comfort (Avery $24.99) and The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes with a Global Flair by Priyanka Naik (Simon and Schuster $24.99).

Cooking with Moby

Quoted in The Guardian’s “What’s in your basket” column from the early 2000s when music from Moby’s worldwide best-selling album Play could be heard in shops all over London, he recommended garlic and ginger as “the key to a long, happy and full life because they’re such concentrated foods you think if there is anything bad and nasty living in your body, garlic and ginger will go in like a cartoon superhero and drive out the invaders.” Admitting that as much as he loves the U.K., he adds that he finds it difficult to get fresh bread there like the wholemeal organic loaf he likes to eat with organic peanut butter. Although I’ve never thought of myself as a vegan, the comfort food closest to my heart is peanut butter, so I guess you could say I’ve come out of the closet.

Moby named his cookbook after Little Pine, the restaurant he opened decades ago in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Actress Rooney Mara has said, “I have literally walked for miles to get the Little Pine Mac n’ Cheese.” Among the 125 recipes are dishes like Panko-Crusted Piccata and Fried Cauliflower with Kimchi Aioli. Desserts include Chocolate Bread Pudding, which suggests the possibility of an energy rush equal to “Feeling So Real,” possibly the most deliriously exciting music Moby ever recorded.

Indian Railway Memories

Now for India and a cookbook by self-taught Indian American chef Priyanka Naik, who says she loves to travel as much as she loves to cook. If peanut butter counts as my ultimate comfort food, travel and writing about travel are near the top of my list of life’s special pleasures. As soon as I saw the cheerful, colorful cover of The Modern Tiffin, which Publishers Weekly named among the best debut cookbooks of fall 2021, I thought of long trips on Indian Railways where tiffin tins were one of the most familiar sights, along with the little clay cups tea vendors would hand up to your window at some station in the middle of a misty Indian night.

Featured recipes include Bucatini à la Pumpkin with Pink Peppercorn & Pistachio, Green Chutney Quesadillas, Chili-Maple Skillet Corn Bread, Indian Home Fries with Peanuts, and Bondi Blue Tea Cakes.

Priyanka Naik is a Food Network champion, Quibi Dishmantled winner, and Today show featured chef, who hosts Dish it Healthy with Priyanka Naik, a Tastemade original clean-eating food show on Food Network Kitchen.

Katzen’s Enchanted Kitchen

The cover of Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest: And Other Timeless Delicacies (Ten Speed Press 1982) evokes warm moments in the family kitchen during our early years as parents. Best known for The Moosewood Cookbook (Ten Speed Press 40th Anniversary edition 2014), which presents an adaptation-for-home-use of the cuisine of the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y., Katzen was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2007 and named by Health Magazine as one of the five “Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.” In 2017 her notebooks, correspondence, and original hand-lettered pages were collected by the Smithsonian Institution and are now permanently housed in the Archives Center of The National Museum of American History.

Ottolenghi Flavor

For an example of stunning cover art, feast your eyes on Ottolenghi Flavor (Ten Speed Press $35), a vegetable-based cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi with Ixtra Belfrage and Tara Wigley, and photographs by Jonathan Lovekin. Lauren Joseph’s January 26, 2021 article on epicurious.com suggests that “Longtime fans of Ottolenghi might be stunned by the restraint displayed in Flavor. Celery root, for example, gets the lightest of touches. In its first appearance, it’s simply slow roasted with a pour of olive oil and a bit of sea salt. There’s hardly a recipe. Entire dishes highlight the humble onion, grilled whole and then piled atop a smear of whipped feta and a pool of zingy green gazpacho, or halved and roasted in a buttery miso sauce.”

Joseph thinks some of the change could be attributed to Ottolenghi’s restaurants, Rovi and Nopi, “which have championed a more pruned, minimalist version of Ottolenghi food than the original delis; many of the most impressive recipes in Flavor come from those menus.”

The same article quotes from Ottolenghi’s introduction, “If you have already managed to spot a lime or two in places where lemons would appear in previous Ottolenghi books, or noticed a range of Mexican and other chiles peppered all over these pages … you have identified the fingerprints of Ixta Belfrage.”

Chefs at Home

Describing Claire Bingham’s Wild Kitchen: Nature-Loving Chefs at Home (Thames and Hudson $34.95), Town & Country says, “What better way to kickstart your ethical consumer habits than with this new anthology of sustainable recipes” from 20 of the world’s top chefs, food bloggers, and restaurateurs. “Put your green thumbs to good use with the guide to urban herb gardening and absorb fresh insights into low-waste, carbon-friendly ingredients. With recipes from Jasmine Hemsley, Rita Soda, and Julia Sherman, this colourful new book will brighten up any kitchen.” Shelf Awareness says, “One is as likely to find a new dish here as tips and ideas for home chefs who want to organize their kitchens better, plant and grow their kitchen gardens, shop better at local farmers’ markets, or forage for wild foods.”

Claire Bingham is a writer, journalist, and former homes editor at Elle Decoration. The author of several books about design, lifestyle, and travel, she has lived in London, Milan, and Sydney and frequently writes for international magazines and newspapers including the Telegraph Magazine, AD Germany, and Corriere della Sera Living.

Simply Ancient

On the acknowledgments page of Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful; Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well (Ten Speed Press $27.50), Maria Speck admits that she’s not a trained food professional but “a news reporter and journalist with a one-dimensional and lifelong love for ancient grains.” According to a starred review in Library Journal, “Speck simplifies cooking with grains without sacrificing flavor. Her recipes — including minted barley and fennel stew with marinated feta, New England cider mussels with fresh cranberries and bulgur, and walnut spelt biscotti with olive oil — are deliciously nourishing and not to be missed.”

The colleague who recommended Ancient Grains puts it more succinctly. After praising the design, the photographs, and recipes, he says, “It makes you want to chow down on birdseed.”

Gerty’s Griddlecakes

One of the joys of Ulysses is that “specimen of winsome Irish girlhood” Gerty McDowell, “who was womanly wise and knew that a mere man liked that feeling of hominess. Her griddlecakes done to a goldenbrown hue and queen Ann’s pudding of delightful creaminess had won golden opinions from all because she had a lucky hand also for lighting a fire, dredge in the fine selfraising flour and always stir in the same direction, then cream the milk and sugar and whisk well the whites of eggs though she didn’t like the eating part when there were any people that made her shy and often she wondered why you couldn’t eat something poetical like violets or roses.…” With maybe a sprinkling of birdseed.