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Dazzling recipes and a wonderful ranging conversation with well-traveled, forthright friends
on May 19, 2008
As the Introduction states, the world's borders would look very different if based upon food and culture. Chinese Muslims don't eat pork, and in rural Tibet, chicken is considered inedible. There are papayas in the south of China, and millet in the hot arid regions.
Beyond The Great Wall layers many elements on a strong foundation of interesting recipes - maps, food anthropology, and travel notes, generously illustrated with the authors' truly spectacular location photos, and evocative studio photos by Richard Jung, each carefully captioned.
The recipes require few special ingredients, and when they do, the resulting combination is a revelation, such as chile paste spiked with Sichuan peppercorns, or pomegranate-marinated lamb kebabs. Each recipe is thoughtfully introduced with suggestions for meal combinations, the dish's origin, thoughts on timing and ease of preparation. Eating your vegetables will be more interesting with new takes on salad, soup and vegetable sides. The Beef-Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad was a huge hit in my house when I was recipe-testing for the authors.
The bread chapter includes flatbreads, a loaf baked in a lidded pot, and little stuffed breads. For experienced noodle-makers, the variations in shaping and saucing are fascinating. For those new to handmade noodles, the pinch method in Earlobe Noodles provides an easy introduction.
The book doesn't pretend to be a catalog of "authentic" recipes, which would have us searching for riverweed or camel meat, and drying yak cheese on a yak-dung fire. Rather, this is a cookbook for those who want to enjoy foods and flavors from that part of the world, respectfully translated into the Western kitchen. And for those interested in tasting at the source, there is advice on planning a trip and sample itineraries. Fans of the authors' previous books will appreciate that the travel stories are attributed to either Naomi or Jeff. Finally, the Glossary is a good read in itself - how sprouting changes the nutrients in beans, or how to choose and make the most of Sichuan peppercorns.
My advice: buy this book and engage it like you would a wonderful ranging conversation with well-traveled, forthright friends.