I am always pleased, but a tad conflicted, when I'm sent a new book or product. I say that I can't promise to write about something I haven't seen yet, but I don't like to disappoint. If I wrote a book, and sent it off, and the recipient was silent, or expressed boredom, or worse, with the product of my hard work, I might well be brokenhearted. But probably, in order to become a published writer of any sort, you have to be made of stronger stuff than yours truly. I hope, before retirement age, to reach a level of self confidence where I am not deeply grieved to discover I am disliked, even when the rejecting party is someone I have no actual interest in whatsoever. I do know this queasiness to be a character flaw- so that's a start.
Fortunately, I am pleased as punch (or is it "Punch" as in "and Judy"?) with Street Food, the second book by Tom Kime, a gifted fellow who I had not heard of before. Once a chef at the famed River Cafe, he has apparently been, inter alia, a TV Host, an award winning author, and the caterer of Jamie Oliver's wedding feast. Who knew? He has traveled four continents, sampling the street food of India, southeast Asia, north Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe, snagging recipes for the kind of goodies that make you feel you are on holiday from all culinary drudgery.
Street food, the best of it anyway, is like that. But the recipes which appear from time to time in newspapers and magazines frequently lack the on-site magic. Part of that, no doubt, is the absence of the charm of travel. I had an inkling, though, from first looking over this collection, that it was the work of an original cook. I thought he might well be one of those few with a special gift for putting simple things together in ways which enhance them, creating food which is more than the sum of its parts.(The world may be full of such wizards- professional and non-but if so, most of them don't write books.) Perhaps it is a special gift for recognizing, rather than, or in addition to creating, since these are meant to be very authentic recreations? In any event you can certainly see originality at work in the combination suggested meals put together from this widely diverse group of treats.
I think my first impression was very not wrong. I've made three things from this book, and all three were wonderful.(These are my photos, of my food, BTW; the ones in the book are far classier, but I thought you'd like to see that these things are doable at home.)They were shourba corbasi- a chard soup with rice and tumeric, shlada al falfla hamra al khizzou-a carrot and orange salad with paprika dressing, and cucur udang-Singapore prawn fritters with sweet chili sauce. The last, involving hot oil, was the only one that was the least bit of trouble. And I'm here to tell you that all three were really, truly delicious and different and easy to love.
All are pictured, I will leave you to figure out which is which. I had a bit of trouble deciding which recipe to pass along. I went with the soup in the end, as it is so seasonally on target (it was all there in my CSA farmbox, and so quick and easy.) This is how I made it, adapted from Street Food:
1 pound of swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated, very well washed
1 qt good quality chicken or veg stock
2 tbsps olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 leeks, trimmed, rinsed halved and sliced
1/2 cup long grain white rice (I used basmati)
2 tbsps white wine or rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 1/2 cups plain greek style yogurt- or drained ordinary yogurt
pinch ground tumeric
juice of a lemon
chopped fresh mint leaves
salt and pepper
Finely dice the chard stalks, and finely shred the leaves. Bring the stock to a boil in a small saucepan. Heat the oil in a soup pot with a heavy bottom, and cook the onion, leeks , and chard stems for 4-5 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Add the rice, and stir to coat thoroughly. Pour in the hot stock and vinegar. Bring to a boil, and simmer until the rice is tender- about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the garlic and add to the yogurt with half of the lemon juice, the tumeric, and a bit of salt. add the chard leaves to the soup, and simmer a few minutes, until they are tender. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the yougurt combo. Taste for seasoning, and add salt, pepper, and a bit more lemon juice as needed. Top with mint leaves, and serve lukewarm or hot- but lukewarm tastes especially nice to me.
Street food at home is a luxury. This stuff is really good, I kid you not.