It's a while since I've reviewed a cookery book but I saw this being talked about on Twitter and decided it was something special. It brings together 70 recipes from around the world, but more importantly it introduces us to the fourteen chefs behind these dishes - their backgrounds, their stories of 'coming to America', the food that reminds them of home. Originally from places as far apart as South America and Africa, through the Middle East to Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, all of them have found a new home in New York, and a new family in the kitchens of Eat Offbeat catering company.
Sparked initially by a desire to recreate the hummus made by their Syrian grandmother, siblings Manal and Wissam Kahi founded Eat Offbeat in 2015, from the start having a mission to introduce New Yorkers to quality food from around the world, and, perhaps more importantly, to offer quality jobs for refugees and immigrants eager to share a taste of their homeland. For the chefs, cooking their favourite meals is a bond with home and family. To the diner, it's a way to experience other culinary traditions, and to see 'incomers' as more than statistics.
The recipes start with appetizers and dips, and follow through salads and soups, grain dishes, both vegetarian and meat main courses to desserts and drinks - and everything is mouth-watering. The instructions are clear and look easy to follow, photographs of the finished dishes are so tempting, and I've already book-marked a selection to try - salads of cucumber and tomato with lemon-sumac or lime-mint dressings; Chef Bashir's Chicken Karahi from Afghanistan, which stews the meat in turmeric, garlic and tomato sauce; Chef Mariama's mustard and lemon marinated Chicken Cilantro from Senegal; or maybe Chef Hector's recipe from Venezuela for Hallacas tamales stuffed with pork and beef (though the banana leaf wrapping may have to be replaced by rather prozaic aluminium foil), and to round off a meal either (or both) of the recipes for Baklava, one from Iraq, one from Iran.
For most of the recipes the ingredients are familiar - as in Riz Gras, a Guinean dish of rice, chicken, cabbage and carrots, or Sri Lankan Kowa Varrai, a dish of coconut and cabbage to be served alongside spicy curries - it's just the different combinations of vegetables, or additions of spices, which turn them into something extraordinary. Some of the spices and flavourings may be a little unusual, but are probably available from a large supermarket or specialist shop (or failing that, there are suggestions of where to buy them on-line). And, if like me you're often adrift with the US method of measuring ingredients there's a handy conversion table at the back of the book.
From May 15, 2020, to May 15, 2021, (including any preordered copies that ship during this period), Workman Publishing will donate 2% of the cover price for every copy of The Kitchen without Borders cookbook sold in the United States and its territories, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and European Union member states, to the IRC, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, relief and resettlement to refugees and other victims of oppression or violent conflict, with a minimum contribution of $25,000 USD. For more information, visit rescue.org/cookbookand https: //www.workman.com/kwob. No portion of the purchase price is tax-deductible. For additional information about the IRC, see rescue.org.