Reading Nook

Posted: February 7, 2018 at 1:45 a.m.

The act of cooking a meal can bring so much more to the table than just, well, dinner. There's the sustenance and comfort of that food, but what's also built into the sauce or dropped into the pot is a sometimes invisible and highly complex ingredient list that can include tradition, community, history, geography, art, religion and politics. Every country's cuisine reflects that list and the journey its cooks took to your table. American cooking reflects more journeys than most, its collective cuisine assembled almost entirely from the suitcases and memories of generations of immigrants. A new cookbook, published last month by Interlink Books, celebrates this multicultural recipe box, giving voice to the myriad chefs and their traditions as it puts their food on our menu -- and, more subtly, their politics on our plates.

The title, The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes That Make America Great, is the least subtle thing about the book. Collected and edited by Leyla Moushabeck, the book assembles more than 70 recipes from first- and second-generation immigrant chefs from six continents. Except for a brief and eloquent introduction from Moushabeck, those chefs tell their own stories, through their recipes and the short, biographical backstories that accompany them. It's a simple and hugely effective methodology, as it sidesteps the inflammatory rhetoric that the cookbook is designed to refute in the first place, and allows the chefs and their work to speak for themselves.

The chefs that Moushabeck has assembled are as impressive as they are diverse. Persian chef and cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij gives her recipe for pomegranate and walnut khoresh; jollof rice comes from Nigerian pop-up cook and activist Tunde Wey; Kerala shrimp stew from Indian chef and restaurateur Anita Jaisinghani; a simple yet remarkable dish of turmeric shrimp with curry leaves from Malaysian chef Mei Chau -- and many, many more, including Jamaican musician Ziggy Marley, whose own cookbook came out in 2016.

There are also, purposefully, dishes from chefs whose immigration status we may take more for granted: French culinary legend Daniel Boulud; Australian chef Curtis Stone; British-born chef April Bloomfield; and French chef Dominique Ansel.

The Immigrant Cookbook would be a welcome addition to any cook's library. What sets it on the top shelf, so to speak, is the multiplicity of voices, techniques and flavors and also the context -- which is something that often gets lost in the tumult of noisy kitchens or a noisy political arena.

"Almost all of the foods we think of as American specialties can be traced to immigrants who brought or adapted them: pizza, bagels, pretzels, apple pie, waffles, hot dogs, tacos, hamburgers and the ice cream cone all originate from immigrants -- from Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia or the Middle East," Moushabeck writes in her introduction.

What makes American cuisine great is those who brought their food -- ingredient list and all -- to this country, then and now and into the long table of the future.

Food on 02/07/2018