Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet by Padma Lakshmi

I found myself at the bookstore perusing the cooking section, wondering how I was going to ever decide on one cookbook to bring home.

It was hard to resist picking up and flipping through Padma Lakshmi’s cookbook, Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet:  A World of Recipes for Every Day.  With such an inviting cover of the beautiful Lakshmi smiling up at you with an enticing bowl of noodles, I can guarantee you’ll be drawn in just as I was.  As quickly as I saw it, I scooped it up and made a beeline for the cash register.

Snuggling up on the couch to investigate my new little treasure, I was not disappointed.  The photography (I am a sucker for gorgeous photography in cookbooks) is beautiful and tells a story of the food, as well as Padma’s life with pictures of her childhood and travels.  Each recipe begins with a story, telling how and where she acquired it, as well as fond memories and emotions and sensations she associates with cooking and eating it.  Scattered throughout are memorable stories of food and the people who cooked it.  The stories are well-written and bring to life vivid imaginings of the experience.

The recipes are from her travels of the world, and range from “Cassoulet with Beef” (pg. 150), to “Singapore Noodles with Shrimp and Shitake Mushrooms” (pg. 88) to “Green Mango Curry” pg. 152, to “Krispy Fried Chicken” (pg. 134).

Many of the recipes are things I have never eaten, much less tried to cook.  However, the simple way the recipes are outlined, step by step, explaining the more exotic ingredients, makes it more tangible for me.  It may be difficult to find the za’atar powder in her “Carrot and Cilantro Salad” (pg. 44), or the dried mango powder in her “Moroccan Bisteeya (Curried Chicken Pie)” (pg. 126), but Lakshmi explains what these ingredients are, where to find them, and  provides alternatives if the remain elusive.  (Especially if you live in butt-crack nowhere like I do).

I often rely on takeout to get my fix of Indian, Thai, Vietnamese or otherwise non-familiar flavor profile for my Americanized palate.  But this cookbook inspires me to experiment with the deliciously layered flavors that these foods bring, all without picking up the phone and ordering out.

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