Book Review: Exotic Table

Title:   Exotic Table: Flavors, Inspiration, and Recipes from Around the World—to Your Kitchen
Author: Aliya Leekong
Format: e-ARC from NetGalley
Genre: Cookbook
Rating: 3/5

This book’s premise was really excited – a variety of ethnic recipes pulled together into a single book. Unfortunately, I was unimpressed by the execution. Chapters are divided by subject and include small profiles on cuisines or culture, as well as parts of the author’s life. The profiles didn’t seem to add much to the book and I wish they had chosen to highlight one thing (e.g. culture OR the author) rather than highlighting many different topics.

The biggest problem with this book is that it is simultaneously intimidating (requiring quite a few specialty spices and ingredients) and predictable, highlight recipes like paella or fried olives. I feel like it would be alienating to people just getting into ethnic food, but not be unique enough to appeal to those of us who already have an interest in exotic foods. Additionally, there were weird holes in the directions, like the recipes (mentioned below) that calls for a pound of cooked whole chestnuts, but doesn’t go into how to cook chestnuts! (For the record, I do know how to cook them, but I only got comfortable with it last year and I know many Americans have never made chestnuts.) Overall, I wasn’t impressed and wouldn’t recommend this book to a library with a tight cookbook budget. If you’ve got a decent budget, though, and patrons who are fond of ethnic cooking, this may be an option for your collection.

Below are some recipe highlights and some of the notes I took while flipping through this book.

Spices, Ingredients, and Equpiment

  • Tips on how to keep spices fresh & store them
  • Mixture of common spices (dill, cardamom, black pepper) and spices I’ve never heard of (ajwain seeds, anardana)
  • Also goes over ingredients, some common some not (fruit molasses vs. dutch process cocoa)
  • Variety of ingredients and spices may be intimidating to those not already into ethnic food
  • Gives sources for ingredients (including Zingerman’s – Go Michigan!)
  • Homemade pantry: pomegranate molasses, Egyptian dukkah, harissa, merken (chile powder), creole seasoning, spiced honey

Hors d’Oeuvres and Snacks

  • Harissa and Cheese–Stuffed Fried Olives
  • Heirloom Tomato Galettes with Urfa Chilies, Mint, and Ricotta Salata (based on Turkish pide)
  • Deviled Eggs Three Ways: Indonesian, Greek, and Mexican

Soups and Salads

  • Harira (chickpea/lentil/tomato soup)
  • Trinidadian-Chinese Wonton Soup (apparently there are a lot of Chinese immigrants in Trididad, which shouldn’t surprise me but did)
  • Spiced Chestnut Soup (calls for 1lb whole cooked chestnuts, but no tips on how to cook them!)

Fish and Seafood (I thought this one was unimpressive – heavy on shellfish and familiar recipes like paella.)

  • Chicken Fried Scallops
  • Salt-Baked Fish with Chermoula
  • Tiradito with “Leche de Tigre” (ceviche)

Poultry

  • Saffron Fried Chicken
  • Chicken Salad with Bacon, Walnuts, and Fruit (based on Turkish dish: Circassian Chicken)
  • Baked Chicken with Chorizo, Fennel, and Green Olives

Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Goat

  • Pappardelle with West Indian Stewed Oxtail Ragu
  • Goat Biryani
  • South African Shepherd’s Pie (Bobotie)

Vegetables and Side Dishes

  • Savory Winter Vegetable Crumble
  • Smoky Corn Pudding with Mustard Seeds and Curry Leaves
  • Gran’s Peas and Rice (with the tip to cook with the pepper, but don’t let it burst – they use a scotch bonnet!)

Breakfast, Savory Tarts, and Breads (This felt like it should have been a breakfast section, as there were really one or two savory recipes thrown in at the end.)

  • East African Donuts (Mandazis)
  • Guava and Cheese Danishes
  • Mushroom and Ajwain Pissaladière (pizza like tart)

Desserts

  • End-of-Summer Bread Pudding (of sorts) (phyllo dough crossed with bread pudding – from Om Ali – a lebanese dessert)
  • Hot Coffee-Glazed Medjool Date Cakes (based on Arabic coffee with dates)
  • Hibiscus Paletas

Drinks

  • Thyme-Green Tea Cocktail
  • Black Plum and Hibiscus “Sangria” (non-alcoholic)
  • Coffee with Ginger