Author And His Daughter Cook Around The World And You Can Too

Kelly McEvers talks to food writer Mark Kurlansky and his daughter Talia about their cookbook International Night, based on their tradition of cooking a meal every week from a different country.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Kids helping in the kitchen - not everybody thinks that's such a good idea.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

But for food writer Mark Kurlansky and his daughter Talia, it's a family tradition. Every Friday night the family does something called international night.

MARK KURLANSKY: Talia says it was her idea. I believe her. She is a better memory than mine.

MCEVERS: (Laughter). OK Talia, so tell us the story.

TALIA KURLANSKY: It was just an idea to spin a globe and cook a meal from wherever my finger would land.

MCEVERS: Talia finds the country, Mark figures out the recipes, and together they cook the meal. Pretty easy if it's Italy - not so much if it's Kazakhstan. But they've kept it up and still do it on Friday nights. And now Mark and Talia Kurlansky have written a new cookbook. It's called "International Night - A Father And Daughter Cook Their Way Around The World." They joined us from our New York bureau. Talia, who's now in the ninth grade, says she has always been open to new and weird food.

T. KURLANSKY: I was pretty adventurous. If there was something that I hesitated for, he would convince me to just try it and it always surprised me that I actually did like it. I think it also helps when you're making the food - it makes it more appetizing. You get to see how it's made - exactly what's in it. You get to feel it, squish it, stir it, heat it - it makes it more fun and more edible.

MCEVERS: Was there ones, Talia, that - that you agreed to try but you were skeptical about? Anything you remember? You were skeptical about it and then - and once you tried it you were like, wow, this is good.

T. KURLANSKY: I know that I'm a bit skeptical about soup. I am not a big soup person.

MCEVERS: Just in general? Like all soups...

M. KURLANSKY: That's what she thought, but found a number of soups that she really liked.

T. KURLANSKY: (Laughter.) Yeah, in general I stay with soups, but I tried them and they ended up being delicious.

M. KURLANSKY: Including Tanzania coconut soup from Tanzania - it's great.

MCEVERS: Did you choose recipes that might be easier for a younger person to do, or was your goal like - no, we're going to stick to traditions and hope she can learn from it, even if it is tough?

M. KURLANSKY: No, I by and large - I mean, because I didn't follow any recipes. I looked at recipes and then I did my own version. And in my version, they were all very doable for kids, or at least with kid's help. And a few of them were more difficult than I thought were such great recipes, we do them anyway.

MCEVERS: What's the most difficult recipe in the book?

M. KURLANSKY: Probably the most difficult recipe in the book is my favorite recipe. It's a Hungarian dessert called Rigo Jancsi. It's a little, rich chocolate square with three different densities of chocolate. I think that's the most difficult one.

T. KURLANSKY: It's worth it though. It's good.

MCEVERS: It already sounds really good, yeah, thanks. You're making me hungry. I want to ask you about a country that you actually visited together. And even to the cooking class there - and that was Morocco. I want to - I want to hear how that happened.

M. KURLANSKY: Well, the only cooking school in Morocco is in Marrakesh - in a place called Maison Arabe in the Medina of Marrakesh.

MCEVERS: To tell me, Talia, what was it like?

T. KURLANSKY: It was amazing. I was given more responsibility there. I was handed some sharp knives and told to cut and chop stuff, and mince stuff.

M. KURLANSKY: I had always sort of left the chopping for me. Knives aren't good for kids but they didn't mess around there, they just handed her knife and say chop this. And she did fine and came back with all 10 fingers, so she's been chopping ever since.

MCEVERS: They're like, you figure it out, and she did. Excellent. Well, I have to say my colleague - our producer Emily Ochsenschlager, has actually made a couple of the recipes of yours.

M. KURLANSKY: Oh, great.

MCEVERS: One is called batbout bread. Did I say that right?

M. KURLANSKY: Yeah.

MCEVERS: Batbout?

M. KURLANSKY: Yeah.

MCEVERS: OK, I'm going to take a bite. It's warm, it's really nice. Nice. It's kind of like your flatbread that you would get.

M. KURLANSKY: A little puffier.

MCEVERS: It seems like it's fairly easy to make.

M. KURLANSKY: It as easy to make and it's the standard traditional bread. There're many breads in Morocco, and most of them - you mix them up and you take them to the baker because people don't have ovens in their homes. But this is the bread that's made in a skillet so you can do it in your home.

MCEVERS: It's nice. I mean - like I said, it's flatbread, but got a little life to it - it's got a little bounce to it.

M. KURLANSKY: Right.

MCEVERS: And then the other one she made was zaalouk salad.

M. KURLANSKY: This is one of Talia's favorite dishes.

T. KURLANSKY: It would definitely go on one my favorite recipes of the book.

MCEVERS: Describe for our listeners so they know what it is that I'm eating right now.

T. KURLANSKY: It's basically tomato, garlic and eggplant topped and basically mushed together with some spices, and it's delicious. And you can actually put it on top of this bread. And it's this salad but it's this mushed salad and it's incredible.

MCEVERS: Yeah, it's almost like a paste. I just took a bite and it's really good, and it's nice to just kind of dip the bread in it. One of the things about the book I think, and this - Emily ran into this here, you know - if you want to make something the next day - if you don't live in a place like you guys do - like New York City - it's not always easy to find the ingredients for some of the stuff, right?

M. KURLANSKY: Right. Although most things you can find online, freaking Moroccan night. There's a pigeon dish, pastilla pigeon. Pigeons are hard to come by. I actually couldn't find them. I did it with squab. It's a wonderful dish. It's gamey and it's sweet and it's got all these different flavors.

MCEVERS: You have just given me a project for the evening. I'm going to guess you know, things like harissa and orange blossom water - you need to put a little planning into it, right?

M. KURLANSKY: Right, but those things like harissa and orange blossom water - almost any kind spice you can think of - you can get online.

MCEVERS: The book is called "International Night," but you guys did bend the rules just a little bit and you picked a couple of places in America. Can you tell me why?

M. KURLANSKY: Two places were exotic enough that we felt they would fit in internationally, and those were New Orleans and Hawaii.

MCEVERS: And Talia, what your favorites from either of those places?

T. KURLANSKY: We made some beignets from New Orleans night. They're not exactly what you think of it if you think of them - they some fruits in them and...

M. KURLANSKY: It's an old early 19th century recipe. Talia doesn't seem to remember, because it was actually quite a while ago that we did Hawaii night, but she loved the pie. It's called a chocolate haupia pie. And it' coconut milk and...

T. KURLANSKY: I do remember.

M. KURLANSKY: ...Chocolate and coconut and heavy cream. You really liked it (laughter).

T. KURLANSKY: I do remember that. That was really good.

MCEVERS: Food writer Mark Kurlansky and his daughter Talia are the authors of the new cookbook "International Night." They joined us from our studios in New York. Thank you so much you guys.

M. KURLANSKY: Pleasure talking to you.

T. KURLANSKY: Thanks for having us.

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