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The Best Recipes in the World

More Than 1,000 International Dishes to Cook at Home

by Mark Bittman

Hardcover, 757 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $32.50 |


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The Best Recipes in the World
More Than 1,000 International Dishes to Cook at Home
Mark Bittman

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Book Summary

Collects recipes from more than forty different countries for appetizers, snacks, soups, salads, sauces, condiments, entrees, desserts, and beverages, and provides explanations of unfamiliar techniques and ingredients.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Best Recipes In The World

Appetizers and Snacks

Just because we call something an appetizer doesn't mean it must be served that way. In fact, the concept belongs more to restaurants, which have the staff and the time to serve meals in stages; at home we tend to put everything on the table at once.

The exceptions, of course, are dinner or cocktail parties, holidays, and other special occasions. For those, the dishes in this chapter become extremely important.

But if you think of them as light dishes, or those you can prepare in advance, or serve at lunch or late at night, or use as side dishes, everything in this chapter has value beyond the meal-starter. So it's a section well worth browsing.

Cold Appetizers
Requiring No Cooking

This first group comprises cold, uncooked starters. Some--marinated olives, for example--are as simple as can be and are great for stand-up tidbits. But not all of them are little nibbles; some are quite elegant and actually require forethought. Some can be (or must be) made ahead and some are last-minute preparations. But they're all perfect for making on a hot day when you don't want to use the stove.

Spicy Cold Celery
Makes 4 servings as a starter or side dish
Time 10 minutes, plus 3 hours to marinate

Northern Chinese and Taiwanese meals--especially in restaurants--often begin with a little nibble, dishes of savory snacks that are set on the table with tea. They are generally items that you can pick up with your chopsticks and pop in your mouth in one motion. This cold celery dish is a perfect example, with just the right gentle crunch and bite to whet your appetite.

1 pound celery stalks
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons vinegar, preferably rice or cider
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chili oil, optional

1. Cut the celery into 2-inch lengths. Mix with the salt and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and set aside for 10 minutes while you whisk together the remaining ingredients.

2. Rinse, drain, and pat dry the celery, then toss with the dressing. Let stand in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to a day. Serve chilled.

Marinated Olives
Makes about 8 servings
Time1 hour, largely unattended

Throughout the Mediterranean, you'll find olives already on the table when you sit down to a meal. But they're far different from the canned olives (usually Mission) routinely--and unfortunately--sold in supermarkets here. Not only are they a variety of different types; they're simply but wonderfully seasoned. This easy treatment is so effective that most people are shocked at the results.

Use an assortment of olives if at all possible--Kalamatas, some of the good green type, tiny Niçoises, and so on--and the olives will be not only beautiful but varied. You can make this recipe in any quantity, using the same proportions.

2 cups assorted olives
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 lemon, cut in half and segmented as for a grapefruit

Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl. Marinate for an hour or longer at room temperature. Toss again just before serving. If you are not serving them the same day you make them, refrigerate, then remove from the refrigerator an hour or two before serving.


Olives are among the oldest and most symbolic foods, the tree and its branches ancient symbols of life, prosperity, and peace. And the oil--the most easily extracted, most useful, delicious, and healthiest of all cooking oils--has been treasured as long as there has been "cuisine."

The Mediterranean is the birthplace of the olive tree and continues to be the world's largest olive producer, yielding more than 90 percent of the crop. There are nearly a billion olive trees in the world, and almost all of them are in the Mediterranean, but traders and missionaries spread olive trees to wherever there are mild winters and hot, dry summers.

Many varieties of cured olives are available, but all olives begin just about the same. Green olives are unripe; darker olives are fully ripened (and contain more oil). Olives cannot be eaten directly off the tree because their skin contains a bitter chemical called oleuropin. To make them palatable, olives are cured in oil, saltwater, lye, or simply salt. The various methods determine the olives' ultimate flavor and texture (as, of course, will any herbs or spices added during the curing process).

The most common olives include:

Black or Mission. Picked when ripe or green; cured in lye, then oxygenated.

Kalamata. Picked when ripe or nearly so; dark brown, purple, or black; cured in brine.

Niçoise. Picked when ripe and dark red or brown; salted, with a slightly sour flavor.

Picholine. Picked when ripe; cured in lime and wood ashes, then seasoned with salt.

Spanish. Usually picked young; cured in lye, then fermented in brine for half a year to a year; packed in a weak brine; sometimes stuffed with pimientos.

Portobello Spread
Makes 4 to 8 servings
Time 10 minutes, plus resting time

It's not entirely clear that this preparation originated in Italy, since portobellos pretty much surfaced (no pun intended) at the same time throughout most of the Western world; but at least it's an Italian-style preparation. In any case, while we are accustomed to eating these large, dark, meaty mushrooms grilled or sauteed, they are also excellent served raw, as they are here, on Crostini (page 41) or in a salad.

1 pound portobello mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cleaned
1 pound ripe tomatoes, preferably plum, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

1.Cut the mushroom caps into small dice, then toss them with the tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, and oil. Cover and let rest, for up to an hour at room temperature or overnight, refrigerated. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

2.Season with salt and pepper and spoon onto crostini or eat with a fork.

Diced Tomato Spread. Omit the mushrooms. Use about a pound of ripe tomatoes, cut in half through their equators, then squeezed and shaken over the sink to remove as many seeds as possible. Dice and proceed as above, adding about 1/2 cup minced red onion to the mix.

White Bean Dip
Middle East
Makes 8 servings
Time 10 minutes (with precooked beans)

Fantastic in emergencies and reason enough to stock canned beans in your pantry. Serve as a dip for breadsticks, pita or other bread, or raw vegetables.

2 cups drained cooked or canned cannellini or other white beans, still moist and liquid reserved
2 garlic cloves, peeled, or to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons ground cumin, or to taste
Fresh lemon juice to taste
1/4 cup chopped shallot, red onion, or scallion for garnish, optional

1. Put the beans in a food processor with the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin. Turn the machine on and process until the mixture is smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides if necessary and adding a bit more bean liquid or olive oil if necessary.

2. Taste and adjust the seasoning--add more garlic, salt, pepper, or cumin if you like--then transfer to a bowl. Add lemon juice a tablespoon at a time, until quite tart, then garnish with the chopped shallot if you like. Use immediately or refrigerate for a day or two. Bring back to room temperature before serving. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little more cumin (or some paprika) before serving.

Eastern Mediterranean
Makes 8 or more servings
Time 20 minutes (with precooked chickpeas)

Chickpeas are among the best legumes, and this is among the best recipes you can prepare with them, an eons-old Middle Eastern classic. Generally, I'm not a big fan of canned beans, but for whatever reason canned chickpeas are not bad at all, and I always keep some on hand so I can make a batch of this at the last minute, to use as a dip or a spread. You can make hummus without tahini; it will be a little looser and less complex tasting but still good.

2 cups drained well-cooked (page 431) or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
1/2 cup tahini, optional, with some of its oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, peeled, or to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, or to taste,
plus a sprinkling for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1. Put everything except the parsley in a food processor and begin to process; add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree.

2. Taste and adjust the seasoning (I often find I like to add much more lemon juice). Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more cumin or paprika and some parsley.

Yogurt Cheese
Eastern Mediterranean
Makes 8 or more servings
Time overnight, largely unattended

This might be a new, unexpected way to use yogurt, yet it's probably as old as yogurt itself. It's the easiest cheese you can possibly make, since it needs no special equipment or curdling agents--basically, it's yogurt with the excess liquid removed.

There is, however, a key here: you must start with good whole-milk yogurt. Thick, locally made Greek or Turkish yogurt is the ideal (well, the ideal is yogurt you make yourself), but any high-quality yogurt will produce a nice cheese.

Serve with crackers, chips, and/or raw vegetables.

1 pound plain yogurt
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Line a strainer with a sheet of cheesecloth; hang over a mixing bowl so the bottom of the strainer clears the bowl by at least an inch. Dump the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth. Allow the whey to strain out of the yogurt at least overnight or up to 24 hours; this should happen in a cool place--the refrigerator is fine.

2. After this initial straining, squeeze out any remaining whey by pulling tightly on the ends of the cheesecloth. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container until you are ready to use (it will keep for several days). Before serving, add salt, then garnish with paprika and olive oil to serve.

Herbed Cheese Dip France
Makes 6 or more servings
Time 10 minutes, plus about 30 minutes to rest

We have all eaten herbed cheese, but most of it is store-bought and contains who-knows-what. This is a traditional herb cheese with almost nothing in it; you can also make it with fresh goat cheese or with Yogurt Cheese (preceding recipe).

Serve with crackers, lightly toasted pita, and/or raw vegetable sticks.

1/2 pound cold farmer cheese or cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled, or more to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. (Alternatively, mince the garlic and mash all the ingredients with a potato masher or fork until fairly smooth, then beat for a few moments with a wire whisk.) Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

2. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until stiffened slightly. Serve cold.

"Raw" Fish

Long before refrigeration, fish was a mainstay of the world's coastal communities. And before people could count on refrigeration to help preserve fish, they used what they had on hand: salt, sugar, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, smoke, deep holes in the ground, papaya leaves--and, of course, freezing-cold temperatures. Necessity, then, was responsible for those seafood recipes prepared without heat, including gravlax and ceviche. These, like salt cod (page 245) and pickled herring (page 37), are seafood dishes that rely on techniques like pickling, salting, and marinating, rather than heat, for "cooking."

Ceviche, a specialty of Central and South America, is made by bathing raw seafood in lemon or lime juice, flavored with herbs, chiles, and aromatics. The fish is allowed to marinate for anywhere from a couple of minutes to several hours. The acid in the marinade tenderizes the fish, chemically softening the connective tissue, while turning the raw, translucent flesh white and opaque, giving it the appearance and appeal of cooked fish. While ceviche looks and tastes a lot like cooked fish, strictly speaking the fish isn't cooked.

Gravlax, among the simplest of cured dishes, is a specialty of Sweden. Traditionally, the salmon would be buried underground and allowed to ferment (grav means "buried," and lax means "salmon"). Now, to make gravlax, we "bury" raw salmon fillets in a mixture of salt, sugar, and usually dill--there are many flavor variations--and then refrigerate it under a light weight for a couple of days. Like ceviche, gravlax is a recipe for curing fish--a way of preserving it--not cooking it. The salt creates an inhospitable environment for bacterial growth, preserving the fish by drawing moisture out and depriving bacteria of the "free" water molecules they need to thrive.

Most food, and certainly all (edible) fish, is safe to eat raw, as long as it's fresh, disease free, and parasite free. And while eating ceviche or gravlax is generally safe, if you're cautious you will want to use finfish that has been frozen to -4F for 7 days or 3F for 15 or more hours (this will take a commercial freezer), which will kill parasites like tapeworms and roundworms. And because salt and lime or lemon juice won't kill bacteria the way heat does, be sure to buy only the freshest and most meticulously handled fish you can find. (Or see the Mock Ceviche--which is actually cooked--on page 35.)

Ceviche Marinated Scallops
Makes 4 to 8 servings
Time 30 minutes

In any coastal region where you find limes, you'll find ceviche, going by one name or another. In Mexico, it's frequently made with a combination of scallops, shrimp, conch, and octopus (the last two usually precooked to the point of tenderness), and those are all good fish for the mix. If you can find spanking-fresh fillets of your local white fish, you can use that here too, although scallops alone are easy and fabulous. (They're also the safest shellfish to eat raw, but if the whole thing makes you nervous, see Mock Ceviche, page 35.) If you happen to have a couple of different colors of bell peppers, mix them; it'll make the dish really sparkle.

1 pound perfectly fresh sea scallops or a mixture of fish, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup minced bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced lime zest
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
Salt to taste
Cayenne to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

1. Toss together all the ingredients except the cilantro and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

2. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve, garnished with the cilantro.