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Inspired by her travels to some of the most secluded corners of the planet, Padma Lakshmi shares the origins and secrets of her latest recipes for simple to prepare, international cuisine. She makes it easy to delight your guests with savory and sweet dishes such as Keralan Crab Cakes, Fresh Green Beans with Lentils and Coconut, Krispy Fried Chicken, BBQ Korean Short Ribs, and Chocolate Amaretto Ice Cream. By introducing a host of enticing flavors and spices, an everyday kitchen is transformed into a global one.
Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet is both a culinary and personal scrapbook of Padma's life, highlighted by dazzling photography and evocative personal stories about her lifelong connection to food and cooking. From appetizers to entrées, soups to desserts—Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet is perfect for anyone who wants cooking to be easy, elegant, and unforgettable.
And the countless others who helped in ways big and small.
There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. —M.F.K. Fisher
When I was a little girl, my mother worked full time and then went to classes several nights a week for her master’s degree. I would often help her in the kitchen when she got home. It was where we spent the most hours together. I graduated from shelling peanuts and breaking off the ends of beans to chopping vegetables and standing at the stove. My mother, who is a great cook, was famous for being able to make an impromptu meal in half an hour with whatever she had in the kitchen at the time. She was known for being able to whip something up out of nothing. I learned at her elbow and watched. In those days it was harder to find black mustard seeds, fresh ginger, and coconut milk. But she’d use whatever she found, whatever she tasted in other peoples’ homes, and she’d bring home some strange flora from the farmer’s market that would find its way into a pot, bubbling away with a bit of seasoning. Before you knew it a whole meal was being placed hot and steaming on the table while you were just chatting by the stove. She had a gift for making everyone feel welcome and everything so easy. You would want to drop in on her; she’d make you want to come back again and again. That’s what a good hostess does when you’re at her table.
Being a single mom gave my mother little opportunity to linger in the kitchen for hours, and so as I stood by her side I, too, learned to improvise and make things taste good in a rush. She was, and still is, great at simplifying all sorts of exotic dishes. In New York, where we’d moved to start a new life, there were immigrants like us from all over the world, and our kitchen was heavily influenced by them.
From Polish sausages to Vietnamese steamed fish, the world was right here on our island. I had a Peruvian babysitter named Elena who taught me how to make mashed potato empanadas. Otis, my mom’s boyfriend at the time, was from Barbados. Through him we experienced the tropical curries of the Caribbean. My playmates from one floor down were Filipino, and at their mother’s table I tasted the noodle dish pancit.
The dishes we tasted throughout the city, in restaurants, at other people’s houses, in the sharing of packed lunches at school and work—all made their way into our kitchen. We went to the Puerto Rican market in Spanish Harlem for sugarcane. We frequented Chinatown to buy salted plums and bok choy. My mother never missed an opportunity to introduce my young palate to new and surprising tastes.
When I was older, we moved to a suburb of Los Angeles, and I traveled to India for holidays. I used to stop along the way in Singapore and Tokyo. These trips broadened my culinary horizons even more. By the time I was in college I was trying different recipes from the international students who cooked in my dorm. When I studied abroad in Spain, the first things I learned to say in Spanish were the names of the ingredients I needed to make the dishes that reminded me of home. Later I learned to duplicate in my own kitchen what I had tasted in Madrid’s vast array of restaurants and tapas bars.
My career as a model took me around the globe, and I continued my gastronomical research every place I went. Living in Paris, I learned about European food traditions to which I had never been exposed. I learned that the Spanish, French, and Italian all use béchamel sauce in various dishes. When I lived in Milan, I absorbed as much of the region’s gastronomy as I could. Then living and working in Rome taught me about southern Italian cuisine. I realized that French food was actually based on pre-Columbian Italian cuisine; Catherine de’ Medici married the future French king Henri II and took her Florentine culinary practices with her to France. It wasn’t until the tomato was introduced from the New World that Italian food became as different from its French counterpart as it now is.
Making movies took me to Cuba and Sri Lanka, where I began to see the connections between South American and Asian food. Mangoes and coconuts, cumin, coriander (cilantro), and tamarind were cropping up in all sorts of cuisines. The world of food seemed to be getting bigger and smaller at the same time.
Eating and cooking is as much about our identity as about our mood. I believe the American palate is the most open and inviting audience for the world’s flavors. The best thing about an immigrant culture is the choice and variety of tastes and ingredients it offers. One would be a fool not to sample the myriad exotic (and now not so exotic) dishes there are to enjoy.
Most Americans can trace their roots to an Old World connection, and our grandmothers jealously guard their treasure troves of recipes from their particular ethnic ancestry. Add to those passed-down recipes a selection from one’s partner or spouse’s family, then mix those with dishes gathered from travel and recipes traded between friends, and it’s easy to see why you don’t have to be a world traveler to have an eclectic palate. The world now comes to you, on every street corner and in every food court.
When I look at how Americans eat today, I come to the conclusion that we are all a little bit Chinese, a little bit Mexican, a little bit Italian and French. No one I know eats one type of cuisine all the time. Our lives have all been touched by the many cultures that coexist among us. The way we eat now is a reflection of what America has become.
My identity can be very accurately traced through my fork. I grew up first in South India, and the roots of many of my recipes are there. Starting out with a few chiles, some mustard seeds, and ginger, I was able to learn the secrets of my grandmother’s kitchen. Most of my fondest early memories are of being with my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother in the kitchen. I came to equate cooking with celebration, and food with love.
Most of us do not eat a single cuisine all the time, or indeed even for all of one week. Whenever we celebrate anything, a birth, a marriage, a death, when we court each other, for business or friendship or romance, what do we do? We eat. What do we eat? All kinds of things. One day sushi, another Thai, a third Italian, and the fourth day… maybe Mexican, or how about Moroccan?
I cook the way I eat. I love fresh ingredients, clean flavors that stand out on their own, and healthy dashes of some unexpected spice that give a dish originality. The only recipes I remember are ones that arouse passionate and emotional responses in me. I want to eat a rice dish that transports me to the paddies of Indonesia, a couscous dish to remind me of mysterious Marrakech, and a fiery curried broth to evoke my lost childhood in the deep lushness of the South Indian rain forest. Like most of us, I have been influenced by the people around me. A Peruvian babysitter, a Korean college roommate, an Italian lover, and a Swiss aunt have all affected my cooking, and I am grateful to them for making my life in the kitchen more robust and complicated. I can think of no better pleasure than to be near a hot stove and a chopping block full of things waiting to be made into something that can be gathered around, savored, and enjoyed with people I want to spend time with. That’s really why we cook—to make others happy, to share with them the most human, the most intimate function of life: to eat.
The recipes in this book reflect how my generation eats: a little of this and a little of that. It spans many ethnicities and food traditions because that’s who we are, today, as a culture. More than ever we are a nation of adventurers, at least with our forks. We are also a nation with very little time on our hands. But we do want to impress those we love with luscious flavors and sumptuous colors that cater to the senses and fill our bellies with happiness. We want simple recipes for complex flavors. These recipes meet those standards. I recommend doing all the chopping before starting so that all the ingredients are ready at hand. I also encourage the cook to taste the dish often and play with the recipes, tailoring them to their own palate. And most of all, remember to cook with your heart because cooking is celebration, and food is love.
STARTERS & APPETIZERS
GRILLED CHEESE TOASTIE WITH PORTOBELLO AND BACON
Sometimes the best recipes are born as a result of clearing the fridge. I was doing just this when I had a handful of mushrooms left over and a couple of strips of bacon that needed using before I left town. You could use a slice or two of good, honey-baked ham or prosciutto instead for a splendid variation.
2 strips applewood-smoked bacon
½ cup chopped portobello mushrooms
2-inch sprig fresh thyme, which yields about ½ teaspoon of leaves
2½ tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons spicy mustard
4 slices sourdough bread
4 ounces sheep’s milk cheese (preferably Ossato Brebis) cut into ¼-inch-thick pieces
A few pats of butter at room temperature
1 Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon. When cooked well done but not burned, remove and place on a paper towel.
2 In the same pan, sauté the mushrooms in the bacon fat, adding the fresh thyme after 3 minutes. While the mushrooms are cooking, cut the bacon strips into bite-size pieces, cutting away any excess fat, if necessary. Put the bacon back into the pan with the mushrooms. Cook for 2 to 3 more minutes until the mushrooms are browned, and turn off the heat.
3 Whisk the honey and mustard together in a small bowl to make a thick sauce.
4 Thinly spread the honey-mustard sauce on one side of each slice of bread. Then cover 2 of the slices with the cheese, making sure to cover the entire surface. Spread the bacon and mushroom mixture over the cheese.
5 Place the other 2 slices of bread on top, and butter the outsides of each sandwich. Place the sandwiches in a frying pan and cover.
6 Cook on medium-low heat for 5 to 6 minutes until the bottom sides are golden brown. Then carefully flip the sandwiches over with a spatula, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes. In the last few minutes, when you can see the cheese melting on the sides, remove the lid to let out the steam so the sandwiches don’t get soggy. Cut the sandwiches into bite-size squares, and serve while still hot.
KERALAN CRAB CAKES
Who doesn’t love crab cakes? I made this recipe to meld a classic American dish with the hot and tangy flavors of my native Kerala. Since crab dishes are abundant in South Indian cuisine, the marriage is a happy one. I liberally use hot green chiles, but they can be reduced a bit to taste.
The shredded coconut gives the dish a South Asian twist, and the dried mango powder adds sourness. If you don’t happen to have the amchoor, don’t despair. Add some lemon juice to the mixture instead. If you do this, you’ll probably need less milk. I sometimes use sumac powder as an alternative, too, but more about that later.
1 pound crab meat
½ cup dry bread crumbs, plus about 1 cup more for dredging
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup mayonnaise
8 serrano chiles, minced
1 cup chopped chives
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
½ cup shredded carrot
½ cup finely diced celery
2 teaspoons green mango powder or amchoor (optional)*
1 cup sweet corn, fresh, canned, or frozen, drained
2 large eggs, beaten
1½ teaspoons salt
2 cups (approximately) canola oil, for frying
½ cup whole milk
Fresh Mint Chutney, for serving (here)
1 Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl except the oil, milk, and chutney. Add the milk a bit at a time; you may need a bit more or less than ½ cup to adhere the ingredients into a thick, cohesive mixture. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2 Form patties 3 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. Coat with additional bread crumbs.
3 Fill a deep skillet with ½ inch of oil and place it over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and simmering (test for readiness by dropping a loose kernel of corn into it—if the oil sizzles and tiny bubbles form around the kernel, the oil is ready), gently fry the patties, turning them over to brown on each side. Do not crowd the pan, and use two spatulas to turn. Cook for 4–5 minutes on each side.
4. Lay the fried patties on a few paper towels to absorb excess oil. Season with salt. Serve hot, with mint chutney on the side.
NOTE Amchoor is a light, sawdust-brown powder made of sun-dried green mangoes. It’s a great souring agent when you don’t want to add moisture to a dish. Found at most Indian grocery stores, it will keep in your pantry for ages.
TEA SANDWICHES WITH LEMON, HONEY, AND GINGER
I first tasted the flavor combination of lemon, honey, and ginger in a very expensive bottle of spread I found at a swanky gourmet shop. I’m a sucker for condiments, especially ones that are called things like citron confit au gingembre and adorned with pretty labels that look very Old World. But then I realized I could make them myself at home and actually tweak them to taste… well, better. Or did I first taste the combination of lemon, honey, and ginger in a Luden’s cough drop? No matter, the flavor is out of this world. The happy marriage of lemon and ginger gives a lovely, gentle flavor to these sandwiches. The peppery taste of pecorino is balanced nicely by the sweet taste of honey. It keeps in the fridge in an airtight jar for weeks.
10 slices of good white bread, toasted on both sides
2 preserved lemon halves (sold in specialty stores; also see here)
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon crushed dried red peppers (see below)
1 tablespoon freshly minced ginger
10 thin slices of a hard Italian cheese like pecorino or caciotta
1 Arrange the toast on a platter.
2 Chop the preserved lemons, being sure to remove any seeds first. Place them in a processor or blender with the honey, red pepper, and ginger; make a smooth paste.
3 Spread the paste on the toast and top with a slice of cheese. Diagonally cut each slice to make equal triangles from each slice. You can serve as is or heat in a 350°F oven for a few minutes, just until cheese is melted and toasted. Either way, these are wonderful with tea or, even better, a glass of sherry.
TEA SANDWICHES WITH GOAT CHEESE AND CUCUMBER
Okay, so most of us don’t sit around and have afternoon tea anymore, but these graceful little triangles dotted with garnet jewels of pomegranate and grassy notes of cucumber and dill demand an occasion worthy of them. They can be made so easily and are perfect for whipping up whenever guests descend unexpectedly. Pomegranates are mostly available in the fall; you can substitute dried cranberries or cherries for them the rest of the year. If the dried berries are large, chop them up into morsels first. The taste is different but just as scrumptious.
10 thin, square slices of good white bread grilled or toasted on both sides
½ teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces goat cheese, about a 2-inch cube
2 to 3 teaspoons dill
Fresh pomegranate seeds (see here)
40 ⅛-inch-thick slices of English cucumber, approximately half the cucumber
1 Place the toast on a platter.
2 Combine the olive oil, goat cheese, and dill. Spread this paste evenly onto the toasts.
3 Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, gently pressing them into the cheese.
4 Place 4 slices of cucumber on top of the cheese on each slice of toast.
5 Carefully cut each slice diagonally to make triangles. Ideally two of the four cucumber slices will also be cut in half. These are best served open-faced and arranged on a platter. They’re great with afternoon tea or to accompany cocktails.
MUSHROOM AND GOAT CHEESE FLAUTAS
This is a recipe that everyone loves. It’s a yummy crowd-pleaser that’s great to make by the platterful for any party. The flautas are best served hot right out of the pan and with plenty of the dipping sauce. The fresh tortillas will keep in the fridge, as will the cheeses, so this is also something you can make spontaneously when a hungry mob shows up.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup diced shallots
8 ounces fresh portobello mushrooms, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried dill
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces feta cheese
4 ounces ricotta cheese
8 8-inch-diameter flour tortillas *
Canola oil, for frying
Fresh Mint and Date Dipping Sauce (here)
1 Over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Toss in the shallots and mushrooms, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the oregano, thyme, dill, and crushed red pepper, and stir for 3 more minutes. Add a sprinkle of salt and sauté for a few minutes, until the mushrooms are browned. Remove from heat.
2 In a large bowl, combine the feta and ricotta cheeses with the sautéed shallots and mushrooms, mixing well to form a paste.
3 Lay 1 tortilla flat on a cutting board. Spoon 2 heaping teaspoons of mixture into a line across the tortilla, horizontally, near the side closest to you. Leave about a 1-inch border. Roll the nearest end over the mixture and keep rolling until the tortilla is in the shape of a flute. Press down gently as you roll to distribute the cheese mixture throughout the inside of the flute. Be careful not to push too hard; you don’t want it to seep out the sides. Close the tortilla using a wooden toothpick as a straight pin (not perpendicular, but parallel to the flute) to hold the end of the tortilla shut. Do this with all the tortillas.
4 Place a skillet filled to a depth of 1 inch with canola oil over medium-high heat. When the oil gets hot (you can test oil with a small piece of tortilla—if it bubbles and sizzles, it’s ready), turn the heat down to just lower than medium and fry the flautas on each side until golden brown. This should take no more than 1 to 2 minutes total; turn to brown each side every 30 seconds. When done, immediately place the flautas on paper towels to drain excess oil. When cool enough to touch, carefully ease out the toothpicks before serving. Each flauta can be cut in half on an angle before serving, as they are quite filling. Serve with Fresh Mint and Date Dipping Sauce (here).
NOTE Tortillas at room temperature are softer and easier to pierce and manipulate than cold ones, so take them out of the fridge before starting the recipe.
- On Sale
- Mar 16, 2021
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Hachette Go