This cookbook was reviewed by Carol a staff member of The Daring Kitchen.
One of the most important “must have” ingredients in any cook’s pantry is spice. At a minimum, most kitchen spice racks have salt and pepper and perhaps some dried herbs of some variety. Indeed, I would imagine that the spice rack’s of Daring Kitchen members is very indicative of cultural backgrounds. A glance in my pantry has a large variety of French and Italian herbs, followed by a sprinkling of Mexican chili powders, Indian curries, and a variety of odds and ends from different countries. As I create and cook different dishes, I rely on my experience with the flavors and tastes of these different spices to assist me in taking a dish from mediocre to spectacular. However, I will confess that my comfort zone is with traditional “western” spices and my lack of experience with decidedly Asian flavors has an influence on the extent to which I make such dishes.
As a result, John Gregory-Smith’s new cookbook – Mighty Spice Express Cookbook – Fast, Fresh and Full-On Flavors from Street Foods to the Spectacular (Published by Duncan Baird Publishers on August 1, 2013) was an ideal way for me to try new spices and new recipes without a lot of work and expense. Smith says that his publisher’s asked him to write this follow up to his first book, The Mighty Spice. In his first book, he sought to show people how simple it was to incorporate spices into their cooking. He believes that the next step for him is to demonstrate to people that you can use spices for any cooking occasion and you can do it fast too!
The Might Spice Express truly is an express journey through a variety of countries including Thailand, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, India, Turkey, Morocco and Mexico in search of “street food”. Smith searches for street food because it’s fast and furious along with being hot, cold, savory or sweet. He believes, that you can count on it being tasty and freshly cooked!
Thus for this cookbook he says “I developed recipes using techniques, spices, cuts of meat and fish, cooking methods and ingredients that all work toward making delicious express meals and snacks for any occasion.” And he relies on spice to add the flavors, color, heat and fragrance of the different counties that he visited and from which the origins of the dishes hail from.
The chapters of the cookbook – Mighty Bites (appetizers), Not Quite Lunch (brunch), Midweek Lifesavers (meals ready in 15 or so minutes), Nice and Easy (comfort food), Something Spectacular (entertaining) and Naughty but Nice (desserts) – are a refreshing way at organizing and presenting the recipes – i.e. you can choose your recipes based on occasion and cooking time. While there are not pictures for every recipe, each recipe has a pictured spice key at the bottom of the page that shows the spices that are used! On that note, the pictures have a beautiful rustic charm to them, not polished, glossy posing used in a lot of cookbooks but rather raw, edgy presentations like you would expect for street foods.
For testing purposes, I tried the following recipes – Mr. Wong’s Hunan Lamb, Beef Chili & Mint Stir-fry, from Midweek Lifesavers and Roast Spatchcocked Chicken with Chimichurri & Rice & Black Bean Salad and Leaf Salad from Nice and Easy.
Mr. Wong’s Hunan Lamb served with Baby Bok Choy was an eye opener and sinus clearing dish! A chili paste made with Red Chili and Schezuan Peppers, scallion and ginger acted as a marinade/rub for the Lamb Chops. My lamb dishes usually involve Dijon Mustards and Herbs de Provence – tasty with some punch but not the heat of chili! The Hunanese spices were perfect and a quick stir-fry of the Bok Choy with soy sauce and ½ a freshly squeezed orange proved to be a good counterpoint to the heat. The recipe was measured for 2 people and claimed a 20 minute preparation time – and that was amole time. All the recipes are written in a tight, concise fashion so that, in this case, while the lamb was broiling, Smith recommends preparing and stir-frying the Bok Choy. This dish would be perfect for a Friday night couple dinner after a long work week with a chilled Riesling!
Mr. Wong’s Hunan Lamb
The Beef Chili and Mint Stir-fry is definitely a mid week lifesaver –and the quoted preparation time of 15 minutes is dead-on. I was amazed at how quickly such a flavorful dish could be put together. This is a simple beef stir-fry with the heat of a red chili and the flavors of garlic, ginger root, soy and few peanuts. What pushes this dish to the next level is a handful of mint – genius and delicious.
Beef Chili and Mint Stir-Fry
The Roasted Spatchcocked Chicken was given a 45 minute preparation – I think this one pushed the envelope a little. I would bank on a little over an hour for this one. However, with that said, this dish is worthy for an evening of entertaining guests. The chicken itself is easy enough – cut and prepare the chicken with salt and pepper and roast until the liquids run clear. Smith then instructs to prepare the rice for the rice and black bean salad – and follow with the chopping of the ingredients first for the Chimichurri – chili, onion and garlic, parsley and tomato, then more onion and parsley for the rice salad. Perhaps it was the chopping that slowed me a little. The Chimichurri was different from those I had made in the past with the addition of smoked paprika and it was simply gorgeous when served with the roasted chicken. The Rice and Black Bean salad, too, enjoyed the addition of a handful of mint and it was a dish I would make again. Finally the leaf salad prepared in a plastic food bag with mixed salad leaves, ½ a lemon and a spoonful of olive oil was, not only an easy way to prepare a green salad, but the perfect complement to a well rounded dinner.
Roast Spatchcocked Chicken with Chimichurri & Rice & Black Bean Salad and Leaf Salad
I will confess that I am not a street food person. My sense of adventure to try foods on the “street” is outweighed by my concerns for health and sanitation of said food and vendors! I do appreciate Smith’s enthusiasm for what street food brings to the “table” so to speak – speed, freshness, and simplicity. One of the challenges for me wasn’t the preparation of the meals themselves but rather the pre-planning – i.e. a trip to the grocery store to buy ingredients that I don’t readily keep on hand.
Nonetheless, if you are inclined to “spice” up your cooking and step away from some of the more traditional, week night casseroles, The Mighty Spice Express will be a great addition to your cookbook shelf.