The subtitle to Susan Feniger's Street Food -- Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes -- could just as well be a Wikipedia entry on the woman who, as we are reminded on the book jacket flap, is behind Street, co-founder of Border Grill, one of the original Food Network personalities and a regular on Top Chef. And we would add: a woman with seemingly boundless, infectious, center-stage energy. And a darn good cook, too.
Feniger's latest cookbook is co-written by Kajsa Alger, her partner and chef at Street (who developed many of the recipes), and director Liz Lachman, Feniger's partner in business and life. Our favorite line in the acknowledgements is apparently indirectly via Lachman, just after Feniger thanks chef Alger profusely for her kitchen innovations: "And without my life partner, Liza Lachman, I would probably be in a gutter somewhere right now. I promised her she could write that sentence, so you see what happens?"
Classic Feniger. As is the cookbook.
Among the recipes, you'll find helpful sidebar details from someone who has long worked in professional kitchens, like how to trim and stuff cactus for those great-looking cactus rellenos with corn and arbol salsa (trim off the spines with the side of a knife and slice the paddles through the middle like a sandwich before filling and pressing the halves back together).
There also are entertaining personal reflections, as we have come to expect from the chef. In the recipe for curried lentils with Indian dried plums, Feniger recounts her first trip to India 28 years ago and the overwhelming number of dals (hulled dried beans, peas and lentils) she faced. "The variety is staggering," she says before recounting a village woman named Takubai whom she met in Ahmednagar (the curried lentil recipe is a variation on her recipe). The instant connection that got Feniger to greater dal understanding? "Even though we couldn't communicate through language, we shared a character trait: sassiness."
The book continues to follow Feniger's and Lachman's global travels to Mongolia, Turkey and Vietnam, with plenty of glam food shots interspersed in between. The recipes contain many ingredients that every American pantry may not typically keep in stock. Things like dashi kombu, Korean miso and dried kokum plums (a sweet-and-sour variety grown in southern India, used in Takubai's curried lentil recipe).
For L.A.-area home cooks, it's one more great excuse to check out your local Asian and Indian markets (weekend Thai green peppercorn and masoor dal shopping fun). For those who don't have global shopping access locally, the Internet may be your only option for making many of the recipes -- though Feniger does offer substitutions for your Thai drunken shrimp with rice noodles convenience (sub pink peppercorns for Thai green).
And sure, you will occasionally find the obligatory California restaurant table decorations here, like a beet salad with kumquats and coriander. Other recipes are common American dishes that get the Street makeover: Cheese grits with three-pepper relish, whole artichokes with a lemon-za'atar dipping sauce.
But mostly, the recipes stick to their classic global street-food roots: Mung bean pancakes with Korean pork and kimchi, Szechuan tofu with mabo pork and Asian greens, and home-cook-friendly variations on wok-fried crabs in red chile sauce from Singapore street vendors (here, in crabcake form to remedy the messy eating process, Feniger says).
The bonus? Despite the occasional obscure ingredient or two, the book offers something its globally inspired, chef-scribed hardback colleagues rarely do. The recipes are relatively simple for the home cook, serving more as everyday global inspiration rather than promising to rewrite our entire weeknight kitchen direction. We'll make a batch of spicy yuzu mayonnaise to toast that.
Spicy Yuzu Mayonnaise
From: Susan Feniger's Street Food.
Makes: 2 cups
Note: Per Feniger: "This mayo is killer (and I mean that in the best possible way only). You can use it as a dipping sauce with a steamed artichoke, or with leftover steak for your steak sandwich. We squirt this on top of our [Japanese-style] Tatsutage fried chicken at Street (p. 94), and it's what makes people die for that dish!"
Look for yuzu kosho chile paste -- a mixture of fermented yuzu zest, chile peppers and salt -- in Japanese markets. Feniger adds: "If you can't find the paste but can find yuzu juice, you can mix it with roasted Serrano chiles and the zest of fresh limes."
2 cups Japanese-style mayonnaise (Feniger prefers Kewpie brand)
2 tablespoons yuzu juice
2 tablespoons yuzu kosho chile paste
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1. Put the mayonnaise, yuzu juice, and chile paste in a small bowl and whisk together until well incorporated. Store the mayonnaise in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
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