Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
Illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton
I remember when this book was getting nominated for all kinds of awards, and from the reviews, I thought it was going to be a beginners cookbook so I didn’t pay it much attention. Then came the Netflix show.
My husband and I watched the first episode one Saturday night a few weeks ago. Samin is totally adorable, smart, funny and just, well, lovable. That first episode takes place in Italy, which didn’t hurt either. So we said, okay, we’ll watch the next one. That one was in Japan. An hour later, we thought, why not, let’s watch the episode in Mexico. And then there was only one episode left so we watched that, too. Yes, I lead an exciting life, binge watching Netflix on a Saturday night. It wasn’t the first time, and probably won’t be the last. But it was fun, and inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable and it led me back to her cookbook.
To be honest, I liked the TV series more than the book, and that is a very odd thing for me to say. It is, as I feared, very much a beginners cookbook. The first two hundred pages of the book just explains salt, fat, acid and heat. The rest of the book is called, “and now that you know how to cook…” and includes “recipes and recommendations.”
The first part of the second part? Not recipes, “Kitchen Basics” starting with “choosing tools, choosing ingredients, a few basic how-tos” with illustrations. Like how to slice an onion, how to turn garlic into a paste, how to chop parsley and other info on knife cuts. Then, finally, recipes. Sort of.
There are pages on salads but nothing that looks like a recipe you’d find in any other cookbook until you get a ways in. There are pages about ingredients used in salad, a chart with suggested combinations, and then some actual recipes. Avocado, Beet and Citrus Salad. Shaved Carrot Salad with Ginger and Lime. Then some dressings – progress! After the salads come stocks and soups. beans, grains and pasta, fish, chicken, and so forth, even a handful of desserts. There is no table of contents, but there is an extensive index.
All that said, there wasn’t a whole lot I would make. It’s just too basic, I’ve been making most of this stuff for years. So it’s not a cookbook I would cook from, if you will, and for me, that defeats the purpose.
A reviewer from the Atlantic called it a “meta-cookbook” and I totally get that. Other reviewers felt that it changed the way they cooked or even the way they thought about food. It didn’t do that for me. That said, it would make a terrific gift for a beginning cook or someone who doesn’t like to cook or even worse, thinks they can’t cook. Samin is a remarkable teacher, and that shows on every page. Her love of food comes shining through, along with her will to make everyone feel the same way – and she truly is a force to be reckoned with – but in the most irresistible way. Buy it for the novice cooks in your life. And definitely watch the show!
10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat. Simon and Schuster; 4th edition (April 25, 2017). ISBN 978-1476753836. 480p.