So much is out of our hands these days: whether everyone wears a mask or not; whether a viable COVID-19 vaccine will be developed soon; whether kids go back to classrooms this fall; and whether life as we used to know it will ever be that way again.
One thing we do have command over, however, is meatballs. The way the malleable ground meat fits easily in our hands. The way we use our fingers to gently shape large ones or small ones. The way we form perfect spheres or slightly more lopsided ones (usually mine). And the way we season and cook them to create a pure taste of happiness.
If ever a book captures just what a delicious, beautiful and bountiful buffet of cultures and peoples we are, “America The Great Cookbook” does.
The cookbook (Welden Owen), of which I received a review copy, was edited by Joe Yonan, food and dining editor at the Washington Post. It features iconic recipes from 100 of America’s best chefs and food heroes.
What is American food? It is “Creole Gumbo” by Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans. It is “Yun-Hui (My Mother’s) Red-Cooked Pork” by Cecilia Chiang, ground-breaking San Francisco restaurateur. It is “Maple-Glazed Roasted Acorn Squash with Toasted Pepitas” by Sean Sherman, founder of The Sioux Chef in Minneapolis. It is “Soft-Shell Crabs with Shishito Mole, Roasted Tomatoes, and Lemon Balm” by Daniela Soto-Innes, chef of Cosme in New York. It is “Baklava Cheesecake” by food blogger Amanda Saab, founder of “Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor.” And it is so much more.
For me, Asian rice porridge, congee or jook (or juk) is a comforting taste of America, because I’ve grown up enjoying it here. I’ve spooned up its thick, creamy deliciousness countless times when my Mother would make it, typically after Thanksgiving, using the turkey carcass as the base for its broth. Or anytime my stomach was upset, when she would whip it up to soothe me.
“Clam Juk” is by New York’s David Chang, chef and founder of Momofuku. It’s a slightly more fanciful version of the basic congee, with its addition of pickled clams, which are quite easy to make.