Review: “International Night,” Mark and Talia Kurlansky

Pros: Delightful variety; great way to explore other cuisines
Cons: Some recipes we tried were just ‘okay’
Rating: 4 out of 5

 

I received this book for free from Bloomsbury Publishing for this review.

 

International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World *Including More than 250 Recipes* (by Mark and Talia Kurlansky) tells the tale of their “international night” dinners. Once a week Mark’s daughter Talia would point to a random spot on a globe and the family would research and then cook an evening’s meal in keeping with the location she chose. The book is organized by ‘night’ (Philippines Night, Provence Night, Kazakhstan Night, Egypt night, Senegal Night, Sri Lanka Night, Austria Night, etc. etc.). Included are some combination of appetizers/breads, main course, drink, dessert. Mark Kurlansky is an accomplished food writer who has traveled extensively.

I wouldn’t say this is a standout cookbook; some of the recipes wowed us, but an equal number didn’t. Our favorite recipe so far is the Breton Cake for Brittany Night: it came out like a cross between shortbread and a rum cake. Very difficult to stop eating once you get started! A good counterexample is the Milawi (a semolina bread) from the Algeria Night. The recipe is clearly expected to create a dough that can be shaped, but ours came out as thin pancake batter. Mind you, it cooked well as large pancakes, tasting much like cake-shaped pasta (due to the semolina). It goes very well with any kind of sauce that it can be dipped in. The lamb & chickpea meatballs tasted more of breadcrumbs than they did of either lamb or chickpea, which was disappointing.

Milawi: pancakes instead of bread

Milawi: pancakes instead of bread

Kurlansky provides interesting introductory notes for each night’s section, including notes about which recipes he has taken a bit of license with. He tried to strike a balance between making things his family would really enjoy vs. authenticity in some cases. Note that there are no photos of completed recipes. The layout is clean and clear, with ingredients nicely set off from directions Occasionally the steps would have been easier to follow if they were broken down into smaller paragraphs. It’s assumed that the reader will have a stand mixer and a food processor, although you might be able to get away with a hand mixer in places.

Appetizers include Ahi Poke (Hawaii), Grilled Sardines (Aquitane), Harira (Morocco), and Piaz Pakode–a type of battered onion ring (India). Main courses range from Mongolian Hot Pot (Mongolian, obviously) to Steak and Aji Asado (Argentina), Beef Stroganoff (Russia), and Squid Curry (Sri Lanka). Desserts: Linzertorte (Austria), Rose Water Sherbet (Turkey), Guava Pastry (Cuba). I wouldn’t make everything we tried a second time, but there were definitely some winners. And I’m really looking forward to trying more recipes from additional source locations!

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