Today’s Food Friday book is from Grub Street Publishing. Round the World in Eighty Dishes is a collection of recipes from all over the world, organized by region. My favorite parts of this fantastic cookbook are the anecdotes that accompany each recipe. They are fascinating in that (being originally written in the 1950s) they bring you back in time. It is a highly interesting glimpse at a cookbook from the past, with recipes that still resonate today.
This charming little book was first published in 1956 when people in England were still enduring post-war restrictions on both traveling and eating. As Lesley Blanch says in her introduction to a later edition ‘benign fate whisked me elsewhere to follow less restricted ways, traveling widely and eating wildly.’ She said: ‘I don’t belong in England, I don’t belong anywhere, it is rather restful…I have met everybody and known nobody.’ Seductive and piquant like its author, this is ‘an appetizer for enthusiastic beginners’ rather than a basic cookbook. Lesley Blanch’s gastronomic world tour includes eighty recipes each prefaced by an account of where they were first tasted, or with some amusing anecdote. Lesley Blanch was born in June 1904 and died in 2007, aged 102. She studied painting at the Slade, and later designed book jackets for TS Eliot at Faber. She was, from 1937 to 1944, the dynamic and imaginative features editor at Vogue. Elegant and devastatingly pretty, she had many admirers and was married to the French novelist Romain Gary for fifteen years. She travelled extensively, principally in the Middle East, and during her long and extraordinary life wrote 12 books, the best-known of which is The Wilder Shores of Love, which has never been out of print since it was first published in 1954.
The recipe I’d like to share with you today comes from the Central and South America section of the cookbook. Many of us are familiar with Chilli con Carne, and now you can learn to make this traditional Mexican dish at home! Keep reading for the entire recipe and instructions.
Chilli con Carne
This is the national Mexican dish; eaten with tortillas, and followed by a slice of papaya, it would be a typical meal, found everywhere, from a restaurant in the big brash port of Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico, to some tiny banana plantation on the Pacific near Tehuantepec, where boa constrictors are used as house pets or mousers – and where the big splendid-looking women stride about in bright yellow, red, and purple costumes, often with little green parakeets sitting on their heads or perched on their shoulders. Most of the men I saw on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec were dozing in hammocks under the palm trees. Their wives or daughters seemed to be the bosses. In between shouting across the street to each other and doing the marketing, they were giving the men orders in a very firm way. One old man was making a Chilli con Carne. This is how he made it.
450g/1 pound chopped or minced steak
1 tablespoon oil
6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chilli powder
1 green pepper
1 cup red kidney beans (soaked overnight)
4 tablespoons water
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Dash of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons cream (optional)
The minced steak is broken up well with a fork and browned in the oil. When seared (about 5 minutes), put it in a big cooking pot that has a lid. Add the ripe chopped tomatoes, chilli powder, green pepper (seeds removed), cut in strips, red kidney beans soaked overnight, 4 tablespoons water. Chop up the onions, and fry lightly with the cloves of garlic, crushed. After 5 minutes add these to the pot; add a dash of black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and see that it cooks very slowly, covered, over an [heat-proof] mat for about 45 minutes at least. Stir it carefully, from time to time. Now take 2 teaspoons flour and 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, and crush the seeds finely into the flour. Before serving, stir some of the juice from the pot into the flour and caraway mixture, then add it to your stew, and stir well, till it thickens, for about 3 to 4 minutes. At the last moment, some cooks add 2 tablespoons cream, but this is not essential.
This is a rather heavy meal: in Mexico, they would eat it at noon, for supper, probably some tortillas, and a cup of chocolate with vanilla whipped into it, if they are well-to-do. In Mexico City, the altitude is such that only very light food is eaten at night. One street celebrated for being the rendezvous of the bullfighters is filled with cafes where they sit with thei managers (who look a lot like hatchet-faced thugs), the picadors, and all the hangers-on of the bullring, delicately sipping whipped chocolate, their only sustenance.
This story and recipe come from pages 141-143 of Round the World in Eighty Dishes.
For more from Round the World in Eighty Dishes, purchase your copy here.
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