It may come as culture shock to assiduous cookbook collectors to learn that the best--and more to the point, best-selling cookbooks printed in Europe, the Middle East or Asia--these days never make a crossover to American book shelves.
Why is a matter of conjecture. Publishers claim that foreign cookbooks--aside from those by noted French chefs--require far too much editorial revision to warrant the investment.
Happily there is Grace Kirschenbaum of Los Angeles who repairs the oversight. Kirschenbaum's unique mission is make culinary enthusiasts this side of the Atlantic aware of everything happening on the international cookbook scene. Her method is a straight-talk bimonthly newsletter--the "World of Cookbooks"--that is spiced with pithy comments and accurate evaluations about contemporary cookbooks published in more than 15 languages.
Kirschenbaum is no ordinary entrepreneur. She is a publisher, foreign correspondent, copy editor and sometimes typesetter as well, who wants to know what's cooking on distant stoves.
A Master of Languages
Kirschenbaum speaks six languages fluently and reads 15 others well enough to know the difference between a steady simmer and a rolling boil in Danish, Serbo-Croatian and Turkish. What's more the World of Cookbooks is the only culinary publication the Soviet Union recognizes and actually sends review copies.
Kirschenbaum is particularly optimistic about Iron Curtain cuisine. "Russian cookbooks are definitely changing," she said. "They're becoming less traditional in format with bigger and better photographs." A recent tome she reviewed detailed 20 different recipes for vegetable caviars.
Upcoming issues of the World of Cookbooks will focus on a bartenders' guide from Germany that explores a whole new range of tropical fruits used to create drinks. Plus, a report on the great young chefs of Denmark.
Scouting New Books
Much of Kirschenbaum's life is spent as a traveler scouting new cookbooks for Americans. And while multilingual collectors will benefit most from her service, there is counsel enough about foreign-published English language tomes to make the World of Cookbooks a must for any serious kitchen practitioner.
(The World of Cookbooks is issued six times a year for $30; a sample copy is $5. Information: 1645 S. Vineyard Ave., Los Angeles 90019; (213) 933-1645.)
I asked Kirschenbaum if she was a good cook. Her answer was instantaneous. "I don't claim to be the best cook in the world," she said. "But my recipes have won prizes in 19 cooking contests." What follows are two recipes selected at random from her recent newsletters.
This terrific Italian vegetable dish or first course stems from "135 Ricette Delle Scuole di Cucina Italiana" ("135 Recipes From Italian Cooking Schools") published recently by Fabbri Editori. The recipe is the handiwork of Jo Bettoja, who runs Scaldavivande Cooking School in Rome. I have slightly amended it for American stoves.
1/4 cup olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
2 cups cooked fava beans or 1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans, defrosted
1 cup fresh green peas
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup water
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in pancetta and onion. Cook until golden, about 8 minutes.
Add artichoke hearts and beans to onion mixture. Cook 3 minutes. Stir in peas, lemon juice and water. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with parsley. Makes 4 servings.
A remarkably tart palate refresher, the following recipe was adapted from "I Kokkenet Med," a collection of Scandinavian chefs' recipes published in Denmark by Politikens Forlag and created by Erwin Lauterbach.
6 ounces dried apricots
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
12 ounces carrots, peeled, sliced
3/4 cup white wine
Combine apricots with 1 1/2 cups water in medium saucepan. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered, until apricots are tender, about 15 minutes. Strain liquid into another saucepan. Add 2 1/2 cups remaining water.
Heat apricot juices and water to boiling. Reduce heat. Stir in sugar, lemon and carrots. Gently simmer, partially covered, until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.
Stir in wine. Cool slightly.
Discard lemon. Transfer carrot mixture to container of food processor. Stir in apricots. Process until smooth.
Transfer mixture to container of ice cream maker and proceed according to manufacturer's directions. Makes about 1 quart.