Mark Bittman wants you to be free. In his new book “Kitchen Express” the New York Times columnist and best-selling cookbook author offers more than 400 “recipes” that are more creative cooking suggestions than staunch commands.
This is good. This is empowering. This is no reason to be afraid. Bittman’s “precisely imprecise” approach debunks the eatertainment industry myth that cooking — real cooking — is a matter of precision.
At no more than a paragraph long, each of Bittman’s recipes is creative, quick and intensely flavorful, while still embracing modern cooking’s holy trinity of “speed, flexibility, and relaxation.”
For Fish with Thai Pesto, puree “a few good handfuls” of Thai basil with cilantro, oil, garlic and chili, cook some fish in “a couple of tablespoons” of oil, then top with the puree and serve. For a quick Panzanella (Italian bread salad), cube some bread, add tomatoes, olives, anchovies, garlic and capers, toss with red wine vinegar and olive oil, garnish with Parmesan. Or don’t. It’s up to you.
And that’s Bittman’s point. Tossing and pinching, adding and substituting, this is what your mother did. What all of us should be able to do. With confidence. Bittman makes it even easier for timid cooks by offering a comprehensive chart of substitutions.
Organizing recipes by season is the cookbook industry’s newest gimmick, and Bittman follows suit. Theoretically, this makes it easier to employ the freshest ingredients. But Bittman also nods to cravings — say an ice cream sandwich in the middle of winter — by offering an excellent index as well as lists of desserts, breakfasts, finger foods and other categories.
“Kitchen Express” is the perfect book for experienced cooks looking for fresh ideas. It’s also a great find for new cooks who want to discover their own style minus the intimidation factor. New cooks will also appreciate Bittman’s comprehensive pantry guide.
So turn off the TV. And honor your inner Iron Chef.
Avocado Soup with Crab
Cooked shrimp or lobster are fine substitutes for the crab called for in this recipe. Author Mark Bittman also suggests crushed tortilla chips, diced tomato or crumbled queso fresco.
Puree a couple of ripe avocados with 2 cups of whole milk and a pinch of salt. Season a mound of fresh lump crabmeat with minced fresh red chilies, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime or orange juice. Serve the soup with a scoop of the crab. Serves 4-6.
— Recipe from “Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express” by Mark Bittman, Simon & Schuster.