Book Club Tuesday: Neighborhood

Wasn’t it Jane Austen who famously wrote: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a good kitchen, must be in want of a cookbook”? No? I could have sworn it was but at any rate I think it is a universal truth that people love cookbooks whether you cook or not. And for people who love

cookbooks there’s always a dream list of the ones you don’t own…yet. While I do get sent a fair share of cookbooks from publishers like everyone else I too have a list. Every once in a while when I want to treat myself I’ll buy one and in this case I recently acquired Hetty McKinnon‘s Neighborhood because I’d heard so many great things and so badly wanted to try it.

Thai Carrot & Peanut Salad

Neighborhood (her second cookbook) focuses on taking the schematic version of a salad (think: leafy) and works to change the schema so that salads become something new. More hearty, less leafy. To be honest her salads are so out of the realm of what I’m used to where salads are concerned I had to keep reminding myself that the basis of this book are, in fact, salads. Almost a dozen recipes in and I’m completely enamored with the way Hetty constructs a salad because what she does is make it into a true meal. She deftly shows how the different places that she’s lived in influence the types of ingredients she uses and how she uses those ingredients. The recipes, paired with Luisa Brimble’s crisp and lush pictures create such a mouthwatering combination!

I found myself coming back to an idea she mentions in her introduction: “If community is a feeling of kinship, Neighborhood is a physical compilation of the sights, sounds, and colors of a geographic area.” What each recipe then becomes is the embodiment of all of these things because in all the places she’s lived she’s taken inspiration from. This is also how the book is organized — into the different neighborhoods she’s connected to: Dear America, So Frenchie, Into the Mediterranean, East, Meet West, To Asia, With Love, This is Australia, and Just Bring Dessert. Very helpfully the beginning of the book contains tips for weeknight salad making, how to use leftovers, and some cook’s notes.

Bean Chili w/ Crispy Tortilla Strips & Creamy Avocado Salsa

People who frequent my space here know that I belong to a family of vegetarians (my husband, daughter, and I) and that probably one of the reasons why I really started to take home cooking seriously is because I wanted to ensure that my daughter wasn’t a cheese/pasta/tofu “vegetarian” like her parents were (also there was a huge fear from my extended family about what I would feed a vegetarian toddler so there was a lot of pressure to get it “right”). In some ways I wish I would have had this book to start off with because I love the way ingredients — grains, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds, and gorgeous seasonal produce — are put together to create memorable and hearty combinations. You could totally serve a kid salad (gasp!) without great grandma clutching her pearls (she’ll mostly likely enjoy the salad too!).

Neighborhood is categorized as “plant-based” and while dairy and eggs are used in limited amounts I think that whether you eat meat or absolutely none at all I think these recipes are easily adapted to suit any preference. When my sister and her boyfriend recently came for a visit I made them the Roasted Carrots w/ Green Beans, Mung Beans, & Coconut Dukkah (as well as the Salted Caramel and Apple Galette) and it was a HUGE hit! I’m always worried about what I’ll serve non-vegetarians but with Neighborhood I think the recipes are so delicious that it transcends any labels.

Salted Caramel and Apple Galette

Just the other night I made the Bean Chili w/ Crispy Tortilla Strips & Creamy Avocado Salsa and my daughter totally gobbled it up! I really appreciated how the beans were mixed in with the cooked onions, garlic, and spices but that the tomatoes and bell pepper were left uncooked (to be mixed in after the pan was taken off the stove). These fresh elements somehow lightened the chili and this traditionally cold-weather dish became completely perfect for a warm summer’s evening. The creamy avocado salsa was a good foil to the spicy chili and the crispy tortilla added a nice crunch. The leftovers were perfect because no re-heating was required — this salad tasted great cold! Similarly none of her leftovers need to be reheated which makes getting a meal on the table so helpful. I found that the ingredients were easy to shop for because all I needed was to buy in-season produce. For the rest of the dry ingredients I was able to rely on my pantry staples for different grains, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds.

One of the things that I admire about Hetty is that she advocates for the connections that happen between food and people. It’s through these connections we learn about how neighborhoods are founded and sustained. I think the most special part of her book happens at the end with the last chapter Just Bring Dessert. It is here that she introduces us to her kin — the people close to her. Each person brings a story and a recipe and it’s through this collaboration between Hetty and her friends that the spirit of Neighborhood is strengthened.  There was something about serving the galette on the final night of my sister’s visit that made me so happy. The shared memories of that dessert and their visit are linked forever even after they departed. Making the classic pavlova recipe felt different because I was making Jennifer Wong’s classic pavlova recipe — one that was her mother’s (it was also my first Pavlova recipe I tried and I was really happy with the way it turned out). This is not just a cookbook but a way to understand food and to experience it’s connection to any given place or people.

What she states at the beginning of the book is the truth: “Neighborhood will show home cooks that you don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetables, and you don’t have to be a chef to be a good cook.” Her use of fresh, whole ingredients really works to change the way we see a salad and to make it one of the simplest, heartiest meals you can make. If you’re curious to see what I’ve made so far have a look at my custom Instagram hashtag #shipshapesneighborhood or my dedicated Facebook post. As I try more recipes, I’ll keep adding pictures.

Classic Pavlova

I used my own personal copy to happily write this review.

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