PW posed three questions to the pros behind four forthcoming cookbooks:
Leah Cohen, owner of Pig & Khao and Piggyback Bar in New York City (Lemongrass and Lime, Avery, Oct.)
Los Angeles caterer Jocelyn Ramirez (La Vida Verde, Page Street, Apr.)
Akhtar Nawab, chef-owner of Alta Calidad in Brooklyn and Otra Vez in New Orleans (Good for You, Chronicle, Aug.)
Ottolenghi executive head chef Sami Tamimi and Ottolenghi recipe developer Tara Wigley (Falastin, Ten Speed, Apr.)
What deceptively fancy or complex dish is simple enough for the home cook?
Akhtar Nawab: Anything pureed. My blender is the most-used tool in my house.
Jocelyn Ramirez: Jackfruit is really easy to prepare at home. People may feel it’s too complicated because the fruit can be huge and intimidating. We use the young green version of jackfruit for savory dishes, and it can typically be purchased jarred or canned.
Leah Cohen: People are intimidated by curry because there are a lot of ingredients involved. My recipe for pineapple curry with mussels is actually really easy to make. Making your own curry paste is a game changer and far superior to buying it, but this is where people get hung up and think curry is too hard to make.
Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley: Making your own labneh. It’s just yogurt, which is spooned into the middle of a clean J-cloth or tea towel, pulled up into a little sack, tied together, and then hung from a tap over a sink to drain for about 24 hours. The result is thick, firm, tangy labneh—the more sheep or goat’s cheese, the tangier it will be. It takes more time to hang out your washing than it does to hang your yogurt, but the perception is that it’s really hard or involved.
What’s your favorite “show-off” dish for guests?
Jocelyn Ramirez: My mole colorado enmoladas, because the mole takes lots of time, ingredients, and patience to prepare. This is the perfect dish to make guests feel special.
Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley: Maqlubet et ful: it’s an upside-down Palestinian savory rice cake layered with hearty vegetables and chunks of meat. Anything that gets inverted onto a big plate just before serving is the perfect show-off dish for guests. It’s impossible not to make the ta-da noise when it’s brought to the table.
Akhtar Nawab: Anything baked in large format. It could be a perfectly whole-roasted chicken or fish, or even a head of cauliflower. It encourages sharing and conviviality.
Leah Cohen: White pepper lobster. Everyone thinks lobster is so fancy, but it’s actually a really easy dish to make. There aren’t a lot of ingredients that you have to source, and who isn’t impressed with lobster?
What do you make look easy but really requires mastery?
Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley: The perfection of a perfectly cooked egg—firm whites, runny yolks, nothing in between—is not to be underestimated in, for example, a green or red shakshuka. The key is to take your time: low heat and an eagle eye, and also removing the pan just before they’re ready. The eggs will continue to cook and firm up from the residual heat in the pan once off the heat.
Leah Cohen: I think all my recipes are something the home chef can master, but perhaps a more labor-intensive recipe is my curry puffs. Making the shape of the curry puff, making sure the dough is not too dry, not too wet—even my sous chefs are having to learn how to make it work. Pastry is always intimidating.
Jocelyn Ramirez: My chile relleno con papas y huitlacoche dish does require some mastery in preparing the pasilla chile itself. Once cooked, it can become a very delicate ingredient, and it takes time to carefully remove the skin and seeds. Then it gets stuffed with the filling, being careful not to tear the chile. This is why I say to make one extra chile in the recipe—one will always tear on you.
Akhtar Nawab: Getting the most out of flavors is the hardest thing for some people. It requires patience and practice and an understanding of where you want the dish to end up. Also timing—knowing the right time to re-season something or when the oil is hot enough to caramelize something. It all takes practice.