Publishing Company Capitalizes on the Trend : Foods Once Rarely Eaten by Americans Now Have Become Fashionable
Fresh ginger is almost as common as table salt to many cooks these days, a probable outcome of the general fascination with Chinese and other Asian cuisines.
Goat cheese has become a best seller, not only in the cheese shops that flourish in just about every community, but also in some supermarkets.
The word “squid” may not be on the menu in Italian or seafood restaurants, but as calamari , served deep-fried or in cold vinaigrette, by itself or as part of the mixed-seafood salad, squid has been finding a growing number of fans.
And, though olive oil has always been fundamental to cooking in many kitchens, nowadays many recipes specify the use of extra-virgin oil for the taste thrill of the century.
Fashions in Food
These are the days of fashions in food, when items once considered somewhat esoteric or totally ethnic become virtual staples in home cooking and readily available in food markets and specialty stores.
And on top of, ahead of, or not far behind some of these trends are the cookbooks with the Aris Books imprint, published by a small company in Berkeley, Calif.
So far Harris Publishing Co. Inc. has produced “The International Squid Cookbook,” “The Art of Filo Cookbook,” “The Feast of the Olive,” “Chevre! The Goat Cheese Cookbook,” “Mythology and Meatballs” (not a cookbook), “The California Seafood Cookbook,” a runner-up in the R.T. French Tastemaker awards for the best American food cookbook of 1983, and the latest, “Ginger East to West.”
The single-theme, softcover books, priced from $6.95 to $11.95, are attractively designed and graphically illustrated. All combine recipes and practical techniques for preparing them with the history, folklore, legends and descriptions of the different varieties of the subjects.
Its Own Kitchen
The company also has its own kitchen where all of the recipes are tested in-house, a most unusual practice for a book publisher.
At the head and heart of the business is John Harris, a self-described former “beatnik artist” who found a way to express his interests in art, writing, books and food through his total involvement in producing books on subjects that he can get personally excited about and that satisfy his “intellectual curiosity about the foods of the world.”
“My idea of a good cookbook is not one that is 95%,” Harris said in a recent telephone interview. “I don’t think that is a real contribution. No one is going to use all 200 of those recipes.
“I think people want to know about food and what’s happening, to understand and appreciate what they are cooking and eating and to get techniques and information. I personally get bored with all those recipes if they are not advancing my understanding of a particular food.”
Harris got his start in the food world in the Bay Area of California, which he calls “a national culinary mecca,” in the late ‘60s when he was writing essays on offbeat subjects for various publications and working part-time in food establishments in Berkeley.
He also helped found a cheese shop and a museum restaurant, both collectively operated, that are still in business.
He first emerged on the national food scene in 1974 with his “Book of Garlic,” written under the name of Lloyd J. Harris (“we were all into changing our names in those days”) and which he published privately. The book, Harris said, had “started out as a humorous exploration of a subject and got serious.”
As for the culinary trend-setting, Harris said, “It’s a little hard to know who is creating them, the people who are creating the food or those who are writing about it. Some things are wildly successful because of the coverage.”
Sometimes the ideas for books are generated by him; sometimes the authors, “who are very passionate about their subjects,” come to him.
Bruce Cost, author of the ginger book, had noted how much more available fresh ginger had become, “but nothing extensive had been written on it,” Harris said. “Extra-virgin olive oil was in the stores but had not been celebrated on a national level.”
In both cases, Harris said, “We saw it happening and got on it very quickly.” He said one reason his company “can jump on a subject we know is getting interest is that we can produce a book much faster than the bigger houses. Our turnaround, from inception to finished book, is much faster.
Intense Work Pace
“It only takes us six months to produce, because we are working so intensely with the author that our design concepts are in the works as the book is developing and the recipes are being tried. Also, I don’t have to spend months getting approval from editorial boards and committees. When I decide to do something, I can go ahead.”
The book on squid, the first published by the company, Harris saw as a “challenge, something like garlic that was popular all over the world, but not in this country.”
He said he had found an American prejudice against using garlic, except in Italian foods. And, he said, “the major exposure to squid for most people was the giant creature in ’20,000 Leagues under the Sea.’ The idea of bringing one into the home and cleaning and eating it was repulsive.
“I got together with the author and had him cook something from the book. When I tried deep-fried calamari with lemon-garlic butter, I went crazy.”
Scheduled for publication in the fall are “Chef Wolfe’s New American Turkey Cookbook” and “From a Baker’s Kitchen.”
The Real Chemistry
The author of this bread book was asked to analyze all the bread books on the market and tell Harris how hers was different, and not just another recipe book.
“What excited me,” he said, “was that it was by a professional who believes that the home baker can make better bread than a professional . . . I also believe the home baker wants to know the real chemistry of bread making. If they learn what happens and why things work, they can become creative bakers without following a recipe.
“The turkey book,” he said, “was interesting from another angle: How could we make an interesting book on a subject that many people considered passe or low-brow? How to consider it as a year-round food, to appeal to sophisticates, as well as beginners, tired of traditional turkey?
“There’s nothing so American as turkey; it’s so American it’s almost boring. But I think we did it. It’s a fun book.”
Harris’ firm recently moved its headquarters from a small house to new and larger facilities whose core is a 400-square-foot kitchen that will serve for the recipe-testing as well as cooking demonstrations and classes and publication parties.
Testings ‘Are Wild’
The testings, by the author, an editor and a team of professional testers, “are wild,” Harris said.
“There is a certain amount of whimsy and irony in the things we do, but we try to do it with humor and elegance. There has to be some fun in it. I’m not one of those people who thinks the whole food thing is so important.
“There’s something absurd about the attention being paid to food. There has to be a whimsical, celebratory aspect to it. I couldn’t exist if there weren’t. I guess that’s what we are doing, celebrating a particular food or concept.”
Books may be ordered from the firm’s catalogue, available free, by writing Harris Publishing Co. Inc., 1621 Fifth St., Berkeley, Calif. 94710.
(“Ginger East to West”)
1 pound small zucchini
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup shredded red pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons finely shredded ginger root
1 teaspoon salt
Dash white pepper
Few drops sesame oil
Cut zucchini in halves lengthwise. Place cut side down and cut lengthwise into thin slices. Cut slices into 2-inch lengths.
Heat oil in wok or skillet until nearly smoking. Add zucchini and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add carrots, red pepper and ginger and stir about 15 seconds. Add salt and pepper and continue stirring until vegetables are tender-crisp. Remove from heat, sprinkle with sesame oil and remove to serving platter. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
These piquant meatballs can be served plain with bulgur wheat or in sandwiches or in a spicy tomato sauce over pasta.
LAMB AND OLIVE BALLS
(“The Feast of the Olive”)
3 slices bread, country-style white or whole wheat
2 pounds lean ground lamb
1/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic crushed
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Trim crusts from bread and soak slices in water. Drain and crumble. With fingers, combine lamb, bread, feta, olives, egg, cinnamon, hot pepper flakes, garlic and cilantro until well blended. Form into 10 large meatballs.
Cook meatballs in olive oil over moderately high heat until crisp and brown on one side. Turn and brown balls on all sides within 10 minutes. Meat should be rare. Makes 10 meatballs.
Deep-fried squid with several dipping sauces makes an excellent hors d’oeuvre or main course, says author Isaac Cronin.
(“The International Squid Cookbook”)
3 pounds squid, cleaned and cut into 1-inch rings
3 cups flour
Dry squid thoroughly with paper towels. Combine flour and salt and pepper to taste and coat squid.
Heat oil to 350 degrees in deep-fat fryer or heavy casserole. Plunge basket laden with 1 layer squid into oil. Or use large slotted spoon or tongs to immerse squid in oil and to remove. Fry until coating turns golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove squid and drain on paper towels. Continue process until all squid are done, reducing heat to moderate between batches to prevent oil from overheating. Pat excess oil from squid with paper towels before serving. Serve with lemon wedges, dipping sauces or Lemon-Garlic Butter. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter or margarine
Juice of 2 lemons
Lightly brown garlic in 1 tablespoon butter. Add lemon juice and remaining butter. Heat until butter melts.
GINGER STEAK WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS
(“Ginger East to West”)
10 large dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup sake or Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon ginger juice
1 teaspoon sugar or 1 tablespoon mirin
2 pounds steak
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
Soak mushrooms in hot water 20 to 30 minutes. Remove when tender and squeeze liquid out over soaking bowl. Reserve 1/4 cup liquid and cut mushrooms into thirds. Toss with sesame oil and set aside.
Grate ginger, squeeze through cheesecloth and combine with reserved mushroom liquid, sake, soy sauce and sugar and set aside. Season steaks lightly with salt.
Heat skillet and add oil. Sear steaks, then cook over medium heat 3 minutes or to desired degree of doneness. Turn steaks over and repeat. Remove from pan and keep warm.
Heat skillet again and add sake mixture, stirring to deglaze pan. After 2 minutes, add mushrooms and cook 1 minute over high heat, then turn heat off. Quickly slice steak, arrange on platter, pour sauce over and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Cost says the following simply made dish may be stir-fried and served warm or made ahead of time and served at room temperature as a salad.