Born in Ethiopia, adopted by Swedish parents, trained in classical European cuisine, then reintroduced as an adult to the cooking of his native continent, Marcus Samuelsson has a fascinating story to tell in his new book, The Soul of a New Cuisine (Amazon, $26).
This book has been on the top of my to-read pile since Thanksgiving, but the recent Chicago Tribune mention pushed me to pick it up this weekend and I found myself lost in it. The preface traces Samuelsson's unique story, through his journey from Ethiopia to Sweden to New York and Aquavit, back to Africa in a search for his heritage. The story of this journey made the book feel more immediate than a simple cookbook.
Samuelsson emphasizes the diversity of Africa, discussing the North, West, East, and Southern regions and their unique approaches to food and cooking, with explanations of some ingredients and equipment. Then he divides the book into traditional sections by dish, beginning with spice blends. This is a great strength of the book; he spends a lot of time giving clear and accessible instructions for creating some of the spice blends and rubs that form the foundations of authentic African cooking. I am looking forward to trying the Spiced Butter and Ras Al-Hanout.
The chapter on sauces and condiments is similar; where another author might have skipped on to the main dishes he takes time to explore chutneys, dips, Papaya Ketchup and other unique sauces that will add layers of flavor to even a novice cook's attempts to recreate this cuisine.
The rest of the book is wonderful as well, lavishly illustrated with photos of Africa and its native foods. Samuelsson's voice throughout is clear and helpful, yet personal, in an effort to educate and make accessible at the same time. If you are interested in African food at all, or in food as a lens to see people and their culture, I highly recommend this book. I am definitely looking forward to cooking out of it this winter.