Ah, the Midwest! Home of Ritz cracker-topped hot dishes and irresistible layer bars (in all their beautifully layered forms). What you might not realize from these iconic dishes is that the Midwestern states have a rich and vibrant food culture. As Amy Thelen describes in her book The New Midwestern Table, it's a food culture that's been fed by proximity to lakes and dense woodlands, grueling weather, and waves upon waves of immigrants. Whether you're in the mood for sauerkraut stew or just came home with a fresh-caught trout, there's something in here for everyone.
• Who wrote it: Amy Thielen
• Who published it: Clarkson Potter
• Number of recipes: Around 200
• Recipes for right now: Sweet-and-Sour Potluck Meatballs, Smoky Sauerkraut Soup, Butter-Basted Walleye, Chicken Paprikash, Breaded Stuffed Pork Chops with Ham and Gruyere, Crispy Cheese Curd Risotto Cake, Maple Tarte au Sucre, Sour Cream Raisin Pie
• Other highlights: As a native Minnesotan, paging through this book was truly like getting a plane ticket home. The recipes felt familiar and known to me, if not by their ingredient lists, then definitely by their spirit. There's an emphasis on lake fish and late-summer vegetables. The desserts are big and bright and bold. There's no skimping on cream, and the spices fall to the all-spice and thyme side of the spectrum.
You can clearly see the influence of our German and Scandinavian grandparents and great-grandparents in these pages. There are plenty of recipes that call for sauerkraut and sausage and more ways to cook white fish than you ever imagined. I do wish Thielen had included a few recipes from the Midwest's more recent immigrants, like the Hmong and the Somalis. I would love to see what these and other communities have brought to the cuisine and food culture of the Midwest.
Another signature of Midwestern cooking is that the dishes be approachable by anyone — both in terms of making them and in terms of enjoying them. This is a spirit that Thielen really captures. Although these recipes are updated for modern palates and modern grocery stores, they retain their simple nature. You don't have to be from the Midwest to make or appreciate these dishes — they're the kinds of foods that stand on their own.
• Who would enjoy this book? Native Midwesterners, anyone who loves good home cooking, cooks who love the flavors of Scandanavian and German cuisine.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen
• Visit the author's website: Amy Thielen
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(Image credits: Emma Christensen)