An experimental season

I love cooking in late winter and early spring, because this is the time of year that you can get really experimental. In the summer, from the time the asparagus and rhubarb start to sprout until you get those last tomatoes, there’s all this pressure to eat local, eat what’s ripe right now. Then in the fall, everyone wants comfort food, which is heavily prescribed by tradition. Roast chicken! Minestrone soup! Pot roast! Next, the holidays come along, and if you don’t cook just what everyone’s come to expect from you during the holidays, there  might be a rebellion.

But now, at least until May, we can go a little crazy in the kitchen and try new things. For me, that means checking out some of the library’s wide collection of international cookbooks and traveling the world a little, in a culinary way. And now, after the excesses of the holiday and while the rain is falling down outside, we want lighter recipes that take us to warm and sunny places.

Try Jerusalem by by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, two cooks who were raised in opposite ends of that city and inspired by its cuisine. My husband and I both cook and peruse a lot of cookbooks, and often when we look at cookbooks, we’re all, “Ho-hum, we’ve seen this before.” Jerusalem’s recipes are new and exciting, full of contrasts and sunshine. Make chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice and a spinach salad with dates and almonds.

Or head off to Vietnam with its beguiling combination of salty, sweet, hot and sour. A great book to explore Vietnamese food is Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. You will be inspired by this cookbook's big, gorgeous pictures to cook delicious things like Lemongrass Beef Stew and a salad with leeks and roasted eggplants.

Visit India with Madhur Jaffrey, who has released a bunch of cookbooks celebrating Indian food, most recently At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. She has the knack of taking exotic, ingredients-laden recipes and making them seem utterly doable in your home kitchen. This is a great cookbook for someone who is exploring Indian cuisine for the first time. Cook Salmon in a Benghali Mustard Sauce and treat yourself to Kheer, a saffron- and cardamom-scented rice pudding, for dessert.

Portland is rich in international grocery stores where you can find the ingredients you’ll need to cook some of these recipes, and even trips to Fubonn, Barbur World Foods, or International Foods Supply can make you feel like you're traveling. Bon voyage!

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