Cookbooks can be the most wonderful works of art, but at heart they are products. They have to have some sort of shine to encourage sales. One technique is the gorgeous food porn cover — images of the recipes inside like you’ll never be able to recreate at home.
Another draw is the name on the cover. There are the TV personalities depending on name recognition and the celebrity chefs acting on reputation. And of course, sometimes those two sets intersect.
There is another set of names that is far more interesting. These are the folks who captivate you with their writing, their recipes, and their knowledge. The right name on a cookbook cover will practically make you drool. Robb Walsh is that kind of writer. Robb Walsh is a three napkin name.
Robb is the undisputed king of Texas food writing with books ranging from Tex-Mex, The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos, to cowboys, The Texas Cowboy Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos, to barbecue, Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses.
His latest, Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook is a wide-ranging homage to the finest Texas has to offer. And to say finest does not mean fanciest. Instead, it means most delicious traditions and the best incorporated influences.
Walsh discusses the seafood taken from the Gulf of Mexico. He writes about the influence of southern cuisine on east Texas and the Mexican half of Tex-Mex in the west. He includes the meals of the cowboys, and he acknowledges the flavors of immigrants both old and new.
One book can’t cover all of Texas — that’s why Robb will never run out of material — but Texas Eats just may be the finest look at the subject yet. That’s because Robb both eats and writes fiercely and fearlessly, as this passage shows:
Maybe I was staring too intently at the hot foie gras and sweet fig chutney appetizer my tablemate ordered at Indika, Anita Jaisinghani’s upscale Indian restaurant on Westheimer in Houston. He was dying to dig in, but instead he sat back and invited me to go ahead and have a bite. Politeness would have dictated that I insist he try some first. But, manners be damned, I reached across the table and cut off a big hunk with my fork. The chutney provided little more than a sweet glaze on my palate as the hot unctuous liver melted in my mouth. It was heavenly.
Having helped myself to major forkfuls of each tablemate’s appetizer, I offered them each a taste of mine. But they weren’t interested. When you order goat brain masala for a starter, you stand a good chance of eating it all by yourself.
The recipe for goat brain masala isn’t in Texas Eats, but many excellent ones are, along with similarly excellent stories.
Original Chili Gravy
- 1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
- 2 cups chicken broth
- In a skillet, heat the lard over medium-high heat.
- Add the flour and stir constantly for 3 - 4 minutes until you have a light brown roux.
- Add the chili powder, ground cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Mexican oregano. Stir constantly for 1 minute to blend everything completely.
- Add the chicken broth and stir until everything is blended thoroughly. Stir frequently until the mixture reaches a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes.
- If the mixture becomes too thick, add enough water to return it to gravy consistency.
We triple this recipe to make lazy enchilada pie. The process is simple (for lazy folk like us). Preheat the oven to 350. Shred two pounds of Velveeta and one pound of cheddar and dice two onions. Oil the bottom of a 9 X 13 baking dish. Line it with corn tortillas. Spread half the Velveeta and 1/3 of the onions. Place another layer of corn tortillas. Spread the remainder of the Velveeta and another 1/3 of the onion. Place another layer of corn tortillas and top with the cheddar. Bake for 35 minutes or until the Velveeta is all melted. Serve topped with the remaining onion.