This book is dedicated to all the home cooks around Australia who turned my passion for salads into a global community. (Dedication in the new edition)
How I found out about Hetty McKinnon and her recipes was by word-of-mouth. Everyone knows that I am a cookbook enthusiast, which is great because people love to give recommendations on cookbooks I might enjoy. Word-of-mouth is good because it means (at least in my mind) that someone has loved and enjoyed something enough to tell people about it. And, while “Top” lists are great, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has taken the time to cook from or immerse themselves in the intentions of an author. But if my friend Sal calls to rave about this great book she’s cooking from, then I know its a keeper! Hetty’s popularity is built on these personal accounts of home cooks who love her recipes so much that they become an indelible part of family mealtime.
Hetty’s second cookbook, Neighborhood, was a recommendation and, when it arrived it really changed the way I define what a salad is. Here is what I said in my review of this book: “Neighborhood (her second cookbook) focuses on taking the schematic version of a salad (think: leafy) and works to change the schema so that salads become something new. More hearty, less leafy. To be honest her salads are so out of the realm of what I’m used to where salads are concerned, I had to keep reminding myself that the basis of this book are, in fact, salads. Almost a dozen recipes in and I’m completely enamored with the way Hetty constructs a salad because what she does is make it into a true meal. She deftly shows how the different places that she’s lived in influence the types of ingredients she uses and how she uses those ingredients.” So, from the early days of her salad delivery service in Sydney, Australia, she has been defining salads in her own way.
Once I cooked through Neighborhood, I was literally and figuratively hungry for more — her first cookbook, Community, was unavailable outside of Australia. Community was brought into being through the love of her customers — wanting to share the recipes, Hetty wrote and self-published Community as a way to share these favourite dishes with her friends. Australian publisher Pan MacMillan approached her to publish an edition in 2014, which became an unqualified success. During a recent Book Larder web conversation about the newly released edition of Community between Aran Goyoaga and McKinnon, Goyoaga mentions how the last edition of Community has sold over 100,000 copies! Incredible, but not surprising given how much people love Hetty and her recipes.
This latest 5th Anniversary edition of Community recognizes and celebrates how the home cooks of Australia have adored and embraced this cookbook. Written back in 2014 in the original introduction to Community, Hetty says, “In our age of ephemera, Community invites the reader to find more meaningful ways of connecting through food. This book is not about cooking and eating a meal at lightening pace. Rather, it encourages us all to take the time to find comfort, pleasure, celebration and inspiration in both the process of cooking and the art of eating together.”(7) This is what makes Hetty’s vision so timeless: it’s not about trends but about building a foundation. It’s about nourishing our emotional well-being as well as our bodies by making food and being together.
Luckily, this new edition of Community has been released worldwide so that home cooks everywhere can enjoy Hetty’s recipes. This year has seen so many changes, too numerous to count, and it’s been through cooking at home that I’ve found comfort. The life within my kitchen has remained constant — reaching for the well-used and stained cookbooks has been the tangible reminder that eating together as a family will buoy us until times are better. And what I appreciate about Hetty’s approach is that her recipes serve as a guide — ingredients can be substituted or added depending on taste or situation. When I make her recipe for Smoky Baba Ghanoush w/ Roasted Cauliflower, Lentils and Pomegranate, I blend the Baba Ghanoush until it’s smooth (I prefer this texture) and, I serve it on mixed greens (we’ve been really loving the leafy greens from the market this year). Drizzled with a bit of pomegranate molasses, it’s such a hearty meal which is full of different flavours and textures.
There are new recipes too — ones that are inspired by the people and places she’s experienced since moving from Australia to the United States. One of these recipes — the Fennel, Chickpea and Orange w/ Harissa — is inspired by her friends Leetal and Ron at New York Shuk. Juicy orange segments, thinly shaved fennel and chickpeas are made even more delicious with a drizzle of sauce made from harissa paste. I took Hetty’s advice in the recipe notes and used the best harissa I could find — I was able to buy some of New York Shuk‘s harissa from Hardcover Cook (a great online cookbook and ingredient store — I also used some of the New York Shuk Preserved Lemon paste in the recipe for Moroccan Sweet Potato, Chickpeas and Couscous w/ Chermoula from the book).
Community is organized into 8 wonderfully named chapters: Welcome to the Roots, Everybody Love Brassicas, The Kingdom of Fungi, The Goodness of Cereals, Love, Legumes, Hello, Nightshades, Meet the Marrows, and In the Mood for Asian. Even more wonderful are the interviews and stories from “friends of Community” — those who love this book and have made it apart of their family. One of my favourite stories is from Benjamin Law, who tells us “Since my friend Sophie gave me a copy for my birthday, I’ve lost count of the number of copies of Community I’ve given as a gift, like the good little — and probably annoying — disciple I am. I’m borderline evangelical.”(89) I really appreciate and relate to Law’s words because I think anyone who cooks Hetty’s recipes feels this need to share — which is how the phenomenon of Community (and Hetty’s work in general) can be explained.
Looking at the body of her work, what Hetty offers is both cohesive and timeless — it’s about being grateful for the ingredients we have and for the people around us. As she says in the forward to the new edition, “Discovering the power of food to bring people together, and to evoke memories, was the turning point of my life, both professionally and personally. These recipes from Arthur Street Kitchen gave me life. To cook for others fulfilled me in ways I could have never previously imagined or understood.”(5) While this is true for Hetty, I think this is true for all of us who have found or have continued to build on a culinary legacy. To look at home cooking as being a meaningful, important endeavor is McKinnon’s legacy, along with delicious recipes to share.
I used my own personal copy to happily write this review. This post contains no affiliated links or sponsored content.