Book Club Tuesday: Food52 Big Little Recipes

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetBack in December 2021, I needed a refresh. While I enjoyed being in the kitchen and cooking for my family, there were times I felt burnt out and lacking inspiration. So, when I tuned in to watch a virtual event hosted by the Book Larder, it was the conversation between Hetty McKinnon and Emma Laperruque that had me intrigued. One of the first things Hetty remarked on is that the way in which she begins to build flavour recipes is to start with garlic, onions, and olive oil but that in Big Little Recipes, the recipes aren’t necessarily beginning with this flavour trifecta. In this cookbook, Emma has pared down ingredient lists so that the recipes are made up of 5 (or so) ingredients, with the home cook never being asked to buy more than 5 ingredients for any given recipe. And, as I listened to their conversation, Big Little Recipes sounded like a cookbook I needed to get because I thought I might find that cooking refresh that I had been craving.

Big Little Recipes is new to me but as Hetty talked to Emma, she explained how the concept for this book evolved from the column (of the same name) that she writes for Food52. While there are myriad recipe sites and cookbooks out there trying to find the gimmick to hook home cooks — less prep/cooking time, trendy ingredients, making use of particular kitchen equipment, etc. — as I listened to Emma talk about the concept behind Big Little Recipes, there really was no gimmick. Her aim is to create flavourful meals by using ingredients to their best advantage and to distill ingredient lists to the most crucial parts. Yes, these recipes have 5 ingredients, but the number is not a hook, rather it’s an indicator. And since I bought this cookbook, I’ve cooked some of the most delicious meals! One of the things that Emma commented about during the talk that really struck me was that when people have the urge to add to the recipes, don’t. Enjoy the recipe for what it brings instead of focusing on a perceived lack. While it seems like there are so many recipe developers out there that keep adding ingredients to build flavour, it is a different kind of flex to take a more minimal approach. And, with Emma’s approach, she’s looking to use ingredients to their fullest potential to capitalize on flavour and texture.

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All the Cauliflower w/ Grapes, Gouda & Pecans, p. 18

Big Little Recipes is organized into 6 main chapters: 1) salads with or without lettuce, 2) bowls to dive into, 3) pastas, grains & bready things, 4) meats & fishes, 5) vegetables that aren’t sides, and 6) sweet stuff to start or end the day. And in the section at the beginning of the book — Big Little 101 — Emma outlines the simple strategies that work towards keeping the flavour in the recipes without keeping a huge list of ingredients: Let the ingredient do its job; Wring each ingredient for all it’s worth; Lean on two-for-one-ers; Blow an ingredient out of the water; Replace one ingredient for another; and Use the same ingredient but a different technique. So, when making the BLR for All the Cauliflower w/ Grapes, Gouda & Pecans for example, some of the cauliflower and grapes are roasted and some left raw, which is such a great idea. Both ways of prepping these ingredients offer different flavours and textures — and, while I’ve enjoyed raw grapes in a salad before, roasting them brings other elements of flavour and texture. A roasted grape becomes softened like a roasted cherry tomato and their syrupy roasting juices can be used to dress the salad. In thinking about the cauliflower, this recipe is ingenious for its use of the cauliflower leafy stems which get sliced like celery so that instead of adding a traditional green to the salad (lettuces, kale, spinach, etc.), the cauliflower is that two-for-one ingredient where the whole has many parts that can bring flavour to a dish.

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Crunchy-Shell Cauliflower Tacos, p. 117

I’ve found all the recipes that I’ve made from Big Little Recipes really delicious! One recipe that I fought the urge to add more ingredients was the recipe for Crunchy-Shell Cauliflower Tacos. In my mind, the Platonic ideal of a taco usually included salsa, chopped cilantro, avocado (or guacamole), pickled peppers — literally piled-high with fixings. And with this recipe I had to reconsider the essence of the taco, and what Emma offers is all the things a taco should be: spicy, meaty (not necessarily using meat), crunchy, salty, cheesy, with a fresh, vegetal/plant-y component. Here, a cauliflower is blitzed up in a food processor, mixed w/ oil, and chili powder, then roasted until the cauliflower bitlets become crispy and brown. In the end, it actually resembles a ground meat filling and when paired with shredded cheese and shredded ice berg lettuce, these tacos are fantastic!

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Sweet Potato Skins w/ Tempeh Crumbles & Chipotle Yogurt, p. 114/115

Some other great meals I’ve made from Big Little Recipes are the Sweet Potato Skins w/ Tempeh Crumbles & Chipotle Yogurt and the Wheat Berries w/ Mushrooms, Sauerkraut & Gouda. Being able to use my pantry and fridge basics has been helpful during this current Covid wave that is going through Nova Scotia. I’ve been shopping less and making what I’ve got count! And not having to use all my ingredients in one recipe is great too because each of the BLR are mindful of the ingredient list, so I can stretch my pantry and fridge stock. And if I’m running low on baking ingredients, there are minimal bakes that are just as good. Take the Low-Maintenance Oatmeal Cookies — with three main ingredients (brown sugar, rolled oats, tahini), you can bake up an oatmeal cookie without the help of eggs or butter!  Even the Whole-Wheat Cream Scones forgo the butter and use heavy cream to achieve a lovely fluffiness! With minimal ingredients, cookies taste like cookies and scones taste like scones — it doesn’t feel like anything is missing which proves that fewer ingredients doesn’t mean you’ve sacrificed flavour or texture.

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Wheat Berries w/ Mushrooms, Sauerkraut & Gouda, p. 75

I appreciate the variety of recipes that Emma offers in Big Little Recipes, and I’ve found so much to make for my family. And it’s been such a great cookbook to freshen up how I use ingredients and think about building flavours in food. Emma Laperruque has taken the time to really think about the essence of what makes a great meal taste delicious and, in the end, what she offers are recipes where the ingredient lists are short but in no way does the flavour or texture of the final dish come up short. The fun of using Big Little Recipes is that I’ve started to look at my fridge and pantry contents in a whole new way.

I used my own personal copy to happily write this review.

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