Book Review: “The Soul of a New Cuisine” by Marcus Samuelsson

The New York celebrity chef channels the flavors of his native Ethiopia.

    Banish been there done that from your life — at least when you give a dinner party. Indian is so last year and  pan-Asian and regional Italian positively prehistoric. You could go the comfort route with grandmotherly chicken a la king (doily on the plate, natch), but what’s that gonna do for your culinary cred? Better to pick up Marcus Samuelsson’s glossy photo-filled new tome on African cooking, open to any page and fire up the stove. Though the title–The Soul of a New Cuisine–may scream earnest snoozer, the sometimes traditional, sometimes tweaked recipes are anything but.

Samuelsson, better known as the hunky Swedish chef from New York’s Aquavit, went on an eating journey to discover his roots — born in Ethiopia, he and his sister were adopted by a Swedish family when they were children. Some recipes like the fiery Ethiopian stir-fried beef stew (really tibs wett) are channeled from the kitchens of home cooks. Others, like the spiced egg salad with chilies, peanuts, and ginger, are pure Samuelsson — inspired by native flavors rather than a dish you’d find anywhere in Africa. And though Samuelsson includes recipes for spice blends that are called for throughout, he offers cheaters ready substitutes, like chili powder for the 12-ingredient berbere, making the cooking, and ultimately the cuisine, accessible to all.                                               

Few feel the pressure of a dinner party like a food critic. But with recipes for malaga, an offbeat Senegalese clam stew, spicy trout spaghetti (the result of the brief Italian occupation of Ethiopia in 1936), colorful Piri Piri shrimp from Mozambique, and the classic chicken peanut stew that's a West African staple on my bookshelf, I’m ready to take on the snarkiest of friends.

The Soul of a New Cuisine, Wiley, $40.