In the introduction to The Basque Book, Alex Raij poses the question, “What does Basque mean?” Her and her husband's book is the answer to that question, but through their lens: Raij and Eder Montero run Txikito, New York City's only authentic Basque restaurant. Their cookbook is “a cookbook, of course, but it's also a story of love and homecoming told through 114 recipes,” they write.
That love was clear to our community, who picked the book as one of this year’s Piglet Community Picks. Below is more on what they loved and learned from the book.
If Cristina Sciarra had to review the book in one sentence, she'd say: "Two married, NY-based, Basque and Argentinian-American chefs share Basque food—which is simple but not easy—with an American audience."
One reviewer immediately felt those same elements—that the book would be by chefs who know the topic well, but are rendering it for an American audience with a comforting tone:
"Just flipping through the pages, The Basque Book looked both elegant and primal, and I wondered if I had the skill to pull off its recipes. But Alex's voice and her family anecdotes put me at ease at the Basque table, and I was excited to try my hand at this new-to-me cuisine." (Kim)
Reviewers loved that the authors eased you into their cooking, starting with rudimentary recipes and advancing to ones with more technique. The book "is able to expand and contract as the reader likes”—you could learn how to scramble an egg, or develop the perfect squid ink sauce.
But on the whole, “this book—and Basque cuisine in general—doesn't require special equipment; ingredient lists tend to be short. (Although quality ingredients matter!)”
what to cook first
Kim said to "Start with Eder's Avocado Salad because it takes two minutes to make with ingredients you probably have on hand. The recipe (or more like assemblage of ingredients) suggests a few particular vinegars and paprikas, but in a morning rush I grabbed a sherry vinegar and my favorite smoked paprika, and it was a perfect savory breakfast—rich avocado balanced by the sweet vinegar and warming pimentón."
Cristina loves the Lentils with Chorizo: "If you're short on time, skip the separate dressing, and toss everything into the pan at once. In thirty minutes, you'll have a week's worth of goodness. Serve with an egg on top, beside a bright winter salad, scraped over toast—or in contrast to crisp, root vegetable hash, scattered with chèvre or crumbled feta and herbs."
Kären Jurgensen picked the Charred Eggplant with Bonito Tuna as the first to make, which involves a platter of grated tomato topped with well-blackened eggplant chopped into a rough mash, canned or home-cured tuna, and vinegary onions. It's served with bread or a fork as a light lunch—cold or at room temperature.
The recipe hiccups
Kim brought up the classic recipe-within-a-recipe dilemma:
"Many of the recipes contain ingredients that themselves have recipes within the book, which was a blessing and curse. I really felt like I was learning something about Basque cooking and creating dishes that actually had depth, but I also wound up in the kitchen for a bit longer than I had anticipated. The goods news is now I have two quarts of Tomate Frito [Tomato Sauce] in my freezer all ready for the next time."
Another reviewer found that the recipes were "notably chef-penned," meaning they were adapted for the home cook, but not necessarily written by one. They often don't give heads-up that components will need to be made in advance. A reviewer also mentioned the Roasted Banana Puddin', Basque Style, which instructs cooked bananas be processed in a blender. This is useful if you're making a huge batch of this recipe, but for the quantity given, you could easily just mash the banana with the fork—saving you time and blender-cleaning.
"This isn't a reason not to own the book, however," Cristina continues: "The Basque Book isn't just a recipe book. It's also a history book, a culture book, a lesson in Spanish ingredients and Basque culinary rituals. It's a vacation with a local guide."
2017's roster of Piglet Community Picks were chosen by an open call to our community; the reviews you see here are from some of the folks who voted these books into the tournament. To see other Piglet Community Picks reviews, head here.
Signed copies of The Basque Book are available in The Food52 Shop.