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The Piglet2017 / First Round, 2017

My Two Souths  vs. Sirocco

My Two Souths

Asha Gomez

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Sirocco

Sabrina Ghayour

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Judged by: Talia Baiocchi

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Talia Baiocchi is the editor in chief of PUNCH, the author of the James Beard Award-nominated Sherry and co-author of Spritz. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Bon Appétit, Elle and Saveur, among many others. She has a degree in journalism and political science from New York University and has been featured in numerous publications, including Forbes as a member of the magazine’s 2013 “30 under 30” list.  

The Judgment

When ranch-dressing lovers grow up, they typically find another, higher-brow sauce to have an inappropriate relationship with. 

I chose tahini. 

I say this only to reveal a built-in bias. When I first received my copies of Sirocco and My Two Souths—both filled with excellent recipes by cooks who have woven childhood flavors from faraway places (Iran and India, respectively) into the cuisines of their adopted homes—Sirocco was the easiest book to plug into my kitchen.

Like so many home cooks, it was Yotam Ottolenghi who made ingredients like tahini, za’atar, and harissa staples in my home, and whose recipes made dishes like lamb shawarma and sabih heavy-rotation hits, alongside my regular Now That’s What I Call Italian Food! playlist. It’s hard not to see Ottolenghi in Sirocco, and not just because I was looking (Sabrina Ghayour is based in London and is often mentioned alongside Sami Tamimi and Ottolenghi). Ghayour, who was born in Tehran in 1976 and moved to London in 1979, at the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, infuses a similar brightness—both aesthetic and gustatory—into her food. It’s evident in dishes like her spiced beet yogurt, which serves as Sirocco’s cover girl, a simple triumph of balance between earthiness, spice and sour, and her turmeric and spice marinated cauliflower, which I would truly not mind eating every single day. Likewise, her citrus and za’atar chicken—another study in sour and spice—has made no fewer than three appearances on my table since I received the book two months ago. 

 

Sirocco is full of smart, beautifully photographed recipes like these (I also loved her cumin-roasted eggplant) that utilize flavors that are now familiar to many avid home cooks, but there is an underlying frivolity that sometimes comes off as pandering or trite. “Brilliant Breakfasts & Brunches,” “Spectacular Salads & Sides,” “Mouthwatering Main Dishes”—the Contents page is an indicator of the kind of language that hobbles the book throughout. I left it satisfied and full, but feeling starved for the substance and context of Ghayour’s first book, Persiana, which drew clear connections between traditional Middle Eastern flavors, their origins, and her interpretation of them. Sirocco often reads like a sequel struggling to stand on its own, lacking the depth and clear point of view that is requisite of a great cookbook, at least in my view, today. 

Asha Gomez’s My Two Souths, by contrast, is a deeply personal exploration of the flavors of Gomez’s given home—the coastal South Indian state of Kerala—and her adopted home—Atlanta, Georgia—that touches on place, identity, and flavor. It is also, without explicitly saying so, an argument for the undeniable synergy between many southern cultures throughout the world. 

Why is there a cultural handshake between the American South and, say, the Southern India? Or Southern Spain? It seems latitude is a powerful bond, but it’s much more than that. 

 

Gomez supports this thesis from a culinary perspective by showing just how seamlessly vindaloo locks elbows with the nutty richness and familiarity of cornbread or how clove and curry leaves can take a Southern staple like fried chicken in an entirely new direction. (To my previous point, Gomez points out that fried chicken is actually a staple in both of her Souths: “Guests often assume that my fried chicken comes from my exposure to the cuisine of the American South. It’s always fun explaining to them that it is actually part of my Keralan heritage.”) I will probably never make cornbread without cardamom again, and I vow to never eat another waffle without Gomez’s Spicy Syrup—a combination of cumin and coriander seeds, crushed red pepper, and maple syrup. 

When it comes to recipe writing, however, Ghayour is clearly more comfortable and adept; hers are detailed and easy to follow. My Two Souths required some improvisation on my part. In the headnote for the cornbread, for instance, Gomez extols the virtue of black pepper in the recipe, but the recipe itself does not call for it. The accompanying pork vindaloo called for a two-pound pork butt to be cut into 1/2 pound pieces (i.e. four pieces), but the accompanying image suggests that the pork had been cut into much smaller pieces before cooking. I googled the recipe and found an earlier version from Gomez in Garden & Gun that called for pork tenderloin, cut into a medium dice. I split the difference, and it was faultless—the sauce pungent from the generous addition of vinegar and garlic and the meat tender as advertised. It was unlike any vindaloo I’ve had in New York’s Curry Hill or along 6th Street; those “tongue-searing” versions, she explains, are distant relatives of the original dish, which was brought to India by the Portuguese. The next day I smothered a potato hash in it to excellent result.

Its pitfalls aside, My Two Souths is a compelling invitation into a kitchen that is singular in its perspective and striking in its ability to weave in ingredients like kodampuli and garam masala, but still read, firstly, like a cookbook about American Southern food. It is a testament to the very spirit of this country’s culinary present: American cooking is as much about mining our country’s past and indigenous flavors as it is about a cook like Gomez mining her own.

And the winner is…

My Two Souths

My Two Souths

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Do you Agree? (24 comments)

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8 months ago Kathryn

i really didn't feel inspired by My two Souths on the first pass. So much so that I didn't even make a recipe before returning it to the library. But I guess I will check it out again. I still need to roadtest Sirroco

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8 months ago Maura

I've loved cooking from Persiana so buying Sirroco was an easy decision, one that I don't regret at all. While I'm tempted to get My Two Souths, I just can't pull the trigger with all the errors I've heard about. But I did love this review, thanks!

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8 months ago annette

I'm hooked on this reviewer's writing! It made me hungry for the recipes in both books, but mostly for more of Baiocchi's writing. Terrific! If there is a Piglet competition for review writing, this gets my vote!

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8 months ago E

So of the two, I already own My Two Souths. I don't disagree with my fellow community members that there are some off or flawed details. I didn't know about the recipe flaws before buying it. But the reasons I was ok with that after the fact were 1. The recipes themselves were still really intriguing, and were things I never would've thought of combining on my own. They also made sense - a lot of fusion is try hard, but all the recipes read very seamlessly like they always were meant to be cooked that way. 2. This is where trial and error patience comes in, but if you have the patience to taste test as you make the recipe, or if the step seems odd to you and you already know how to make the step better, the recipes still ended up great. 3. The book itself, ignoring the actual cooking of the recipes, was full to the brim with great stories and felt like something I would want to read. For me, that's actually the most important part when actually buying (versus borrowing) a cookbook - if it's something I could casually read through, I'm totally down. Just my thoughts on this particular book.

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8 months ago Michelle

I love this review. I now want to get both books but am a little worried about getting My Two Souths. I'm somewhat of a novice cook so getting a cookbook w/out clear directions is problematic.

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8 months ago Rhsant

I've enjoyed all the reviews so far and appreciate how the reviewers have taken the time to participate. I don't see myself buying My Two Souths although I would borrow it from a library. Sirocco is closer to how I eat and how I like to cook, so it's been on my potential buy list. I found some of the recipes online and I'll try some before buying. I also looked at My Two Souths recipes and they aren't for me even though I'm intrigued by the concept. It is very likely that I will end up buying both books since I have the same addiction as many others on this site.

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8 months ago Cyprille

Great review although my judgement would have been neither. Both books are flawed and don't really rate inclusion when so many accurate, and less trite books were left out.

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8 months ago karen wyon

To me neither book outshone the other but erring in favor of good eating I would choose Sirocco.

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8 months ago Rhonda35

It sounds like My Two Souths might be a troublesome book for those not well-versed in the kitchen. Flawed recipes can result in wasted time and money, as well as feelings of inadequate culinary skills for the reader-cook. A cookbook without careful editing and solid recipe-testing does a disservice to the unique cultural mergings and interesting flavor profiles it extols. In the case of My Two Souths, we Food52 Piglet readers have the good fortune of being forewarned of the need for extra attention to the details of Gomez's recipes.

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8 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I would never buy a cookbook with errors of the magnitude identified here in the comments, despite my decades of regular cookbook use and confident cooking skill. Fortunately, our library has the book, so I'll be able to borrow and glean what's good in it. I'll also be curious to see if the book makes it through the next round, and beyond.
Fortunately for all of us, there are cooks out there who have used the book and taken the time to warn us of the problems. My thanks to them.
That said, I'm bewildered how cookbooks full of errors even are published. Can you imagine putting in the enormous effort required to create recipes and produce a cookbook book, and then not arranging for enough testing -- and reading in hard copy by other seasoned cooks who can spot potential mistakes -- before the manuscript goes off to the printer?
;o)

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8 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I have not perused either of these books, but now I'm looking forward to getting and cooking from My Two Souths. Talia, you made it sound irresistible.

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8 months ago Hannah H.

Thanks for the great review! Especially intrigued by the cardamom cornbread, definitely going to check out My Two Souths.

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8 months ago PhillipBrandon

Basic editing flaws like those described here would make me very skeptical of any of the recipes in a book.

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8 months ago Victoria Carr

I - literally - have 1,253 cookbooks, and that's after giving five boxes away to a local used bookstore. With so many books I am buying fewer cookbooks than ever before. In the past I have had almost all of the sixteen books on my shelf before The Piglet even started, but this year I only have Taste & Technique and Simple. Based on this fabulous review, I am getting My Two Souths and going to seriously consider Sirocco! Thank you Talia Baiocchi. By the way, speaking of cookbooks, I have decided to marry Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich, a past Piglet finalist. I want to learn how to make twelve spectacular cookies by next Christmas and am going to perfect one a month. Yesterday I made her Double Oatmeal Cookies substituting 6 ounces of Green & Black's White Chocolate Bar chopped into chunks and dry-roasted salted macadamia nuts for the walnuts and raisins. They definitely make the spectacular grade. Probably a lot of Piglet readers have this book. I recommend checking out the Oatmeal Cookie recipe on Page 124, and while you're at it, also check out the Classic Ginger Cookies on Page 125. My only tip is, for both, chill the dough overnight; then the cookies don't spread.

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8 months ago LLStone

Thanks for the recommendations from Flavor Flours!

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8 months ago Cristina Weber

Queen of the Nile from Flavor Flours is still one of the most amazing chocolate cakes I've ever made!

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8 months ago Victoria Carr

Cristina Weber - Will check it out pronto. Thanks.

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8 months ago Victoria Carr

Cristina - I did just look at it, and I have everything I need - including the pan with the removable bottom (that Alice Medrich recommended in her article here on FOOD52 about cake pans). I will make it for this Sunday's dessert. YUM.

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8 months ago Linda Lewis Elbert

Great review. Neither of these books were on my radar but now I am looking forward to trying each of them.

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8 months ago MelMM

I don't have Sirocco, so can't really comment on it, but I have My Two Souths, and the majority (4/5) of the recipes I made had problems in with the writing and/or editing. I wish the judge had made more recipes, so we could see how ubiquitous this problem is.

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8 months ago Elizabeth George

I completely agree. The lemon yoghurt cake uses 6 sticks plus 2 tablespoons of butter for 2.5 cups of flour and sugar each. Is this a mistake? Seems like it!

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8 months ago MelMM

That cannot be right!

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8 months ago E

I'm not the biggest baker out of the Fall/Winter holiday season so I haven't baked anything from My Two Souths but that TOTALLY sounds wrong! Yikes. I've had way better success with the savory and non baked recipes, although I admit, I've had to adjust as I've gone along in the recipe. The reason I'm ok with that is because the recipes themselves are combinations of things I'd never seen together before, and that alone made me want to try it out. After trial and error on my own time, most of what I cooked ended up *two huge thumbs up.* I understand most people do NOT want a cookbook where they need to do trial and error though, even if the flavor combos seem divine.

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8 months ago Mayukh Sen

Mayukh is a former Staff Writer at Food52.

Man, I can't wait to get my hands on My Two Souths. Great review, Talia.

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