The Piglet2018 / Quarterfinal Round, 2018

Kachka vs. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Kachka

Bonnie Morales & Deena Prichep

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Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Samin Nosrat

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Judged by: Rachael Ray

7edcfe8d 833b 4f2f 9dc0 edae807364fc  rachael ray photo

Rachael Ray is a syndicated television star and host of the Emmy award-winning daytime show, Rachael Ray, an iconic Food Network television personality, a bestselling cookbook author, the founder and editorial director of her own lifestyle magazine, Rachael Ray Every Day, and the founder of the non-profit Yum-o! Organization, which empowers kids and their families to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking. She also has developed a line of pet food and treats, Rachael Ray Nutrish. Through The Rachael Ray Foundation, she has donated more than $23 million from the sale of Nutrish to animals in need. In 2016, Rachael introduced the Rachael Ray Home Collection.

The Judgment

I. Kachka

Food can connect us to who we are, who we’ve lost, and where we come from. It can connect us to the world at large—and others who may share parts of our story, without us even knowing it. Food is about giving gratitude for the blessing of being here, now, to enjoy it. Food is love.

And I love Kachka. Author Bonnie Frumkin begins by telling of her family in what is now Belarus—their struggles, tenacity, humor, and love. I heard echoes of my own family’s journey from Sicily in the thoughtful, funny, and sometimes painful memories she shares. But I don’t want to scare anyone off. This book is effin’ cool—it’s both inspiring and a party waiting to happen. It just gets to you. It’s very human.

 

When I opened the book, I wasn’t familiar with the food of the vast, diverse land of the former Soviet Union, and the many cultures and traditions it encompassed. This is no longer so. I am now a student of a rich history I knew little of, and each page I study in this book makes me warm at heart. For one thing, Bonnie’s introduction states emphatically that “THIS IS NOT A RUSSIAN COOKBOOK.” The recipes are as diverse and complex as the countries they cover, and this is too constricting a term. With this helpful tidbit in mind, I dove in.

Kachka is organized as you would experience courses in a meal: cocktails; pickles; cold and hot appetizers; soups; grilled dishes; entrees; show stoppers; and desserts. I made my way through this book like I was attending a multi-course dinner hosted at the Frumkin house, menu mapped out on a notepad by Bonnie. I didn’t use the primer on Russian groceries and markets in the book, as I was able to source Turkish hot pepper paste and authentic assorted skewers elsewhere. Regardless, I feel I could handle a trip to the market if I consulted Bonnie’s extensive glossary and made a shopping list with it.

Bonnie had us from the start, at the Bloody Masha and Beet Caviar-Stuffed Eggs. My husband, John, makes a hell of a Bloody, and I am deviled egg-obsessed. I have written more than 50 stuffed egg recipes over the years, but was surprised and excited to try Bonnie’s. We loved the spice blend in the Bloody cocktails, perfect for horseradish lovers like us; for this, we owe a thanks to Bonnie’s brother, Simon. Kudos.

As for the deviled eggs, I have always thought “caviar” was specific to fish—not so! In Russia, there is a tradition of minced vegetable caviars, and I am now hooked on the beet variety. Bonnie’s beet caviar-stuffed eggs are filled with a combination of pickled beets, roasted beets, prunes, walnuts, garlic, and parsley mayo. They’re beautiful to look at and delightfully delicious. I garnished mine with shaved radish and celery greens, and added a bit of extra mustard. We made a beautiful lunch buffet centered around these deviled eggs, and filled out the table with Siberian caviar and blini with minced eggs (the byproduct of stuffed eggs), my mom’s chicken livers with chopped parsley, shallot and sprouted wheat toasts, and homemade pickles. 

 

A few weeks later, preparing for a forecast of 70 °F—in February, in Upstate New York—we decided to venture into the world of grilling, Kachka-style. We agreed on the very dish Bonnie made sure was served at her own wedding: Shashlik, or spiced chicken thighs, grilled on a wide metal skewer. I marinated the chicken with chunks of onion in kefir, herbs, and garlic (for John’s tastes) two days before grilling, due more to our own scheduling constraints than the recipe’s instructions. We procured our saber-like skewers the day before our big event, and the next day, John studied the book’s instructions on “How to MacGyver a Mangal” with great excitement. We skewered our chicken and onions and then prepared a magical condiment called Adjika, with herbs, spices, walnuts, and Turkish red pepper paste. Wow! 

Next, we made a simple salad, Achichuk, with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions; it closely resembled a salad I’ve made a thousand times before, but with the same Turkish pepper paste we loved from making Adjika (I’ve ordered two more jars of it since). The smoky, tangy, tender chicken dinner was perfect, especially with the crunch and freshness of the salad. The meal felt familiar, yet with ingredients and techniques new to us, and was impossible to stop eating. My Sicilian mother took home all the leftover Adjika. At 84, and a lifelong picky eater, she now puts the new-to-her paste on everything: eggs, burgers, and even her finger (ew!).

Kachka is part of our family now. It has given us another way to enjoy life all together—our love of food and each other. My coded message to the author: I am a little duck, forever in your flock.

II. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

I regret that I signed up to “judge” anything as subjective as the work of great writers or great chefs, let alone both at once. How did I get here? As I read this book, I kept thinking that I am not qualified to comment on work like this. You cannot judge a book more than 17 years in the making. Its existence and completeness defies judgment. Nonetheless, I had to try.

I have been working in restaurants since I was a small child. One of my first memories in life is grilling my thumb on a flat top griddle, as I reached for a spatula while trying to mimic my mom in the kitchen. The scar is still there today, decades later, marking my right thumb. It reminds me that in the years since that scar, I have shared thousands of recipes, and have helped people put food on a plate that they can be proud of. I love teaching people, and am convinced that if I can cook, anyone can. And so I felt right at home l when I read the first sentence in Samin’s introduction: “Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious.” In Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin schools me in what I’ve been teaching for two decades. She put everything I have felt, guessed, learned, or taught (in more than 20 books) in one place—and in fewer than 450 pages, at that. 

Samin offers a simple, straightforward, often funny, totally complete education in food and cooking. She presents these lessons in a manner that is easy to digest, and that keeps the reader hungry for more. In these pages, she captures the beauty and joy of working in the kitchen, and the pride and satisfaction that comes from preparing (and repairing) food.  

The endpapers of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat alone make this book a “must” for every kitchen shelf, with Wendy MacNaughton’s detailed illustrations of kitchen and pantry essentials. And the rest of her art throughout the book, both beautiful and informative, adds another layer of flavor and complexity; the “World of Acid Wheel” blew my mind, and it looks like a great vinyl album cover. Because I love to draw, and often send thank-you notes with my own recipes portrayed in photographs and illustrations, I especially appreciated the visual aspects of this book. At some points, I literally squealed and giggled with delight.

 

We cooked several recipes from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and found many in the collection that were very familiar to us as a family. We made the Grilled Artichokes, Pasta al Ragù, and the Shaved Fennel and Radishes Salad, all in the same day. We smoked the artichokes in our wood oven as an appetizer for pizza night, and served them with charred lemon halves and a batch of the Mint Salsa Verde. The meat ragù was almost identical to our family recipe—adding Parm rind, as Samin suggests, is such a flavor boost for ragùs and soups alike. We did add in a few ounces of leftover prepared chicken livers to the sauce, as my family often includes them, finely chopped, in beef and pork sauces. We also threw in a fat clove or two of extra garlic—we’re often guilty of overusing it. While the recipe suggests serving the ragù with tagliatelle, penne, or rigatoni, we chose bucatini, because, is there any food more fun to eat than sucking up bucatini covered in meat sauce? Oh, and as extra credit, we made a pot of white beans and topped it with Samin’s Fried Sage Salsa Verde—brilliant! 

I am not ordering Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat in multiple copies for friends and family members online. No, I am not. I am going to give this book the respect it deserves and walk to my local bookstore, The Strand, to buy half a dozen copies in person. (Then, I’ll go to nearby Union Square Greenmarket for food.)

III. Decision

In the end, I have to report that each of these titles is essential for different reasons. I love both of them. I think I will cook more from Kachka in the year to come, as this world of food is so new to me, but I will visit with the art and wisdom of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat many times as well. Kachka wins, narrowly.

P.S.: When I go to The Strand for Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I’m buying several copies of Kachka as gifts, too. I better bring John to help me carry them all.

 

 

And the winner is…

Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking

Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking

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Do you Agree? (34 comments)

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user avatar 23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
8ff9a676 5d6e 4f83 8d3b ed94114a2052  stringio

Thanks, Rachel Ray for giving both books such a fair review... it’s not just that she actually cooked something from them but that she cooked a similar range of dishes (in course and complexity). She also acknowledged the different purpose of both (cultural & instructional) and acknowledged her own subjectivity in choosing the winner. Of course the judgement is subjective, but tackling the competitors objectively before making that subjective decision is what I appreciate.

C8ae2bf3 38a8 4869 ae1a ae77b281452e  222329 10150184369463198 2535350 n

For all the people defending the review from yesterday (Agg) read this one and then you'll see just how awful it was. Like judging a flying competition between a 747 and a duck. Well done Rachael.

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I've been a fan of and look forward to the Piglet each year. Yesterday's review convinced me Food52 and I were growing apart. I'm certain the reviewer intended to present as edgy, clever and humorous, but the review and Twitter spillover just seemed vapid and mean-spirited.....Enough about that!! Thank you Rachel Ray for a thoughtful review and for redeeming the Piglet. I am now curious about a cuisine, I otherwise would not consider; and that's the value of the contest.
I am a huge fan of Samin Nosrat (my BFF in my head) and SFAH, so I'm very surprised by the outcome.
Note to F52 editors: As much as I love the contest, it seems your heart isn't in it this year.

B768edc0 721f 4c8f a644 5799b95f5d93  cindy

This was a great review but a bit of an upset. I love SFAH and I wonder if perhaps the result would have been different if the reviewer had not been a professional. I can see how the exploration of a new cuisine could be more exciting to someone like Rachel versus the familiar tome of SFAH. But so goes the Piglet! And now I am off to support my local book store by purchasing a copy of Kachka!

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I was thinking the exact same thing! I love love love Rachael Ray and enjoyed the review but did think she was probably familiar with the ideas in SFAH. Samin Nosrat has said in the podcast circuit that she would have preferred to have zero recipes in SFAH.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

And just like that, Rachael Ray saves the day! The Piglet is back (let's forget yesterday!).

195d3425 5ce0 4767 bff6 37c518a07ce8  stringio

I bought Kachka - and a pelmenitsa! - on the strength of the first review. So far I also have made the schvarky (and the component buckwheat pancakes and pickled mustard seeds) and the Siberian dumplings (pelmeni), and also a red chard/walnut spread served on sliced raw beets. Everything was delicious despite (because of?) Short ingredient lists, and also surprisingly easy. Can't wait to cook more!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Great review, although I personally disagree with Rachel's conclusions. She actually cooked from the books, and provided us with a thoughtful, detailed review of the experiences and food each book provided her.

I already own SFAH, which I treasure. Kachka I was lucky enough to check out of the local library. I say 'lucky' because after reading through the book carefully, and after reading her review, I realized that, given that I don't live in a major metropolitan center, I would be unable to obtain much of the ingredients or equipment needed short of Amazon. Also, many of the recipes call for multi-day preparation, which really doesn't suit my life or cooking style. I'm glad I didn't waste my money on a lovely cookbook that would just gather dust on my already overcrowded shelves.

So this is a warning, fellow Food52'ers: examine Kachka carefully before you rush out to purchase it.

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I have had zero interest in Kachka despite everything I had heard and read about it. But after this review, which coincidentally came on my birthday, I am buying Kachka. Rachael Ray's review made me think about how easy it is to get an idea in one's head (mine was I have no interest in Eastern European food, it was a really dumb idea) and not try something new and different. Great review. I already own SFAH and agreed with her assessment.

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Thank you. The review has left me torn now which book(s) will I absolutely have to have.

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Rachael Ray, you have redeemed the Piglet in one beautifully written and thoroughly researched review! And I love that you and your husband prepared the tested recipes together. THANK YOU!! I already own SFAH, but now I must look into adding Kachka to my collection.

Fd8094c9 9cd1 4700 9b90 ab93f1915ef1  stringio

What a beautiful review of two worthy books! I've put both on my Wish List, and expect to be enjoying them both as fresh produce starts to come back to the frozen North.

F6fb2893 c37e 4084 931e 81847af3ae6f  2016 04 26 21 45 07

I think this is my favorite Piglet review ever. I wasn't planning to buy Kachka, but now it's definitely on my wishlist.

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Woo hoo, upset! Now everyone's bracket predictions are screwed up. Great review!

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In classic, Cinderella team fashion!

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I really enjoyed reading this review and Rachael Ray’s enthusiasm in fulfilling her judging duties along with her husband. She provided even more insight to me about two great but different cookbooks and even more so, told me a lot about the person she is. I’m going to go to my local bookstore and buy one of Rachael’s cookbooks too.

28821ee0 584b 4838 a0af 137821613727  2012 07 02 16.28.13

This review was well written. I am now intrigued to search out Kachka even though I wasn't initially drawn to it, thinking the recipes outside my scope of what I can find in a small midwestern town.

Yes these types of contests are subjective, which is part of what makes it fun to follow. You know that each reviewer is coming at from their own perspective and they are honest about what drew them to a particular book. The only way for this to be more objective would be to have set criteria which would eliminate some books that are just outside the norm. Another option is to have more judges for each book and say majority rules, but in mine that is still entirely subjective. Personally I, and I believe many others, just like hearing the opinions of food 'experts' and food lovers. It's then up to each individual to decide if that cookbook is for them, more so than the one who is crowned the winner. Even for the giveaway they are giving away all 16 books not just the winner, which implies to me that Food52 believes all these cookbooks to be winners already.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

What a great comment, thanks for putting that into better words than I could have come up with.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Great review! Thank-you Rachel for putting your heart into it, it really comes across on the page. Loved it! The polar-opposite of yesterday's useless review from Jen Aggs.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

What a great review, especially given yesterday’s debacle. I fully expected Kachka to advance, so this is no upset as far as I’m concerned!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

An informative, relaxed, and classy review. Thank you, R. Ray
(Want Kachka now for sure.)

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

What makes The Piglet The Piglet? The tournament is completely subjective, not objective, and which book moves forward depends on the reviewer it gets and which book it is pitted up against at that point in time. That’s a good thing. By the time the sixteen contenders are announced, they are already winners. There are no losers here.

Keeping in mind that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, I try – not always successfully – to avoid being heavily invested in what is going on and just enjoy the ride, wild as it sometimes is. (Remember when Fancy Desserts beat My Paris Kitchen for the top spot?)

Having said that, Rachel Ray may have drawn the short straw with this assignment, which she, unsurprisingly, handled with customary aplomb. She got a well reviewed, intriguing specialty book versus a reference book that
in all likelihood will become a classic, a book most of us – certainly I – thought would end up in the final round at the end of the day.

Wow. Great review.

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When I saw chardrucks mention on Twitter that there was an upset waiting to happen, I figured it'd be this one. Reminds me of the year Made in India took down The Food Lab! Lovely review-- even though I hate to say goodbye to Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Now I can go all-in for BraveTart!