The Austin Chronicle

Read to Eat

Start the summer with great food stories and recipes worth a little perspiration

By Mick Vann, May 30, 2008, Food

Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China

by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Artisan, 376 pp., $40

Dynamic duo Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid have done it again with their newest tour de force; I'll go out on a very short limb and predict that they'll garner both James Beard Foundation and International Association of Culinary Professionals cookbook awards next spring. Following their proven formula, established with Hot Sour Salty Sweet and Mangoes & Curry Leaves, this new tome examines the culinary traditions and cultures of China's diverse ethnic minorities who occupy the western side of the Great Wall, the non-Han, who constitute a mere 8% of the total population.

The authors passionately reveal the foods of the Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Iiao, Hui, Dong, Bai, Miao, Yi, Da, and others – groups about which Westerners know very little. Weaving engaging stories drawn from their 25 years of experience traveling throughout these regions, Alford and Duguid draw the reader into the lives of the home cooks and market vendors – people who produce vibrant, extraordinary dishes from simple ingredients treated with respect. As with all of their books before, the evocative photography is stunning and sets the stage for the delicious dishes.

Enlightening headnotes put each dish into cultural context, the recipes are clearly written and arranged by category, preparation is relatively simple, and all of the ingredients can be found locally. This is food that's fun and easy to cook and surprising in its flavor complexity and sophistication. Whether it's tofu sticks kissed with sesame oil and chile, lamb kebabs with pomegranate juice, moist Kazakh family bread baked in a cast-iron skillet, Uighur naan flat bread with cumin seeds and sesame-tomato salsa, Tibetan momo beef dumplings, or a Lhasa pork and spinach stir-fry with Sichuan pepper, the tastes are perfect.

Beyond the Great Wall could share a place of pride on any living-room coffee table for its beauty, but that would be denying its role as a consummate kitchen tool. This could be the cookbook of the year.

Naomi Duguid will discuss Beyond the Great Wall at BookPeople at 3pm, Sunday, June 1. A slide show of the incredible images taken by Duguid and her husband, Jeffrey Alford, will accompany the appearance. Having seen their photos and attended many of their talks in the past, this is a book-tour event that you do not want to miss.

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