Q&A: Mister Bean

Salon • Sept. 11, 2007

Every food has its fans, and with Ken Albala’s new book, “Beans: A History,” the humble legume may well have found its champion. Over a year spent eating beans on a daily basis, from minuscule rice beans to 4-inch whoppers called gigantes, the culinary historian put his expertise — and his stomach — to work, compiling a detailed family history of the world’s edible beans.

But lest that seem like an avalanche of research to pour into a humble subject, Albala is quick to point out that beans are one of the few foods that appear in nearly every national cuisine, from French cassoulets to Filipino bean and fruit desserts. Pairing a foodie’s curiosity with an academic’s knack for detail, Albala carefully charts the food’s historical arc while also offering recipes in keeping with each era.

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The Anxiety of Appetite

Salon • Jan. 23, 2007

America’s food enthusiasts may find it hard to place the name Barry Glassner. He’s not a television chef, or a restaurant critic, or a diet guru. Indeed, the University of Southern California sociologist is known primarily for his best-selling 2000 book, “The Culture of Fear,” a dissection of the anxious underpinnings of the American psyche. It’s a subject that might seem to have little relevance to the dinner table, but Glassner begs to differ. If his latest book, “The Gospel of Food,” makes one thing plain, it’s that few topics generate more worry among Americans than our breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

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The Julia Child of Malaysian Food

Salon • Dec. 12, 2006

Pre-made sushi and pad thai may now be making appearances on American dinner tables from coast to coast, but mention Malaysian food to your Midwestern aunt, and you’re still likely to get a raised eyebrow. James Oseland is on a mission to change that. Just as Julia Child‘s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” brought French food into the hearts and hands of American housewives 40 years ago, Oseland’s new cookbook, “Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking From the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia,” is a comprehensive and charismatic attempt to introduce Americans to a great, global cuisine.

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Jicama in the ‘Hood

Salon • Aug. 2, 2006

Amid a crowd of New York City public high-schoolers, Antonio Mayers, 16, is trying — with modest success — to wrap his head around the idea of freezing a mango pit for later consumption as a popsicle.

“How long you put it in the freezer?”

“Just until it gets, you know, frozen. It’s really good,” says Michael Welch. Welch is leading Mayers and his tittering cohorts in a cooking class coordinated by EatWise, a New York nutrition and food systems education group.

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