Best Cookbooks 2023: Plus, Charging Friends for Dinner and Pierre Thiam on “Simply West African” | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 729
December 7, 2023

Best Cookbooks 2023: Plus, Charging Friends for Dinner and Pierre Thiam on “Simply West African”

Best Cookbooks 2023: Plus, Charging Friends for Dinner and Pierre Thiam on “Simply West African”

This week, Pierre Thiam will change the way you cook with his secrets for mafé (peanut sauce), Senegalese barbecue and his favorite ingredient, fonio. Plus, journalist Jen Doll helps explain a puzzling new trend of dinner party hosts charging their friends; Adam Gopnik and Christopher Kimball reveal their favorite food books of 2023; and we make Pasta Rotolo with Spinach and Ricotta.

Questions in this episode:

"Why do some pie crust recipes call for a mixture of vodka and water?"

"My 13 year old son wants to be a chef when he grows up. What would be a good Christmas or birthday gift for him?

Seafood okra soupou kanja

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX and I'm your host, Christopher Kimball.

Pierre Thiam says that Senegalese cooking starts with the value of turanga.

Pierre Thiam: A belief that when you share with someone, you'll meet that person is actually someone

bringing blessings to you.

CK: Today we explore the heart and soul of West African cooking. It means being intuitive, generous,

and in touch with your ingredients. Which is why Pierre says Senegalese cuisine is much like


PT: There is so much in common between those two cultures, the rice the way they do it in Senegal the

same way they will do it in Japan, they will take a portion of the harvest, put it on the altar, just to

connect these ingredients to a bigger picture the universe and to be grateful for it

CK: Food and philosophy at the West African table that's coming up later on the show. But now I'm

joined by journalist Jen Doll, who's here to explain a puzzling new trend and entertaining at home. Her

article for the LA Times is called, Should You Charge Friends to Eat at Your Place? Jen, welcome to

Milk Street.

Jen Doll: Hi, thanks for having me.

CK: So, when I read this, I was going like, there's nothing in my life that prepared me for this. I don't

understand this on any level. I find it I mean, there's nothing about it that I understand. So, I'm a lot

older than you are. So, take me through this in a way that helps me understand what's going on.

JD: I will but let me first say that I don't even think that it's about your age not understanding, I think that

the explosion across the internet when these things happen, and someone complains about it on

Reddit is huge. And across age groups and even cultures. So so don't, it's not you. There's something

going on, you know, what, what happens a lot. And if you look on social media sites, you know, you'll

see so many of these entries about people saying, I was invited over to my friend's house for dinner,

they were cooking something they said come over, they didn't say it's a potluck. And after the fact they

just through Venmo request, you know, 30 or 40, or $50 as payback for the dinner. And so, when I

wrote the piece in the LA Times about a particular instance of this, I talked to etiquette experts and they

all said that this is actually just terrible, terrible, terrible etiquette, there is no way this is okay. If you are

doing it after the fact. And if you are in America, this is not what our sort of social norms are the

exceptions would be maybe if your friend group always does this, and that's what you all know, you

know, you get together on a Friday night, and you all put in for tacos or something like that, then that's

fine, because it's not like a betrayal of the social compact. But in the cases where after the fact

someone is charging you for a dinner at their house or tell you that you owe them $15 for your cocktail.

That's not really that's not what we're doing here.


Transcribed by

CK: That's the one that really like you go over, they make you an old fashioned $15. I mean, it's almost

like they're making money on this. I guess I have a bunch of questions. So let me start at the beginning.

(Sure) Is this something that's happening with large numbers of people or is this like, you know, very

rare. Let's start with that.

JD: Well, I don't, I don't really have the data on it. And I don't know if anyone does. But the amount of

times I've seen posts like this, it does seem to be happening fairly frequently. I before we talked, I

looked on a couple of sites and I found numerous occasions of this happening. You know, like, I think

one couple had a wedding and they tried to charge people for their food there, which just seems wild.

CK: But look, I can understand if someone you know, doesn't have a lot of money. And he or she calls

up some friends and says, look, let's do a potluck Friday night everybody throw in 20 bucks. I'll do the

shopping and cooking. (Yeah) you guys can clean up, you know, yeah, that's fine. I think the problem

with this whole thing isn't that people are sharing the expense is that you are unannounced you're

charging people. (a) not just for ingredients, but it also sounds in some cases, like for your time.

Exactly. And the idea of charging a friend for your time to cook them dinner. I mean, there was nothing

in human history that would lead you to that point because the whole point is to do something for

somebody else without getting paid for it.

JD: Yeah, it turns what you've done into something purely transactional and financial and almost takes

away the beauty of the effort, you know, do you really want to have to say, Yeah, my hourly rate is

$100. and I cooked for three hours, except also I shopped for an hour. And you know, are you going to

add all that up and say, this is what you really owe me? When, presumably, in most of these cases, it

was the idea of the person hosting in the first place to put it together, no one was forcing them to do it,


CK: Maybe, maybe I should invite a bunch of people and build them all. Just just see what happens,

see what happens? Or maybe invite people I really don't want to have over again, or something? I don't

know. But I would ask a question about consistency. So, if you're going to do this, you better do this in

all aspects of your life, not just single out the times, when you want to get paid. Yes. But are you going

to ante up and say, hey, I'll pay my share, when someone else offers to pay everything?

JD: Yeah. My guess is that it's not consistent. (Yes, me too) yeah there's sort of a side note to this,

which is, there's a lot of discourse about how people split the bill. And I feel like this is adjacent

somehow. And they're always arguments about, okay, my husband and I are vegan, we went to this

thing. There were there was no vegan food, we only ate bread. And afterward, they told us we all owed,

you know, $170 or something like that. And so, it's like that question of like, in the reverse, if you're

being part of a group, do you have to split the check? Or is it okay to only pay your part of it? I'm

curious what you think about that.

CK: I've two or three times been in a situation where someone said, well, let's just go through and

figure out what each of us ordered. And I just wanted to say I may have screamed. That's just so it's

such bad manners.


Transcribed by

JD: I'm wondering about like generosity. And if the problem is that we're not, we're not focusing on

generosity, the way that we used to focus on generosity, and part of being a good host is to be

generous, and to sort of assume that what you're creating is bigger than the dollar signs attached to it.

Right? You're creating community and you're creating an experience. And even if your guests can give

you nothing in return, it doesn't matter because the simple act of generosity is something that is good

for you and feels good. And you know, is moral if you want to go there.

CK: Well, I think it's a lack of an individual's ability to see him or herself as part of a culture in a society.

(Yeah) I mean, there's some other examples, though. Let's, let's talk about some actual examples.

There was one, a friend was invited to another's house and offered only water, because she hadn't

brought her own alcohol. Meanwhile, the friend who lived there made herself a Manhattan (Oh yeah)


JD: I mean, that that's, that is just beyond. Sometimes they don't seem real. Like that doesn't seem like

it can be real.

CK: I wonder you wrote about this, is it possible that 20 years ago, you'd actually have to ask for cash?

Right could you give me a check. Could you give me 20 bucks. Now, after the event, you can slip it into

the digital main, you know, Venmo? (Yeah). And do it in a way that's a little more secretive, and and

less upsetting? Yeah. It does the digital part of this have anything to do with it?

JD: I think the digital distancing is something but there's almost like a kind of righteousness, that it

seems like people are demanding money from their friends. And I feel like the people who are asking

for money would be equally comfortable taking $5 from you at the door. So, I don't know, I do think that

digital, there can be some distancing and maybe that does help but but it's not the whole story.

CK: So where does this all in? You know, if I were a psychoanalyst, I would say, I think this is

representative. It's sort of iconic for one of our great fears, right? Which is, society becomes less

personal, our connections to other people become transactional. It seems like a very small ask, right? I

mean, to be human is like, don't charge for your guests at a dinner party. Right?

JD: We can start charging them per joke or, you know, conversational tidbits.

CK: Its individuality run amok. That's what I think this is. It's like, you know, you only think about

yourself, because the group is just an opportunity to bill people through Venmo.

JD: Right. You're not thinking about the group as beneficial to you which it is, you know, our being in

community is really important to us individually as well.

CK: I guess not if you only give them water because they didn't bring alcohol while you have your



Transcribed by

JD: Yeah, except that I think that those people are probably going to have fewer and fewer people

coming over.

CK: More red vermouth for them I guess.

JD: Yeah,

CK; Jen, it's been a pleasure. I don't know if we actually got to the bottom of it, but it's disturbing,

amusing, entertaining and frightening all the same time. Thank you.

JD: Yes, thank you.

CK: That was journalist Jen Doll. Her article for the LA Times is Should You Charge Friends To Eat at

Your Place? We investigate. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara

Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. also, author of

Home Cooking 101. Sara, so steamed puddings. (Yes) I'm kind of entranced by the concept. And I've

done it quite a few times. I used to make them around Christmas. But I use actual suet. (Yes,) beef fat

for that. Which sounds gross. (Yes) but it's not (right). And also, the thing I finally realized about steam

puddings, it was a way of cooking something on top of the stove. You can sort of put it on the back

burner and let it steam for two or three hours. But that's something that nobody makes anymore. And

they're really good.

Sara Moulton: You know, it's funny, you should bring up steamed puddings because my grandmother,

Ruth Moulton, who went to a cooking school in Boston at the Garland School of Cooking, and she was

a fabulous cook. And every Christmas we'd have it at our family farmhouse, which is in Massachusetts,

and she would come and make steamed puddings with the suet, and it would be flamed at the table.

And what I really loved about it was the hard sauce, which is what it's butter and brandy or butter.

Yeah. That you have on the side.

CK: I mean, fruitcake. First of all, good fruitcake is really good.

SM: Yes, I know.

CK: But the bad fruitcakes are

SM: Are doorstops.

CK: When she was bad. She was horrid.

SM: Right, right.

CK: All right, well, we’re bringing back English pudding onto the calls.

SM: Yes. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?


Transcribed by

Caller: Hi, I'm Lila and my grandma has a question. What do you think about piecrust?

SM: Okay, we know that people do that all the time. But more specifically, what is the question?

Caller: She wants to know why recipes use both water and vodka instead of all vodka.

SM: Because vodka, you know evaporates as the dough cooks. And so, as the water in the vodka

evaporates, you would end up with an under hydrated dough, so it wouldn't have the proper structure.

So that's why you can't substitute all of the water with vodka, you couldn't just make a straight vodka

pie dough. When you combine water and gluten, which is in flour, and you work them together, you

develop the gluten and that's both a good thing because it gives structure and a bad thing if you overdo

it, because then you end up with a tough pie dough. So, adding a little bit of vodka, which does not

develop gluten and which the water in it evaporates, produces more tender crust. But adding all vodka

would not work. Chris, do you agree with that? Well, I

CK: Well, I was there when it was invented. It was J Kenji Lopez Alt came up with this recipe when he

and I worked together 20 years ago. A couple things though, I think this whole thing about tough pie

dough and water is overstated. You don't really work pie dough that much like you would bread dough.

And some gluten will develop just because water is in contact with flour. There's some science to that,

but it's not in contact for a very long time. I think what really makes the biggest difference in pie dough

is the amount of fat. So, if you have a lot of fat in your recipe, for example, a cup and a quarter flour

with 10 tablespoons of fat. If you use vodka or not, it probably doesn't matter because you have plenty

of fat to coat the flour. But it does work. And it does give you a slightly better, more tender crust. But

you should also look at the fat content because the fat will coat the flour and also protect the flour from

being in contact with water and forming gluten. So fat content and the vodka are both good things.

SM: Yeah. Does that answer?

Caller: Well, it does. You know I kept I'd read about how the vodka would help counter the gluten, but

then nobody ever said but you need a certain amount of gluten. So, I hadn't heard that part of it as

being part of the explanation. So, what is the right proportion of flour to fat?

CK: Flour to fat a cup and a quarter is how much flour we use for a single pie crust two and a half for

double, single pie crust. I use 10 tablespoons of fat double two and a half cups of flour, 20 tablespoons

of fat, that's plenty of fat. And that will definitely give you a tender pie crust no matter what you do.

Make sure you add enough water, so the dough comes together, and you let it sit in the fridge for an

hour at least maybe overnight. And then it's easy to roll out

SM: Well and the thing about the vodka is that way you can add the extra liquid and it's not water.

That's true, and it does evaporate. That's one of the main advantages of adding the vodka as well. And


Transcribed by

CK: And the last thing and I won't say any more about this for at least 24 hours, is make sure you cut

the fat well into the flour. The big mistake people make is that they have big pieces of butter in the flour.

Well, if you're not cutting the fat in, the fats not protecting the flour from the water, you want that flour if

it's in a food processor or by hand to turn slightly yellowish, right, the texture changes a little bit it

shouldn't be white and light and flowery should be a little pebbly. That way, you really coat the flour,

and you will definitely end up with a tender pie crust just you can't help yourself. So don't under mix the

fat and the flour.

Caller: It seems like the newer recipes, talk about mushing the fat instead of cutting it in is?

CK: You mean schmearing it on the counter massage, you mean on the counter? Yeah, that works.

Caller: Squishing it so that you take your butter, and you just squish it in instead of mixing it in

CK: The only problem is your hands depending if you have Baker's hands you can warm up the butter,

which is not ideal

Caller: Right

SM: But you can do that as a finisher you know if you got your dough in a lot of bakers do you get your

dough to the point where the butter is almost mixed in you dump it on the counter and then you

schmear it, you know, with a heel of your hand like two or three times max,

CK: and that gives you a nice layer when its baked.

SM: That'll do the finish.

CK: Yeah, that's nice

SM: Yeah.

Caller: Okay.

SM: All right. All right. Well, right. Lila was nice to meet you, too.

Caller She had to go out and take our cat who was scratching at the door out so

CK: She makes a great spokesperson.

SM: Yes. Tell Lila. Thank you.

SM: Okay.

CK: Thanks for calling. A Pleasure.


Transcribed by

SM: Bye.

Caller: Bye, bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need a hand with dinner, give us a call. The number is 855-426-

9843 one more time 855-426-9843 Or simply email us at questions at Milk Street

SM: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Addison from Richmond Hill, Georgia.

SM: Hi, Addison, how can we help you today?

Caller: So, my son is 13. And I think he wants to be a chef. At least that's what he's decided this past

year that he wants to be a chef when he grows up. And so, I was just thinking, like, if you were that age,

we know and you were wanting to become a chef. You know, I've been trying to figure out like, what

should I get them for like birthdays and Christmas gifts and things like that. So what would you have


SM: Well, a cooking class. And (okay) the best thing for a beginning cook is a knife skills class.

Caller: Knife skills. Okay.

SM: Yeah. Because that's sort of central to everything else that you do. But does he have any

particular cuisines he's interested in?

Caller: This month it’s pasta, lots of Italian stuff.

SM: Does he have a pasta of one of those Atlas hand crank rolling machines?

Caller: No, we don't usually just buy it like premade,

SM: So, he's learning how to work with dried pasta, but he might want to learn how to work with fresh

pasta. And that case, you sort of do a themed gift. Get him a really good pasta cooking book, The Atlas

machine. And yeah, and then he can just run with it. Let's see what Chris has to say.

CK: I have a very different take. (Really), when I went to college, I majored in primitive art. Don't ask

me why. So, one year, I volunteered at the Museum of Natural History and their collection there. And I

realized after two weeks, I hated it. I hated the museum. I hated academia. I just hated the whole

bureaucracy. So, I would get them a job, or we get them a summer job. No, I'm not kidding. At first,

forget all that. Get them a job and like whatever you can get him and just have them spend two or three

months in some sort of restaurant kitchen. Because I know lots of chefs as Sara does. And you know,

it's not an easy career choice. So, give them some real experience. Besides that, if you want to buy him


Transcribed by

a thing, give them a good knife and give them a really good cutting board. Those two things are really

the basis for all cooking, a cutting board and a knife but absolutely. Get that clam shack summer job

and just see what if he is really excited in September then he's passed the test, right Sara?

SM: Okay well, Chris is right, but let's say the young man just likes to cook Chris. Do we want to kill his

love of cooking?

CK: Yes, you kill it now. Because you don't want to kill it when he's 38. And his back hurts.

SM: I don't want to kill his love of cooking please.

CK: No, but either he'll come out if he doubles down after the clam shack summer. This is what he

should do.

SM: Addison get him the Atlas pasta machine. And, and pasta cookbook, you know, nurture this thing

in him so yeah,

CK: Well, all the best to him. Give him a knife and a job. See what happens. Addison, thank you.

SM: Okay. Bye.

Caller: Awesome. Thank you.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up Pierre Thiam reveals how an African mother sauce became

mole. That's after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. A few years

ago, I spent three days in the car with Chef and cookbook author, Pierre Thiam, he took me on a tour of

the city, and he also brought me into the kitchen of one of his childhood friends. He's out with a new

book of weeknight recipes called Simply West African, Pierre how are you?

Pierre Thiam: I'm good. How are you? Chris?

CK: It's been a while i You gave me a tour.

PT: How long ago now?

CK: Four or five years. (Yeah) I flew to Senegal to Dakar. And you were generous enough to spend a

few days with me and it was a really interesting city. The one thing I found when you I want you to

describe this for our audience, is that huge indoor market. It was just awe inspiring. You want to just

describe it.

PT: Yeah, it's called Marche Kermel it’s located like right downtown Dakar. You know, it's definitely a

special experience. It's a circular looking market that has two levels, you know, the outdoors one which

has lots of informal eating places where women just come and cook everyday like local dishes,

Thieboudienne, which is the you know, our national dish is rice cooking with this stuffed fish similar to a


Transcribed by

paella. That's the original Jollof rice actually. And you also have, you know, peanut sauce. So, you have

the yassa, which is the lemon and onion sauce that's cooked with grilled fish or grilled chicken over rice

or millet. So, all those are happening outside for walkers for people who can't afford a fancy meal, but

can come and have like a very easy, you know, less than $1 kind of lunch. So, this market, just walking

through it is a feast for the senses. And I think that's what hit you when you first got down with me then.

CK: Yeah, I just for people who've never been there, it feels like you're in a two-football field space. It's

huge. Could you before we get to food, which I really want to talk about, could you talk about the North

versus the South? Obviously, the North is more desert, the South is greener. How that two parts of the

country are different the language, the food, etc.

PT: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So, so Senegal is like it's located in the most western coast of Africa and

south of the Sahara Desert. So, the northern part is, as you can imagine, arid, and that affects

obviously the food, you would see seafood on the menus, and some type of grains that don't require

much water. And then as you go in the south, the south is more lush, also coastal, so lots of seafood,

but then the ingredients vary. You'd see like coconut and like fruit trees. The the other influences are

also from the historical point of view, colonization. So, Senegal was colonized by French in general. But

you also have some pockets, you know, in the south, which is a region called Casamance has a strong

Portuguese influence. You know, as people, when they come, they bring their food culture and the

French have the food culture that is still very much traceable around Senegal. If you remember, there's

like these kiosks that said baguette breads every single day. Everyone in Dakar has baguette bread in

the morning in street street corners of Dakar you have like croissants, bakeries, and we don't grow

wheat. So that's part of the French influence. You know, it's like still, you know, 60 years after

independence, we still importing the wheat and you have recipes in the South that have a Portuguese

influence. You know, you have even dishes that have Portuguese names like like caldo you know caldo

is like a fish stew in Casamance, you know you also have a small community of Vietnamese in

Senegal, and that community also comes from the French colonial past, which at the time, they also

had a presence in Vietnam at the ___ in China at the time. So, you know, it's a melting pot.

CK: So, let's talk about you and your new book, Simply West African, it really struck me that your

approach to food is very similar to Japan, in terms of sort of a, almost a holy or a spiritual approach to

it. And you talk about in your book four things, awaken intuition, practice presents, cultivate joy, share

the love generously. So you are, you're almost a guru of the kitchen, which I love, because you're

talking about food in terms that we don't really talk about it here very much, which is that it's about

sharing, it's about community, it's about joy. It's about presence. You're bringing a philosophy to it, and

really a way of acting around food, which is, I think, very different than just the taste. There's more to it

than that.

PT: Yeah, thank you for noticing. And yes, I think really foods started this way. And how to really learn

that is by looking back at the past and how our mothers were cooking. And for me, this is a lesson I've

really learned as I was trying to translate those recipes from my mom, from my grandma, into

cookbooks into like recipes that are coded with exact numbers. And they could never understand my

obsession with these exact numbers and how many teaspoons and the degrees. And my mom never

understood those questions. And she was always trying to get me back to cooking with the senses. You


Transcribed by

know, that was her thing. She was like, numbers are good for guidelines, but they should not be the

way you approach cooking, you should have them as guidelines, but approach cooking in a complete

presence, you know, and if you're present, that means your senses are present. And once your senses

are present, you would have a different understanding of those numbers. Because you're those

numbers would be all relative to the circumstances of the environment, and you would smell, and you

would taste, and you would look. And you would touch all those things, giving you an opportunity to

communicate with the ingredients. And it turns out, it's not only a West African approach, it's also a

Japanese way, you know, a Japanese ___ thanks to my wife, who's from Tokyo actually, but spent time

exploring that cuisine spend time there as well. And realizing that there is so much in common between

those two cultures, you know, first of all that, that approach to the ingredient, that respect for the

ingredient and go way back in the past where we were still growing the ingredients and taking it to the

altar as a sacrifice the rice, the way they do it in Senegal the same way they would do it in Japan, they

would take a portion of the harvest, put it on the altar, just to connect these ingredients to a bigger

picture the universe and to be grateful. So, by being present, at the market level, all the way into the

kitchen and all the way to the moment where we’re sharing that food that we prepare with everybody

else. All those moments are part of the cooking experience in all those moments opportunities to be

present and being present gives you so much more.

CK: So, let's turn to your favorite ingredient fonio. You gave a TED talk about it a few years ago. And I

love it too. But it seems that you really think this is a grain that it doesn't require a lot of water to grow. It

tastes great. It's something that should be part of the repertoire, way beyond West Africa. So, you want

to give me the sales pitch for that because you really sold me when I listened to that TED talk.

PT: Okay, I'll try to give you the one-minute sales pitch and then, you know, the challenge we're facing

today is our food system has limited our diet, right? We are eating just four grains, rice, corn, wheat and

soy. And we've ignored like hundreds of other ingredients that are more sustainable, and we need to

figure out a way to now integrate them into our global diet. So fonio is a grain that grows in that Sahara

region that I mentioned. It's a rain fed grain, that's drought resistant, that's very resilient. And that's a

nutrition powerhouse. You know, it's like its gluten free. It has a low glycemic index which is really good

for those who suffer or diabetes for instance. And it cooks in five minutes. It's quite, quite quite, quite

versatile. So it's a grain that is easy to cook with. And it's quite delicate, you know, I believe is the most

delicate the whole grains.

CK: You know, one of the things you talk about in the book, which I completely agree with is sauces.

You talk about sauces being critically important in West African Senegal. And I think that's so true

because you can roast a piece of chicken or cook a piece of meat, or some vegetables and the sauce

is transformative. So yassa, so you know, onions, Maafe, a red sauce, could you just talk about some

of your sauces? Because I think the easiest way to take your cooking up a couple notches, is just to

master a couple of sauces, which make all the difference?

PT: Absolutely, absolutely. We forget that without the sauce. The dish is not what it is, like I said you

can roast or grill or saute the ingredient. But the sauce is what makes the dish and plays a role that is

so important that sometimes is overlooked. And I thought it was important that people approach West

African cuisine by understanding the mother sauces, because the mother sauces are different in West


Transcribed by

Africa. You know, you have that maafe, the peanut sauce, right? The peanut-based sauce is like a

grain-based sauce, you know. So, it's mother sauce in that you can substitute with other nuts or seeds.

And that basil sauce influenced you can see it all the way in Mexico, when you look at the region that

has a strong west African influence. And people often don't know, but Puebla and Oaxaca. Those are

the West African regions, there was a time where that part of the world had the largest population of

captive Africans, and they brought their cuisine, you know, so the maafi turned into mole. That's the

same base, nut base oh, yes. Oh, yes, absolutely. an afro Mexican, claiming it was not much, but many

people are talking about it.

CK: That's fascinating. I didn't mean now I think about it. The sauces are quite similar.

PT: Quite similar.

CK: Well, there's a couple little recipes in your book, I just thought were really smart, like a ginger

vinaigrette, you know, or a parsley raw for pesto. And the notion of combining ingredients a little

differently. To have brighter or more interesting flavors is something we you know, I always look for

when I travel, you mentioned the hot Pepe soup for hangovers. So how spicy is this, is it pretty spicy?


PT: Well, that one is the spicier, the better. The also depending on how much you can handle, but the

heat plays a role as a as a remedy for the hangover. But that's a recipe that you see across the

continent pepe soup.

CK: Now you were there, you said well we're going to go get barbecue for lunch. And we went to this

incredibly cool place that was half inside and half outside, and these square grills, you'd sit around it,

and the Cook had skewered all sorts of meat, chicken, beef hearts, etc. You just want to describe that

because that I really really loved that experience.

PT: It's a special place I knew you'd love it. It's not the tourist place. It's the locals as you see you're

surrounded by locals, we call it Dibi. And Dibi is like you can see it everywhere it’s very informal. You

know that place I took you to as you see it's like you know it's in ruins right, the buildings in ruins and

part of it is open, part of it is outside. And at night you can imagine you know there is no electricity so

everyone has lamps in front of their stalls and like you know, you see the glowing red of the charcoal,

and then the meats, you know, all the cuts all the awfuls, you know, and obviously the filet mignons and

you know the shoulder and then you know you have the seasonings usually you know suya is, is the

popular one is like a dry spice mix. So that spice mix is usually served on the side, and you dip your

grilled meat in it. And you know and you have you know sliced raw onions on the side and you have the

chili mixture we call it chili jam. That's also on the side for those who want it to be really spicy.

CK: Last question and you're sitting down about to have dinner. And you know, in Austria, someone

might say Mahlzeit or you might say Bon Appetit. Is there a phrase in Wolof that people do, do people

give a prayer to the is there a thank you what happens just before you eat?


Transcribed by

PT: The phrase in Wolof would be naras jàam. So, naras jàam means may digest in peace. And is it's

an, it's not as poetic as this sounds in Wolof, but it is the way we would invite people to come as you

come to share the meal. And again, you know, this is a culture whereas you share with people, you are

receiving blessings from people who are eating your meal. So, we have our value called Teraanga. If

you remember that word Teraanga (Yes) the most important value in our culture and it is when you

share your meal with the guests, whoever he is expected or not expected. We believe that when you

share with someone your meal, that person is actually someone bringing blessings to you.

CK: Pierre it's again, a pleasure. And thank you so much for giving me the tour. It was phenomenal.

And I guess, as you might say, in Wolof, may you digest and peace.

PT: Thank you. Thank you, Chris. Always a pleasure.

CK: Thank you. That was Pierre Thiam. His latest book is Simply West African, which he co-wrote with

his wife Lisa Katayama. This is Milk Street Radio after the break Adam Gopnik and I reveal our favorite

food books of the year that's coming up. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street

Radio. Now let's head into the kitchen with JM Hirsch to talk about this week's recipe. Pasta rotolo with

spinach and ricotta. JM how are you?

JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.

CK: You know, you and I have been to Rome more than a couple times. It always yields so many great

recipes. But you came across and this happens to me too. You come across something totally

unexpected. You go to Rome and here are the eight recipes I'm trying to find. You walk through a

market, and you turn a corner and all of a sudden you see something you've never seen before. And

that turns out to be your favorite recipe on the trip. And I think that just happened to you with a form of

lasagna, but it's not lasagna.

JMH: Right. Exactly. I was in the Tivoli market, you know, walking around looking at all the amazing

food. And I come across a pasta shop that had these large trays of what I can only describe as what

would happen if a jelly roll and a lasagna had a baby. Because it was all the classic lasagna ingredients

sheets of pasta, ricotta, spinach, but rolled up like a jelly roll and cut into fixed slabs that you are

intended to bring home and throw a little marinara on and bake and enjoy. I had never seen anything

like it before.

CK: So are these tubes, these cheesy tubes. Are they open ended, I mean, how do you assemble this.

JMH: So, it's assembled by taking large sheets of lasagna. So, imagine like a baking sheet, size sheet

of pasta dough, and you smear it with your ricotta and your spinach. And then you roll it up like a jelly

roll. And then you slice it into rounds about an inch thick. And that's when they sell it at the market. But

then you bring it home and you arrange these rounds in a tray of a little bit of marinara, and you bake it

and then you eat it. And it is wonderful.


Transcribed by

CK: Yeah, I've had when I was there recently, you know, obviously ricotta and spinach is a classic

combination. The thing that struck me I had the gnudo the one that doesn't have any pasta around it

just balls of this. They're so light. I don't know whether it's their ricotta is different than ours. But boy,

just featherlike which is so antithetical to the American lasagna, which is you know, just a stomach

bomb, right?

JMH: Well true. And you know, you make a good point about the ricotta being different and that was

one of the challenges we faced in adapting this recipe for home kitchens in the US. Our ricotta does not

behave the same way as Italian ricotta, and it took us a while to figure out what was going on because

every time we would bake our jelly rolls, the filling would sink in the center. And we didn't understand

what was going on. So, we tested, tested, tested and tried a bunch of different ricottas. And we realized

that Italian ricotta has a much lower moisture content than American ricotta, at least commercially

available American ricotta. So, we kind of had to figure out a workaround. And I mean, as is often the

case in cooking, the best way to fix it was the simplest, if it's too much water, what do you do, you drain

it. So, we found we could get great results simply by taking commercially available ricotta and putting in

a mesh strainer and draining it for a while. And once that excess moisture was gone, it behaved much

more like the Italian ricotta. So, we got much better results at that point. The only other challenge we

faced was the pasta itself. Because yeah, I mean in Italy, first of all, everybody in their brother is going

to make giant sheets of lasagna at home. And if you're not going to do that, you're just going to go to

the shop and buy it because of course, in every little village in every town, there are pasta shops where

you can buy gorgeous sheets of fresh lasagna and the United States, we're not quite so lucky. So, we

experimented. And while there are some fresh lasagna sheets available in the US that are hard to find,

what is widely available are those smaller sheets of ready to bake lasagna, the ones that you don't

even boil. And we thought that perhaps we could experiment with these. And we found that if we just

very briefly blanched them, just to soften them up a little bit, we could actually layer them together,

almost stitching them together, in fact, and create the large sheets of pasta that we wanted to create

our jelly roll of lasagna. And they worked perfectly actually it was great.

CK: JM, thank you pasta rotolo with spinach and ricotta a different way of thinking about lasagna

because it has all the same components, but vastly lighter and vastly better. Thank you.

JMH: Thank you. You can get the recipe for pasta rotolo with spinach and ricotta at Milk Street

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Adam Gopnik and I will be sharing our top choices

for food books of the year. Adam, how are you?

Adam Gopnik: I am very well Chris, how are you?

CK: I'm good. It's that time of year where we look back in the world books and cookbooks. So, you and

I both independently, we've not conferred have picked three books. One is a recent cookbook. One is

food writing, not a cookbook and the other is an older book. And I'll let you get started with maybe your

favorite recent cookbook.


Transcribed by

AG: I'd be delighted to make the cookbook I chose was the book Tender Heart by Hedy McKinnon.

What makes it terrific is, first of all, it's all vegetable cooking. And we all want as much vegetable

cooking in our lives now as we can possibly get. But in the past is I'm sure you'd agree. A lot of pure

vegetarian cooking had a depressingly kind of clinical and medicinal flavor to it, right? You make this

because it's good for you. This is a book that's just alive with charm. It doubles as a memoir, and it's a

cookbook and in our search for ways of living virtuously on vegetables, without depriving ourselves of

pleasure. This book Tender Heart really does the job.

CK: Yeah, I love Hedy McKinnon. We've interviewed her twice. But I'm going to give you a more down

the center book from Nancy Silverton her new book, The Cookie That Changed my Life. First of all, her

backstory is amazing. She worked at Michaels in LA, the first you know, pastry chef, at Wolfgang's

Spago 1982 co-founds La Brea bakery, and in a horrible twist of fate, sold it and put in all the money

with Bernie Madoff, which (did not end well right) really badly. And she restarted her career. And she

went she went to do a book. This is the book I wish I had done is like corn muffins, angel food cake,

chocolate chunk cookies, go and see the American repertoire. But she really went back and rethought it

in a very intelligent, professional way. For example, she thinks angel food cake is sort of a horrible,

tasteless foam. So, to solve the problem, she creates an angel food cake that collapses on itself and

has a little chocolate in it. So, she creates something totally different. It's that kind of fresh approach

that very few people have. It's not just the recipes work, but they're really well thought through so mine

is The Cookie that Changed My Life by Nancy Silverton.

AG: Great title too. My next two books. I'm kind of crowding two books into one slot here. These are

food books that aren't exactly cookbooks but are teaching books. One is Endangered Eating by Sarah

Lohman. The second one is Ultra Processed People by Chris Van Tulleken. They're oddly kind of

linked. Sarah Lohman’s book is all about all of the varieties and all of the good things that are vanishing

from our tables a subject that you and I have discussed in the past and that impels my search for

stamens, wine saps and Jonathan apples in in the ocean of Fiji's in which we are drowning. She goes

on way beyond apples and deals with everything from from sugar to salmon. And it's one of those

books you know, that teaches us good lessons, but doesn't moralize at us to tiresomely so I greatly

enjoyed it. The Van Tulleken book was a book I actually wrote about for my home ship at the New

Yorker. And it makes a pressing case for the dangers of ultra-processed food. In the piece I wrote for

The New Yorker, which you may have seen, Chris, I raised some skeptical issues about whether it's

really true that the food our grandparents ate was always to return to the word of the day virtuous, that

in fact, if we break down olive oil and salt bacon into their preservative properties, I'm not sure that they

are necessarily more wholesome than the things we eat now, but he certainly demonstrates that a lot of

what we eat now in mass market food is not good for us. And it's a useful and alarming book.

CK: Well, as usual on this show, my role with you is to take a lighter, the road most traveled. This is

one of my favorite books of all time by a guy called Dwight Garner he is a New York Times book

reviewer, The Upstairs Delicatessen, and the subhead is On eating, reading, reading about eating and

eating while reading. And to give you a sense, this will just explain who this guy is. The thing he

concerned about most every day, is he attempts to shrink the hours between the mornings last cup of

coffee and the evenings first drink. And that's how he sees the entire universe. At seven o'clock he


Transcribed by

starts the martinis his wife drinks wine, and they play a game which I actually just bought called Spite

and Malice, which is a form of dual Solitaire, where the whole point of it is even if you lose, you try to

irritate the other person. So, this is a life that started with sauerkraut was sliced up franks as a kid and

sort of a horrible American version of egg foo young. And now he is just in love with food. And I'll end

with this quote. He uses many quotes, but one from John Updike about food, he says it never bites

back. It is already dead. Never tells us we are lousy lovers or ask for an interview. Its simply bags take

me It cries out I'm yours. So, Dwight Garner The Upstairs Delicatessen. absolutely marvelous guy and

just a fabulous book.

AG: Typically, Updike quote, would lift our whole conversation. It leads me naturally to my beloved

vintage book. I was walking down the street in Williamsburg in Brooklyn on my way to of all things to a

boxing gym. When I saw on a table of secondhand of old and used books, book by the wonderful MFK

Fisher, which I did not know. It's called An Alphabet for Gourmets. It has wonderful drawings by Marvin

Billick, it comes to us from the 1940s I think 1948 originally and it is just what it claims to be. It is an

alphabetic book E is for exquisite. F is for family K is what else kosher L is for literature, N is for nautical

and on and on. And in each place, we get one of those exquisite, melancholy little essays of which

Mary Fisher's her friends called her specialized, it was a delight to find I've discovered it's been

reprinted a couple of times in the last 20 years. So, I was blessed to find the original edition. And it's a

What can I say? It's just a delight to add to any cook’s library.

CK: Well, I'm going to head back into the world of cooking with Madhur Jaffrey, her first books now it's

50 years on an invitation to Indian cooking. I just interviewed her for this show. And first of all, she's 90,

(wow) she is funnier, has more personality and enjoys life more than the two of us put together still. And

she's had this amazing life which started in India, of course, in the summers, they move up north, and

they'd have these picnics in these hidden valleys with waterfalls, and they would put they were called

sucking mangoes or are used just for their juice. They put them in the cool water at the end of the

picnic, they would cut off one end and suck out the juices. She won the Best Actress Award at the 1965

Berlin Film Festival, and she just did a year ago she appeared in a rap video with Mr. Cardamom. And

she was she was absolutely fabulous. And the book still today you know, her quote about Indian

restaurant is “these establishments invariably underestimate both the curiosity the palate of

contemporary Americans”. And what she has done is to go way beyond that into Indian cook even 50

years ago, so here's someone who was trained as an actress, wrote many, many books, I think, almost

30 of them, and I think still has one of the seminal books on the topic Madhur Jaffrey,

AG: I have that book in my library couldn't agree more. I actually had the chance to have dinner with

her once at one of the few Indian restaurants in New York, of which she approved. This was about 20

years ago. And I agree she raised the brow of American dining, by making us aware of the true

excellence of Indian food. Can I just read to Chris to close my part, one sentence from MFK Fisher.

She's talking about how a famous writer once said that his idea of heaven was eating foie gras to the

sound of trumpets, and she says my idea of heaven that night, and this night too, is fresh green garden

peas picked and shelled by my friends to the sounds of a cowbell.


Transcribed by

CK: Well, then I'm going to have to end with a quote too (please), a quote from Zadie Smith, this is from

Dwight Garner's book. There was no great difference between novels and banana bread. They are both

just something to do” (and both delicious when well done). There we have it Adam, thank you so much.

AG: Always a pleasure to share pages with you, Christopher.

CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. To learn more about our book

recommendations, you can head to Milk Street There you can also find my interviews with

Hedy McKinnon, Madhur Jaffrey and Nancy Silverton. And stay tuned for my upcoming interview with

Dwight Garner. That's it for today. Don't forget that you can find more than 250 episodes of our show.

wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about everything we have to offer a Milk Street at

177 Milk There you can become a member and get all of our recipes, access to our live

stream cooking classes, and also learn about our latest cookbook Milk Street Simple. Check us out on

Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next

week with more food stories and kitchen questions. And thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, co-founder

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