Right now, my favorite cookbooks are all from Austin. It’s part the recipes, but more than that is the shared philosophy that food and eating should be more than just a way to get the necessary calories to make it through the day while expending the least time possible. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of great cookbooks for great meals in a hurry, but cooking, like a good road trip, is as much the journey as the destination.
These three Austin cookbooks celebrate the journey in the kitchen, the thrill of using great ingredients and the soul-lifting joy that comes from savoring a lovingly made meal and finding that place where food and art make life just that much more wonderful.
The Soup Peddler’s Slow & Difficult Soups: Recipes & Reveries by David Ansel is about as fun as a cookbook can get. If Seinfeld’s New York had the soup nazi, then Austin has its own soup hippie. In the book, Ansel describes his dissatisfaction with his cubicle job and how he left that to start his business making soup and selling it to his south Austin neighbors off the back of his bike.
Ansel’s philosophy about food seems to be that the process of cooking should be as fulfilling as the eating. His recipes lead to huge quantities of soup, the better for sharing. I’ve made the South Austin Chili, a vegetarian chile which is the most unusual (there’s chocolate in it) and exquisite smelling chili I’ve ever made. Not particularly hot, but very good. The Chompy-Chomp Black Bean Soup is great for those nights when you need to cook with what you’ve got. As fun as the recipes are, the reveries make for great reading while standing in the kitchen watching the soup cook.
Though I haven’t tried it yet, you can still order his soup online and have it delivered, but probably no longer by Ansel on his bicycle.
If you’re interested in eating in season, try Eating in Season: Recipes from the Boggy Creek Farm by Carol Ann Sayle. I like the idea of eating what’s locally available as much as possible. The food tends to be better and it’s better for the environment and the local economy so this book really excites me. The Boggy Creek Farm itself is an urban farm located here in Austin that uses organic farming practices. I’ve never been to their market stand, but I’ll have to go pretty soon.
The book is divided into two parts, one for hot season recipes based on vegetables grown in the harsh and bitter “winter” of central Texas, the other half is for the hot season, or as I like to think of it, the other 360 days of the year. Flipping through this book makes me dream of fresh summer vegetables and fills my head with all kinds of exciting things to do with them.
Last week, I made Larry’s Roasted Chile-Roasted Tomato Gazpacho, even though those things aren’t quite in season. I’d never made gazpacho before, but it turned out quite well and gave me something to do with some of the green chiles that are still filling up my freezer.
Finally, Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art is a stunningly beautiful cookbook that belongs as much on the coffee table as in the kitchen. I have yet to make any recipes from this one, despite the fact that Fonda San Miguel is one of my top five Austin restaurants. Even without having tested it in the kitchen, this is one of my favorite cookbooks. A good cookbook should be as much fun to use as browse and this is a true stand out.
Austin is a great town for people who love food, and these cookbooks, taken together, revel in three of the other things that make Austin so wonderful, be it the weirdness of the soup peddler, the environmental awareness of Boggy Creek, or the art of Fonda San Miguel.
Do you have a favorite Austin cookbook that I should check out? If so, let me know in the comments.