Near & Far Cookbook Review
Exploring the Near & Far Cookbook by Heidi Swanson
I’ve been a big fan of Heidi Swanson for pretty much my entire cookbook loving life. Around the time I first discovered food blogs (2006-ish) I came across Heidi’s blog 101cookbooks, and was thrilled to discover a kindred cookbook-collecting fan out in the world. Heidi is one of the food blogger O.G.s, establishing her position in the digital food world around the same time as David Lebovitz and Deb Perelman, and has been treating readers to her unique vegetarian creations from her San Francisco kitchen for nearly two decades.
Ever a loyal fan, I pre-ordered Near & Far as soon as I could. When it arrived I paged through the book admiring its romantic pastel images. Then, sadly, I shelved it away nearly forgetting about it these past couple years. Luckily for me the Get Cooking Cookbook Club chose it as its November 2018 selection, and I came to discover some of my favorite recipes I made the entire year.
About Near & Far
In Near and Far, Heidi, an avid world traveller, takes us on journey around the world with stops in Morocco, Italy, France, Japan, India, and her home of San Francisco. As we follow her travels her photography transports us to each location as she introduces us to the dishes inspired by the flavors she discovered on her travels.
What I loved about Near & Far
An Around-the-World Journey from the Comfort of Your Own Kitchen
I love exploring cuisines of other cultures, and Near & Far is a wonderful introduction to a handful of very diverse places—from the pasta-loving boot of Italy, to the austere archipelago of Japan. My favorite dishes of the book came from the Italy and San Francisco sections (I guess I stayed pretty close to my comfort zone.) I loved the standout Farro Salad (named one of Food & Wine Magaine’s 40 Best Recipes) inspired by Heidi’s travels to Italy, a dish I’ve made a few times, passing along the recipe to every person I’ve fed. The Radicchio Salad also inspired by Italy is now my go-to recipe for using a head of Radicchio, and probably the first time I’ve truly enjoyed its bitter flavor, perfectly balanced by nutty and sweet elements. I also loved the Cauliflower Pasta, a unique medley of olive/za’atar/cauliflower that somehow come together in the most delicious way (I can’t urge you strongly enough to take the time to make hommade za’atar).
Expand Your International Pantry
Heidi is known for exotic natural foods ingredients, and her pantry is more broad than the average kitchen. While there are staple ingredients used throughout the book, each chapter begins with a list of the essential pantry for each country, ingredients numbering in the dozens.
I have to say that this book may be difficult for some, because even I, a self-described kitchen maximalist, found myself unable to make many of these recipes without a special trip to an ethnic market. Despite that, the pantry component seems to me the key to enjoying this book. Those sets of flavors really give you a sense of place, tools to unlock each cuisine.
Vegetarian Fare at its Most Interesting
Typically, I’m a pretty enthusiastic meat eater, but lately have been drawn to lighter fare, the recipes in Near & Far make that easy. Flavors are layered, so each offers a satisfying taste. Plus the dishes seem to include elements hearty enough to quell hunger until your next meal. At times I was skeptical about seemingly unusual combinations (the Cauliflower Pasta was one that seemed odd to me), but I was happily surprised when every dish I tried delivered on flavor.
Who should buy the Near & Far cookbook?
Armchair travelers interested in exploring international flavors.
Flavor addicts who like to fill their pantry with a wide array of ingredients.
Vegetarians or anyone looking for satisfying dishes sans-meat.