Hot and Lean
It's not a new concept. The whole world, it seems, is concerned with lowering their collective cholesterol. A rebellious few are pointing out that in doing this, one doesn't need to rethink the history of cuisine. There have always been foods and favored recipes that are naturally low in fats, salts and other things deemed nasty to the body in large quantities. As well, one doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to reinterpret traditionally fatty recipes in a cholesterol-friendly way.
That is the point of Light the Fire: or at least, one of the points. As author Linda Matthie-Jacobs writes in her introduction:
The global warming trend that we continue to hear about is not just an environmental issue but describes the hottest movement in food pursuits. Combined with a growing concern and focus to lower fat and reduce salt, I've written this book to share my burning desire for the healthy, fiery foods of the world.
Printed in trade paperback format, Light the Fire lies politely flat when in use in the kitchen: an attribute I'd like more cookbooks to share.
The book is broken into logical chapters: brunch dishes; beverages; breads; appetizers; soups; salads; main courses; vegetable and side dishes; preserves and snacks; and desserts. The recipes chosen could perhaps best be called fusion: there is a heavy Mexican influence apparent as witnessed by recipes for Spicy Black Bean Pie, Arroz Rojo, and Chili Con Queso, but there are other culinary influences. The recipe for Baked Brie with Roasted Garlic, for instance, includes truly international influences: Brie (French), roasted garlic (Italian), jalapeno pepper jelly (Mexico) all based on a package of frozen puff pastry (which I would think must be an American contribution).
The recipes are clear and easy-to-follow and -- though many of the recipes sound at least semi-exotic -- most of the ingredients are not difficult to get your hands on.
If the recipes are clear, the typography is not always so. For some odd reason, the book's designer chose to use a font that gives the impression of hand-lettering, rather than the clear and easy-to-read fonts that are most designer's favorites in book typography. The result is that the easy to follow recipes looks somewhat cluttered and confused at first glance. Along the same lines, primitive glyphs screened into the page's background add to this cluttered look and feel.
In truth, however, neither of these things detract from the book's ultimate purpose and value. Light the Fire is a book you can cook with. Anything else is gravy. | February 1999
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.