About a month ago, I was contacted by Karen Pierce Gonzalez, a publisher at FolkHeart Press to review a new e-cookbook written by Catalan chef Eduardo Balaguer.
FolkHeart Press works to preserve "family folktales," or rather, family stories that may be lost over time. They offer e-books that tell how to write your family's story and e-books that combine family history within the context of culture, tradition and cuisine. Food anthropology, if you will.
The author opens with a scene from a family gathering; he is eight at the time and is observing his uncle cook. Through his words, we experience an eight year old's wonder and amazement at the smells, sounds and visuals that would result in paella, a Spanish rice dish filled with seafood, meat, vegetables and rich spices.
Balaguer then offers us a brief overview of the geographical and historical impact upon Catalan cuisine. He introduces us to several of the most-acclaimed Catalan chefs, including Ferran Adria of El Bulli and describes various Catalan dishes (many of which I tried in Barcelona, one of the best dining destinations in the world!).
This background information becomes useful once Balaguer begins to talk about the origin of paella. (I use the word "talk" instead of "write" begin the tone of this e-book is very conservational-I can imagine him speaking in front of the group of eager listeners, educating them about paella and Catalonia). Like many other dishes, it was born out of necessity; rice, vegetables and whatever bits of meat and seafood were combined to create an impressive dish, both filling and delicious!
Balaguer ends with tips on how to prepare paella and his favorite recipe for the dish, reminding us that like the Spanish peasants before us, we can substitute ingredients as we like, creating our own family dish.
I would recommend this e-book to those who are interested in learning more about the food history of Catalonia (some might use the term Spain...I would avoid doing that!). however, for those who have studied this cuisine, the information may just re-cap what they already know.
However in a culture where we spend more and more time eating fast food and dining alone, Balaguer reminds us of the important role cuisine plays in creating our family stories.