Most, if not all, cooking magazines have diversified into the book business (all those recipes have to be underwritten somehow), and Cooking Light is no exception. Since its launch in the 1980s, the magazine has made an effort to carve out its epicurean niche: relatively healthy but not diet-obsessed. It made overtures to “eat local” sensibilities last year with its “Pick Fresh Cookbook,” and it’s doing the same in “Cooking Light Global Kitchen.”
Given how much more of a melting pot our food culture has become in recent years, thanks to food trucks and TV chefs of every nation, it’s a good time for an accessible international cookbook. Cooking Light teamed up with veteran author David Joachim, and the result is an eye-popping smorgasbord of streamlined global classics, most, by the way, engineered to come in under 500 calories.
That’s a pretty good value for some fairly decadent concoctions. A Hungarian goulash relies on mild sweet peppers and pork chunks, and calls for many small steps. As they’re assembled, the mingled ingredients fill the kitchen with aroma, but dry out easily. If you keep an eye on the hydration, you’ll end up with a huge hit over noodles with sour cream. Tourtiere, the Canadian meat pie, comes steaming out of the oven exactly as it should, with a savory filling bubbling over a crisp crust and banishing the last of the chilly nights.
And there’s nothing not to love about chocolate baklava, layers of buttered phyllo, chopped pistachios and hazelnuts, and, in case your willpower is still intact, generous slatherings of Nutella (though some baking instructions seem more complicated than necessary).
The Asia and Southeast Asia selections seem particularly good. An Indonesian vegetable salad is lively and fresh, balancing sweet curried peanut sauce with lime. You can make that Thai classic, Massaman curry, pretty easily from a canned paste, but this version is nearly as easy and twice as vivacious, with a nice hit of sour from the tamarind waking up the beef.
Mint chutney for vegetable samosas is hard to process in a food processor (a blender might have been a better choice), but it’s green and biting with the crisp, brittle baked pastries. Miso chicken doesn’t come out with a beautiful clear glaze as the picture suggests (the miso paste makes a sticky, opaque mahogany coat), but you’ll still be chasing your rice around the plate trying to soak it up.
In tempeh rendang, however, a barrage of seasonings (galangal, ginger, lemongrass) fails to permeate the tempeh even when simmered in a coconut milk bath. Still, tempeh can be like that, and maybe some marinating would have helped.
Sometimes recipes seem to bend over backward to qualify as light. I ended up doubling the recipe for a chicken saltimbocca, knowing its crisp marriage of prosciutto and sage would be a hit (can any four adults really do with just 4 ounces of chicken apiece?). And a hearty Kenyan mash of peas, corn, and potatoes, comes in serving sizes of ½ cup each, enough, maybe, for my 7-year-old. “Serves 10” turns into “Serves 4 with a little left for snack.”
The recipe style is not my favorite. Calling for “the next five ingredients” in a long list, for example, rather than naming them, doesn’t save much space and is just asking for trouble. And timing instructions can be simultaneously specific but vague, as in “cook for 3 minutes.” What if my burners run hot? What if I use a different size pan? In those cases, alternate sensory cues would be nice.
Still, almost without exception, the recipes get you close enough to need only minor adjustments, and the book seems free of major bungles. With minimal impact on the wallet and waistline, Cooking Light’s latest is a globetrotting feast worth sharing, though maybe in smallish portions.