David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient
“David Tanis Market Cooking is the kind of go-to cookbook that would be welcome in anyone’s kitchen.”
When we begin our cooking life—no matter the age or circumstances—a good basic cookbook or two can go a long way in building our confidence and repertoire. None of us is born knowing how to cook, and even those of us lucky enough to have been taught by our mothers or grandmothers could use a good cookbook or two to take us through those early forays in the kitchen.
For more experienced cooks, sometimes we need to take a pause and return to a reliable source to re-ground ourselves in basic cooking principles.
David Tanis Market Cooking fits the bill in both instances. Tanis, a former chef at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse who now writes the weekly column, City Kitchen for the New York Times, is that rare cookbook author who, despite his professional training, speaks the language of the humble home cook. Over the years, he has turned out several cookbooks (A Platter of Figs, One Good Dish) that are as accessible to the novice as they are to the battle-worn cook.
His formula is to instill in cooks an insistence on seasonally fresh, quality ingredients that are used in simple preparations that can be turned out without a lot of fuss. In fact, if there was only one word that describes David Tanis’s cooking, it would be unfussy. Yet—and this is the genius of Tanis—they are dishes that are lovely to look at, delicious to eat, and worthy of serving to guests.
Steeped in the French tradition of daily market shopping, David Tanis Market Cooking is a guide for how to put a meal together around what might be available at the market on any given day.
It is a gentle nudge to change our shopping habits away from one-stop shopping to taking the time to seek out better ingredients from more than one source.
Of course, this is a big ask for those who lead busy lives and live far from the convenience of the specialty shops and farmers’ markets that are plentiful in urban centers like New York where Tanis resides. But for those who can spare even a little more time, the effort, he argues, is worth it.
Still, like his unfussy cooking, the book is just a nudge to change your marketing habits. Tanis is far from pedantic or judgmental. His recipes will work with whatever is available and convenient for you; just know that they would be even better with the freshest ingredients possible.
The book is mostly vegetable centric, beginning with the allium family (onions, garlic, leeks, shallots) and moves on to many common vegetables, not in any particular order (a minor irritant). For a beginner, the allium family is such a good place to start. These are not only the foundation ingredients for most recipes, they can also play the starring role, as they do in Provençal Garlic Soup or Bacon and Onion Tart.
Sprinkled throughout, there are also some meat or fish dishes like Butcher Steak with Shallot Pan Sauce (a dead simple preparation that teaches a novice cook how to make a quick pan sauce with impressive results) or Greek Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta that is a terrific way to use up end of season tomatoes. (In fact, the dish was so good and simple, it is going into my weeknight rotation and can be adapted to use good canned tomatoes in winter.)
While the book is ideal for beginners (think holiday gifts for the nascent cook in your family), it has plenty to offer more experienced cooks who are looking to break out of their ruts. Cauliflower “Couscous” with Spiced Butter was such a welcome change from roasted or mashed cauliflower. And Butter-Stewed Radishes with Dill will keep you from leaving the radishes you impulsively bought at the farmers’ market from languishing in your fridge.
While the book tends to be all over the map, with a section on eggs, one on chiles, another on spices, a chicken dish thrown in here, a Moroccan lamb tagine there, think of it less as a vegetable cookbook, and more like a philosophy toward how to approach marketing and cooking.
The overarching theme—as with all of David Tanis’ cookbooks—is to keep it simple. Whether you are new to cooking or new to the idea of market cooking, David Tanis Market Cooking is the kind of go-to cookbook that would be welcome in anyone’s kitchen.