Texas Monthly has a cookbook as varied as the state’s cuisine
The way we eat, and how it has changed over the years, has been a big part of Texas Monthly’s coverage of the Lone Star State for the past 50 years. The magazine’s latest project to document the wide array of Texas dishes is “The Big Texas Cookbook: The Food That Defines the Lone Star State,” a collection of 100 new and old recipes, plus essays from past and present contributors to the magazine. .
Texas Monthly editor Courtney Bond and longtime food critic Pat Sharpe told Texas Standard that the cookbook pays homage to Texas culinary traditions, as well as new dishes created by those who emigrated. here. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: “The Big Texas Cookbook” includes 100 recipes. I think it’s pretty hard to boil it all down to one to represent all the cuisines and traditions you have to cover here in Texas. Did you set any guidelines that helped you choose which cuisines or categories should be included?
Courtney Bond: I will say it was very tough, and I feel like we barely scratched the surface, as you can imagine. We knew we had to do the classics: Chicken Fried Steak, King Ranch Casserole, Chili, etc. We have whole chapters devoted to barbecue and tex-mex, of course, but we also wanted to include more modern versions of what we consider our staple dishes. We have a Lao Texas chili, and we have a Haitian soup, Joumou from Jonny Rhodes in Houston. We just wanted to give people what they want, which of course is these classic dishes, but also introduce them to new things that they might not have tried before.
When you talk about Texas cuisine, that largely includes the state’s climate – what grows and thrives here, right? Can you tell us about a few dishes that you consider particularly Texan? And what does it mean to be a Texas dish?
Pat Sharp: Well, I think the first one I want to mention is the pecan, because, of course, that’s our state nut. And we have pecan pie. We have pecan pralines. We have a Texas sheet cake with pecans on top. So I think we covered that one pretty well. And because pecans grow so widely throughout the state, I think many people will find these recipes appealing.
And then another one that comes to mind is doves, because dove season is really big this time of year, with a lot of hunters in Texas. And we have a great recipe for those jalapeño peppers that hunters love to make.
I’m so proud of myself that I resisted the temptation to make a dad joke about the status crackpot.
CC: This gives me the opportunity to recite one of my favorite lines from the cookbook, which is from our writer, Emily McCullar, who says it’s the only nut Texas grows commercially, other than our politicians.
Let’s go to the chilli. I was at a barbecue once with friends, and all the controversy erupted when one of them mentioned chili beans. And I know every native Texan it seems has an opinion on this, usually the beans in the chili is a big no-no. But this particular friend said that bean chili is a hot dog condiment. This sparked quite a debate around the campfire. So I’m curious, do any of you have any idea why this chili is such a lightning rod?
PS: I looked back, because I was curious about it to see if I could figure out where it all started. And somewhere online, I came across a comment that made a lot of sense to me, and it was from someone who’s been in a lot of chili contests. And he said the rule of the chili contest is that they don’t want anything to distract from the skill the contestant is showing in cooking the meat. So, in other words, they don’t want beans distracting you. They don’t want tomatoes watering it down or changing the flavor. And I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why it’s become such a flashpoint and people are so adamant about it. Courtney, do you have any ideas?
CC: I think at chili competitions they consider bean filling. They consider it a distraction, that they want the complexity of the beef, spices and dried chilies to stand on its own. But at the same time, we have a wonderful essay in the book by David Courtney, who writes like the Texan, who one day decided he was going to make chili with beans and he lived to tell the tale.
Surprises in this book, especially for readers who expect recipes for chicken fried steak, enchiladas, peach cobbler – all that sort of thing – but who may not realize how Texas cuisine is varied?
PS: Oh, there are so many recipes that are a surprise, but they also very often go well with things that are traditionally Texan. The one that really caught my eye was the Korean smoked beef ribs. And it’s a long recipe, so I won’t try to tell you everything. But what stands out is that there is a marinade for the prime rib that includes orange juice, red wine, and sesame oil. And that makes a big difference. And it’s like a recognizably meaty, hearty Texan recipe, but with a Korean twist.
I think most people immediately think of barbecue and Tex-Mex when they think of Texas in the kitchen. Courtney, could you elaborate on some important styles and recipes that new Texans have brought to the state? Korean cuisine is obviously one of them.
CC: This is precisely what interests me the most, is that each culture brings its traditions, and these are as varied as the people who come here. But it’s this intersection where these cultures meet traditional Texas techniques and foods like, put brisket in ramen. Valentina in Austin makes brisket empanadas. What can you put in a tortilla?
You know, José Ralat, our taco editor, just wrote in our November issue about a place in Bedford, near Fort Worth, called Dream Tacos, where you can get a tandoori chicken taco, sushi nachos, etc And the prime rib that Pat was talking about, it’s in our cookbook. There’s a recipe for a beef rib nigiri where they take it and form it over rice and it’s so, so exciting. The Lao chili we have in there, they take the garlic and they take the cumin, but then they add fish sauce and lemongrass. And it’s so interesting what people bring to the dishes we’ve cherished for a long time and sometimes make them even better.
I have to ask you about the beef nigiri. Is it cooked or raw beef?
CC: Ah, it’s cooked. Yeah.
PS: Don’t we also have some kind of steak tartare like – parisa?
BC: Yes, I think so.
This book contains a number of essays as well as recipes, which I think shows how much what we love about food is tied to tradition and storytelling. That’s a big part of cooking in Texas, isn’t it?
CC: Absolutely. We have an older essay that we have included by Prudence Mackintosh where she writes about Helen Corbitt. And of course, I’ve always heard of Helen Corbitt’s Neiman Marcus affiliation – her invention of Texas caviar. But I hadn’t realized how much she had brought Texas cuisine into the modern era.
And then we have an essay from Daniel Vaughn, our barbecue editor, where he defends barbecue sauce, which is great fun. And then there’s a wonderful essay by Jose Galvan where he tries to recreate his Harlingen family fideo, but he lives in Oregon. And so he tells a wonderful story of trying to find the ingredients he deems necessary. And that’s just about the house, and the missing house. And it’s an evocative piece about how to recreate those dishes that mean so much to us.
The cool thing about cookbooks is that many of them are passed down from generation to generation. We have a cookbook from the 1950s that belonged to my grandmother; I’m sure a lot of kitchens have one. And I’m curious – what do you hope to do with this Texas cookbook? Is it more of a contemporary read about Texas and its food, or do you think it’s maybe one of those legacy books?
DB: We have to say both. There truly is a bedrock of recipes so traditional that you would expect when you say the words “Texas cookbook.” But there are so many surprises and there are so many good reads. I mean, I sat down with this after they brought the first copies to the office and just read the essays, and it’s so much fun. I think it’s going to be a big draw, and I think it’s going to be part of the legacy of the book.