I’ll be honest: I don’t do the cooking in my house. But I love to eat good food and I love to hear the history of a recipe. Sometimes knowing the story behind a dish can make it taste even better.
This is certainly the case in Nina Mukerjee Furstenau’s book Biting Through the Skin, which pairs recipes from Nina’s kitchen with stories from her childhood and young-adult life.
The recipes are excellent: a wide-range of dishes with clear directions for easy replication. (I know because I tried a few out myself.) Reading about the comfort these dishes brought Nina both growing up and while traveling as a Peace Corps member makes them even more special, like she is sharing part of her home with readers.
And while the food should certainly be celebrated, “Biting Through the Skin” suffers a bit of an identity crisis. With so much text in the book, it could be described as a memoir. But the stories are mostly surface-level, providing us with talking points about her life instead of emotionally-engaging narratives. As a result, the book comes off as a wordy cookbook or a shallow memoir, as evidenced when Furstenau describes the difference between American cooking and Indian cooking:
“The nights I cooked American food, the spice aromas were quiet, which pleased my father… Strong aroma was somehow an unwanted clue to our “otherness” in a town filled with the scents of frying cheeseburgers, chicken, and pot roast with baked potatoes.”
She sets the scene beautifully but never bites through the skin, if you will, and tells us her perspective. Was she in agreement with her father? Did the smell of spices make her ashamed? Proud?
We may not have answers, but at least we have a great recipe for lamb curry.