FOURTH ST — What local restaurant Border Grill’s chef-owner Susan Feniger gleefully refers to as the “the cyclone that is my life” just picked up considerable momentum.
Along with co-authors Kajsa Alger and Liz Lachman, she has just come out with a new book, “Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes,” promotion for which is now in full swing.
She recently launched it at a lunch that was part of Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival’s signature Celebrity Chef Power Lunch Series at her Hollywood restaurant Street, where she talked up exotic spices, global cooking and traveling the world while serving a generous sampling of Street favorites, custom cocktails and wine. Then she sent guests off with custom spice packets to give the old Hamburger Helper and Shake ‘N Bake a break and instead try some exotic street food in their own kitchens.
Her first love has always been food, and the search for ever more interesting and challenging foods has helped her discover her second love — learning about people and their cultures.
“Nothing pleases me more,” Feniger said, “than to travel in some foreign place, stop at a little stand on the street for some amazing dish I’ve never heard of, and suddenly find myself engaged in a conversation with a complete stranger.”
With cooking and eating as the only shared language on her globe trotting adventures, that interest has helped her forge bonds with rice farmers in Vietnam, women baking flatbread in Turkey and nomad cheesemakers in Mongolia.
Since the book “Street Food” is a culinary spice trail from global kitchens to the author’s Hollywood restaurant, the introduction gets you going by breaking down the international spice cupboard into the basic flavor types.
Eighty-three recipes follow, classified into chapters labeled Starters and Small Bites, Salads, Vegetables & Grains, Land and Sea, Curry & Tofu & Noodles, Chutneys & Pickles & Other Condiments, Basic Spice Mixes & Pastes, Sweets, Elixirs & Tonics & Lhassis.
A sampling of the tantalizing range is enough to get your mouth watering. It includes artichokes with lemon za’tar sauce, Thai drunken shrimp with rice noodles, Korean glazed short ribs with sesame and Asian pear and Turkish doughnuts with rose hip jam.
Alongside the recipes are personal travel stories and over a hundred photographs. There are tips on ingredients and readily available substitutions that will make it easy for you to shake up your own cooking repertoire and add some exotic sizzle.
“I believe that in any country, what you see and taste on the street is the best food you’ll find because it’s usually one family’s recipe handed down and perfected over generations,” Feniger said. “There aren’t any frills; there’s no service; all the focus is on the food.
“Only at a street stand, barely speaking the same language,” Feniger added, “can you start out as a customer and end up invited home to cook with the chef’s mother or grandmother.”
Her secret? They cook, she learns.
For more information, visit www.streetfoodbook.susanfenigersite.com
Recipe to try at home:
Burmese gin thoke melon salad
Courtesy of chefs Susan Feniger and Kajsa Alger
1/2 small seedless watermelon (2 ? pounds)
1/2 ripe cantaloupe melon (1 ? pounds)
1/4 ripe honeydew melon (1 pound)
2 (3-inch) pieces young ginger peeled and minced (1/3 cup); or 2 (3-inch) pieces of regular fresh ginger, peeled and minced (1/3 cup)
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup lime juice (from 3-4 limes)
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup dried green lentils
2 cups wide-flake unsweetened coconut
1 1/4 cups raw blanched peanuts
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, chopped
Start by cutting up the melons: Trim off the rind of all three melons, remove any seeds, and cut the flesh in to 1/2- inch dice. Put all of the diced melon in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine the ginger, sesame seeds, lime juice, soy sauce, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Mix well and pour over the melon. Toss, and let marinate at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Put the lentils and 4 cups cold water in a small saucepan set over high heat, and bring to a boil, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook for 5 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain, rinse with cold water to chill, and then stir into the melon mixture.
Combine the coconut, peanuts, kaffir lime, remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large sauté pan. Toast the peanut mixture over medium-low heat, stirring it constantly, until the coconut and peanuts have toasted, somewhat unevenly, to a golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Just before serving, add the peanut mixture to the melon mixture and stir gently to combine. Serve in a large bowl, preferably at room temperature.