If Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook (Weldon Owen, 2014) was merely a 600-plus-page compendium of 1,000 recipes covering the touchstone dishes of myriad ethnic cuisines, with tempting ideas for every meal of the day, every occasion and almost every ingredient, that would have been more than enough. But this newest book-spinoff of the eponymous foodie magazine is something more; it’s a bellwether of food culture in the United States.

That’s saying a lot, but I don’t think it’s too strong a statement. If a magazine can be a reflection of its time (think back to the impact of Time’s Man of the Year a few decades ago), Saveur has been a mirror of America’s evolving relationship with food since its inception. In 1994, it burst on the publishing scene like an aproned Athena popping out of the head of a hungry Zeus, a fully formed, glossy print incarnation of the era’s new class of culinary seekers. While Gourmet, born in the 1940s, initially took its cue from French haute cuisine, and Bon Appetit, a child of the ’50s, filled the niche of supplying recipes (and not a lot of articles) to upscale readers, Saveur staked its claim as a food-citizen of the planet. Its decidedly global, anthropological view of the world of food, high and low, made for good reading and good (and often adventurous) cooking.  This is a book to help channel anyone’s inner Indiana Jones—the Culinary Edition.

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For this book of classics, the magazine’s editors have picked recipes that they see as emblematic of various cuisines and their cultures. “A classic,” writes James Oseland, editor-in-chief at the time the book was prepared, “epitomizes—and helps us understand—provenance, but it also goes beyond that: It’s a direct link to a culture, a location, an aesthetic, a moment.” Looking at the book in its entirety, you realize how our concept of “classic” has changed and broadened over the past 20 years, how dishes that once seemed unbelievably exotic now constitute our Sunday night take-out.

The book traverses the globe every few pages. For proof, you only need open to a random spread. For example, consider pages 303 and 304, where you’ll fall into the alphabetically arranged vegetable chapter. These two pages cover cucumber through eggplant, and you’ll find Fried Cucumbers (from the American South); Indian-Style Cucumber with Black-Eyed Peas; Stuffed Cucumber Kimchee (Korea); Eggplant in Charmoula Sauce (Morocco); Charred Eggplant with Chile Sauce and Tahini (Israel); and Eggplant with Balsamic Vinegar, Basil and Capers (southern France).  All of this on two pages; how far we’ve come! Saveur’s mission to chronicle it all is realized in this new book.

The magazine has been through several rounds of owners and editorial staffs in its 20-year life thus far, and, as with so many magazines these days, those changes are ongoing; Oseland announced his resignation in August and has since been replaced by Adam Sachs. It will be interesting to see where Saveur goes in the future; as Oseland wrote in his introduction, “There are a thousand classic recipes between these covers . . . but out there in the big, beautiful, delicious world, there are thousands more to discover.”

Indian-Style Cucumber with Black-Eyed Peas

Serves 6

This simple cucumber braise from the southern Indian state of Kerala uses coconut three ways, for remarkable depth of flavor.

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, quartered lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1⁄8″ slices634-beans-black-eyed_peas_480
  • ½ cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 fresh hot green chiles (serrano or Thai), slit lengthwise down one side
  • 15 fresh or dried curry leaves
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup canned black-eyed peas
  • 2 tsp. coconut oil

1. Put cucumbers, 1⁄4 cup coconut milk, 1⁄2 cup water, chiles, curry leaves, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, add black-eyed peas, and simmer until cucumbers are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add remaining 1⁄4 cup coconut milk to the cucumber and peas and bring just to a simmer, then remove from heat. Stir in coconut oil and add salt to taste. Serve warm.