Book Review

Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook

by Nicole Routhier

Workman Publishing, 708 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10003-9555. 1996. 432 pages. Paperback.
(See CRFG Book Service for prices.)

Reviewed by Clytia M. Chambers (7/1996)

It would be hard to praise this book too highly. If you can imagine recipes that are totally surprising in their ingenuity (using combinations of fruit with other ingredients in ways you never thought of), easy to prepare (the book is clearly for the home cook), with sidebars and tips (on everything from best-taste combinations for a fruit-and-cheese board to how to cut up a mango), then you'll know why I immediately declared this absolutely the best fruit cook book I've ever seen. Maybe I exaggerate. Chalk it up to my enthusiasm when I tasted the Creamy Cabbage and Pears I whipped up a couple of hours after the book arrived. I didn't have the napa cabbage in the house that Routhier called for, so I used some bok choy I had left over in my hydrator. The result was heavenly, each mouthful a fresh experience.

The recipes in Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook are inspired by the cuisines of many cultures not surprising, since she was born in Vietnam to a Vietnamese mother and a French father, lived as a young child in Laos, moved to Europe in her early teens and then came to America in 1979. She describes her "long love affair with fruit" in a short autobiographical introduction in which she also pays tribute to her mother: "Whether by experience or by instinct, she used fruit as she did other piquant seasonings: to balance savory with sweet and tart tastes and, along with complementary herbs and spices, to bring out the flavors of meats and fish."

The 400 or so recipes in Nicole Routhier's book are suited to today's light, more flavorful, healthy eating. There are tempting starters: Raspberry-glazed Chicken Wings and Steamed Shrimp with a dip of Roasted Peppers and Apples; captivating salads: Sicilian Orange Salad (one of my own father's specialties) and an Indian Summer Salad of persimmons and grapefruit with a grapefruit vinaigrette and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese; entrees: Sea Bass with Spicy Tamarind Sauce, Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Peaches, Braised Veal Shanks with Dried Cherries. There are also full chapters on Soups, Pastas, Side Dishes, Breads, Beverages, Ices-Sorbets-Ice Creams, and Desserts in which fruit gives dishes an innovative edge.

Here are two tempting recipes from Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook, one for tuna the other for a tabbouleh to accompany the fish.

Grilled Tuna Steak with Strawberry Salsa

Yield: 4 Entree Servings

How often have you been served a dry, grainy, flavorless overcooked tuna steak? Tuna is one of the simplest fish to prepare, provided you follow these guidelines: Buy only the freshest tuna; marinate it before cooking; and allow the fish to cook only 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Once you discover how tender and tasty the tuna comes out, you'll see why overcooking is nothing short of a crime. Borrowing the Southwestern idea of serving fruit salsa with grilled food, I pair grilled tuna steaks with an unusually fresh-tasting strawberry salsa, which looks as colorful as it is luscious.

  1. Place the basil leaves, olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, pepper, sugar, salt, and 2 tablespoons hot water in a blender and puree.
  2. Arrange the tuna steaks in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Pour the marinade over the fish. Cover and marinade for 3 to 4 hours in the refrigerator, turning the steaks occasionally.
  3. Prepare coals for grilling or preheat the broiler.
  4. Drain the tuna steaks and grill them over medium-hot coals or broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat until charred on the outside but still pink in the center, about 3 minutes, turning the steaks once. Do not overcook. Remove from the heat and place the steaks on warmed dinner plates.
  5. Spoon the strawberry salsa over the tuna, garnish each with a sprig of basil, and serve immediately.

Strawberry Salsa

Yield: About 2-1/2 cups

This sweet summery salsa can accompany anything from toasted pita triangles to a cut of grilled fish, shrimp, or chicken. You can transform the flavor and color of this salsa by substituting fresh blueberries or blackberries for the strawberries.

Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours. Fifteen minutes before serving, remove the salsa from the refrigerator, so it loses some of its chill.

Minty-Fruity Tabbouleh

Yield: 2 Entrees or 4 Side-dish Servings

Tabbouleh, one of my favorite salads, is refreshing, filling, healthful, and relatively low in calories. It's great for lunch, dinner, and snacks, and it is a perfect no-wilt summer salad to bring to picnics. In this quick and easy recipe, chewy bulgur wheat, sweet grapes, crisp cucumber, cool mint, and tart vinaigrette produce an unusual but exquisite salad. It makes a perfect side dish to roast meat or chicken. For a more substantial, main dish, add tender cooked shrimp.

  1. Combine the bulgur and salt in a heat-proof salad bowl and pour in the boiling water. Cover tightly and let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Cover and chill the bulgur for 2 hours.
  3. Add the tomato, grapes, cucumber, scallions, and mint just before serving and toss to combine. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve the tabbouleh cold or at room temperature.
NOTE: Bulgur--precooked and dried cracked wheat--is available in most supermarkets and health food stores.
Nicole Routhier creatively uses the tart and sweet qualities of fruit to balance the flavors in her dishes. Tart fruits are a natural addition to rich stews her pot roast calls for quince and raisins which add a sweetness and preserve the piquancy of the dish, and a lemon or lime marinade will tenderize chicken and turkey while enhancing the flavor. Fruit is important to each dish in this new book, whether as a leading player, a supporting flavoring or as a background ingredient. Each recipe is preceded by clear and instructive cooking tips. It also explains how to buy and store fresh fruit, use exotic fruits like breadfruit, cherimoya, star fruit and green papaya, and when to substitute dried, frozen or canned fruit for fresh. Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook is truly a valuable addition to any CRFGer's library.
© Copyright 1996, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
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