I awkwardly balance my upside-down apricot cake in the backseat of a taxicab, and I realize I’m starving. Which is good timing, since I know the ladies of the Cookbook Club will be coming together for a feast from the book “Small Victories” by Julia Turshen. I’m headed to Vineyard Haven, to Sarah Waldman’s home — she’s the founder of the club and a cookbook author herself, among other titles, such as wife, mother of two, writer for Food52, etc.
I walk into Sarah’s house, balancing the cake in one hand and a canvas bag holding smoked maple syrup and cream in the other (I’ll be topping my cake with homemade whipped cream later on tonight). I can hear chatter from the porch. Food and our love for inspiring cookbooks brings us together. I step inside her kitchen, and I’m greeted with smiles all around; I quickly join in on the conversation, simultaneously grabbing some Roasted Mushrooms on Toast from a tray at the center of the kitchen (I did say I was starving). Everyone’s bustling around, putting the finishing touches on their recipes — popping something into the oven for a quick warmup, or rapidly dicing fresh herbs to garnish a salad.
We all place our food contributions on the kitchen island, a gorgeous display of colors, textures, and aromas. But the food doesn’t sit long; we talk about each recipe while serving up the dishes — kimchi fried rice, Zucchini and Nigella Fritters, slow-roasted pork, chicken pot pie, avocado carrot salad, and so much more. My plate looks like it went on vacation around the world and came back to Martha’s Vineyard in under a minute, and I’m excited to dive in as we continue to discuss the book. We move toward the living area, where some grab a seat on the couch, while others tuck their legs underneath themselves and sit on the floor, forming a camp circle. Compliments fly left and right: “This kimchi rice is amazing, Sarah!” and “Oh man, these fritters are so flavorful, Gina,” while we taste each recipe. If this seems like something you’d love to re-create with your own group of friends, Sarah has some tips on how to create a successful cookbook club:
- Aim for 25 members max, since larger groups will be harder to host. That number accounts for some members being unable to make it to all the meetings.
- Consider seasonality when choosing a book: A produce-based cookbook is perfect during the spring and summer.
- Contact your local bookstore, like Bunch of Grapes, and consider asking for a discount if your club buys a dozen books. Also reach out to the local library and see if they have a few copies in their system, making it easier for everyone to have the book.
- Ask guests to bring their own dishes, silverware, and cups — faster cleanup for the host!
- Meet every six weeks; a monthly club might be too overwhelming for most people. Six weeks is the sweet spot.
Zucchini and Nigella Fritters
From “Small Victories,” by Julia Turshen
“I’ve included nigella seeds here because I love them, they’re oniony and striking looking (they resemble black sesame seeds, and are sometimes labeled “black caraway seeds,” “onion seeds,” or “kalonji”), and they remind me of the way Syrian string cheese tastes, something my mother adores. I am fully aware that they are hard to track down, and I don’t expect you to lose your mind looking for them, but if you see them, try them!”
½ cup sour cream
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. minced fresh mint or dill, or a combination
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. nigella seeds (see headnote)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
1 lb. zucchini, ends trimmed, coarsely grated
1 egg, beaten
Neutral oil, such as canola, grapeseed, or safflower, for frying
Lemon wedges for serving
To make the sauce, in a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, garlic, mint, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside.
To make the fritters, in a large bowl, combine 1 tsp. salt, nigella seeds, flour, and baking powder and whisk together. Wrap the zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and wring out all the liquid over the sink. Transfer the zucchini to the bowl with the nigella seed mixture, add the egg, and stir until everything is well combined.
Line a plate with paper towels and set aside. In a large heavy skillet, preferably old and well-seasoned cast iron or heavy nonstick, set over medium-high heat, and warm enough oil to completely cover the surface (it shouldn’t be more than ¼ inch deep). Once the oil is hot (a little bit of the fritter mixture will sizzle upon contact), drop tablespoonfuls of the batter into the skillet, without crowding them, and use the back of a spoon to press each mound into a flat pancake. Cook the fritters until the undersides are browned, about 3 minutes, then carefully turn them and cook until the second sides are nicely browned, about 2 minutes. A thin, flexible spatula, such as a fish spatula, or two forks, is the best tool for this. Transfer the fritters to the prepared plate, and fry the remaining batter in batches, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.
Sprinkle the warm fritters with a little salt. Serve immediately, with the sauce for dipping and the lemon wedges for squeezing over.
Roasted Mushrooms on Toast
From “Small Victories,” by Julia Turshen
Serves 6 to 8 as an hors d’oeuvre
“Roasting mushrooms instead of sautéing them gives you all the concentrated flavor of sautéed mushrooms without having to work in tons of batches, and without having to use your entire olive oil supply: Hello, small victory. Keep in mind that the mushrooms will shrink a ton in the oven, since they’re so full of water, so don’t be alarmed when you see the mountain of them reduced to a flat layer on your sheet pan.”
2 lb. assorted mushrooms, tough stems discarded, torn into bite-size pieces
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
Twelve ¼-inch-thick slices baguette or country bread
1 garlic clove
½ cup crème fraîche
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the mushrooms on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with a large pinch of salt and the thyme. Use your hands to toss everything together. Roast the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until they are tender and well browned, about 40 minutes.
When you take the mushrooms out of the oven, toast the bread and rub one side of each piece of toast with the garlic clove (the toast will act almost as sandpaper, and will catch little bits of the garlic). Spread the garlic-rubbed side of the toasts with the crème fraîche.
Divide the roasted mushrooms among the toasts. Drizzle each toast with a little bit more olive oil, and sprinkle each with a little pinch of salt and some of the parsley. Serve immediately.