Texas

Texas Monthly offers a cookbook as varied as the state’s cuisine.

The way we eat, and how it has changed over the years, has been a big part of Texas Monthly’s Lone Star State coverage over the past 50 years. The magazine’s latest project on the diversity of Texas food is The Big Texas Cookbook: Food That Defines the Lone Star State, a collection of 100 new and old recipes, as well as essays by the magazine’s past and current contributors.

Texas Monthly food magazine editor Courtney Bond and longtime food critic Pat Sharp told the Texas Standard that the cookbook honors Texas food traditions as well as new dishes created by those who migrated here. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: The Big Texas Cookbook includes 100 recipes. I think it’s pretty hard to boil it all down to represent all the cuisines and traditions that you have to cover here in Texas. Have you set any guidelines for yourself to help you choose which cuisines or categories to include?

Courtney Bond: I will say that it was very hard and I feel like we have barely touched the surface as you can imagine. We knew we had to make classics: fried chicken steak, King Ranch casserole, chili and so on. Sure, we have entire chapters dedicated to BBQ and Tex-Mex, but we also wanted to include more modern takes on what we consider to be our main courses. We have Laotian Texas Chili and Haitian Jumu Soup from Johnny Rhodes in Houston. We just wanted to give people what they want, which is, of course, classic dishes, as well as introduce them to some new things that they may not have tried before.

When you talk about Texas cuisine, it has a lot to do with the state’s climate – what grows and thrives here, right? Can you talk about a couple of dishes that you think are especially Texan? And what does it mean to be a Texas dish?

Pat Sharp: Well, I think the first thing I want to mention is the pecan, because, of course, it’s our state’s nut. And we have walnut pie. We have hazelnut pralines. We have Texas pecan pie on top. So I think we’ve covered this issue quite well. And since pecans grow so widely throughout the state, I think many people will find these recipes appealing.

And another one that comes to mind is pigeons, because pigeon season is very important at this time of the year when there are many hunters in Texas. And we have a great recipe for those jalapenos that hunters love to cook.

I’m so proud of myself that I resisted the temptation to make jokes about the state psycho.

CB: This gives me the opportunity to quote one of my favorite lines from the cookbook, written by our writer Emily McCallar, who says that this is the only nut that Texas grows commercially, other than our politicians.

Frito kolaches from The Big Texas Cookbook.
Jody Horton / Texas Monthly

Let’s go to chili. Once I was at a picnic among friends, and a real argument broke out when one of them started talking about beans in chili. And I know that every native Texan seems to have an opinion on this, in general, that beans in chili are a big no-no. But this particular friend said that chili beans are hot dog condiment. This really provoked a real discussion about the campfire. So I’m curious, do any of you understand why chili is such a lightning rod?

PS: I looked back because I was curious if I could figure out how it all started. And somewhere on the Internet, I came across a comment that meant a lot to me, and it was from a person who participated in many chili contests. And he said that the rule of the chili contest is that they don’t want anything that could detract from the skill that the contestant shows when cooking meat. In other words, they don’t want beans to distract you. They don’t want tomatoes diluting it with water or changing the taste. And I think maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s become such a hot spot and people are so adamant about it. Courtney, do you have any ideas?

CB: I think in chili competition they consider beans as a filler. They consider it a distraction that they want the complexity of beef, spices and dried chili to stand alone. But at the same time, there is a great essay in the book from David Courtney, who writes like a Texan who one day decided he was going to make chili and beans and lived to tell the story.

Are there any surprises in this book, especially for readers who are looking forward to recipes for grilled chicken steak, enchiladas, peach cobbler and all, but may not realize just how diverse Texas cuisine is?

PS: Oh, there are so many amazing recipes out there, but they are also very often paired with traditional Texan stuff. My attention was drawn to Korean smoked beef ribs. And it’s a long recipe, so I won’t try to tell you all about it. But what stands out is that the beef rib marinade includes orange juice, red wine, and sesame oil. And it matters a lot. And it’s like a recognizable meaty, hearty Texas recipe, but with a Korean accent.

I think most people immediately think of BBQ and Tex-Mex when they think of Texas in cooking. Courtney, can you tell us more about some of the important styles and recipes that new Texans have brought to the state? Korean food is obviously one of them.

CB: What is so interesting to me is that every culture brings its own traditions and they are as different as the people who come here. But this is where these cultures meet traditional Texan technology and foods like “let’s put brisket in ramen.” Valentina in Austin makes brisket pancakes. What can you put in a tortilla?

You know, Jose Ralat, our taco editor, just wrote in our November issue about a place in Bedford near Fort Worth called Dream Tacos where you can get tandoori chicken tacos, sushi nachos and so on. And the beef ribs that Pat was talking about, they’re in our cookbook. There’s a recipe for beef rib nigiri where they take it and shape it with rice and it’s so, so exciting. The Laotian chili we have includes garlic and cumin, but then they add fish sauce and lemongrass. And it’s just so interesting that people bring to dishes that we cherish for a long time and make them sometimes even better.

I have to ask you about beef nigiri. Is this beef cooked or raw?

CB: Oh, it’s ready. Yeah.

PS: We also have something like steak tartare – pariz?

CBA: Yes, I think we do.

Oysters from the Greater Texas Cookbook.
Jody Horton / Texas Monthly

This book contains a number of essays along with recipes that I think speaks to how much of what we love about food has to do with tradition and storytelling. That’s a lot of food in Texas, right?

CB: Absolutely. We have an old essay that we included with Prudence McIntosh where she writes about Helen Corbitt. And, of course, I’ve always known about Helen Corbitt’s affiliation with Neyman Marcus, her invention of Texas caviar. But I didn’t realize how carefully she brought Texan cuisine into the modern era.

And then we have an essay from Daniel Vaughn, our barbecue editor, where he defends barbecue sauce, which is a lot of fun. And then there’s a great essay by JosĂ© Galvan in which he tries to recreate the fideo of his Harlingen family but lives in Oregon. And so he tells a wonderful story about trying to find the ingredients he thinks are needed. And it’s only about home and homesickness. And this is an evocative article on how to recreate those dishes that mean so much to us.

The cool thing about cookbooks is that many of them are passed down from generation to generation. We have a 50’s cookbook that belonged to my grandmother; I’m sure many kitchens have these. And I’m curious, what are you hoping to do with this Texas cookbook? Is this a more modern read about Texas and its food, or do you think this is one of those old books?

PB: We must say both. In fact, there are many recipes out there that are so traditional that you actually expect when you say the words “Texas cookbook”. But there are so many surprises and such a wonderful read. I mean, I sat with it after they brought the first copies to the office and just read the essay and it was so much fun. I think it will be a big draw and I think it will become part of the legacy of the book.

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