Rego cookbook nurtures both mind and spirit 1

Before each recipe in “The Art in Queens Cuisine” is a photo and blurb about its creator, along with an illustration of a key element in the dish.

Talk about thinking globally and acting hyperlocally — a group of Queens neighbors who all live within a few houses of each other have served up a new cookbook with light recipes from around the world.

“The Art in Queens Cuisine” combines the 11 recipes with illustrations by the slim book’s editor and architect, Rikki Asher.

“Like so many people, I am cooking at home a lot during this Pandemic,” Asher says in the book’s introduction. “It seemed like a good idea to stay connected with folks on my block and design a cookbook. When I rang doorbells, emailed neighbors, and caught up to a couple of dog walkers, everyone expressed excitement and enthusiastically asked: When do we start?”

The book includes one salad, three appetizers, three side dishes, two entrees and two desserts. At the end are stylized photos of each of the 11 contributors, who are Bulgarian, Indian, Italian, Hungarian, Filipino, Romanian, Russian and Thai.

Just some of the recipes are Russian carrot, apple and nut salad; Bulgarian eggplant spread; Puerto Rican yellow rice; and basil stir fry, from Thailand.

All the contributors live or lived in Rego Park; two of them have died, though their recipes live on. One of those who passed is Asher’s mother-in-law, Inge Froehlich, whose recipe for chocolate cherry cake is included.

It’s Asher’s favorite among the recipes.

“Oh my gosh, it is so good,” she said. “She baked it all the time, maybe twice a week or something, and she’d give us these big sheets of chocolate cherry cake. At first we were just amazed by it, we’d eat it up.”

All the foods in the book are vegetarian, in keeping with Asher’s beliefs. She has been an ethical vegetarian, one driven to it by concern and compassion for animals, since she was a young girl. “I don’t cook meat, I don’t eat meat, and so I said we wouldn’t ask people to give me recipes with meat,” she said.

That did make it a little harder to get recipes from her neighbors, though she managed. The result is available at Kew & Willow Books in Kew Gardens and the Red Pipe Cafe in Forest Hills, for $9.99. It’s also available at rikkiasher.com for a few dollars more to cover the fees for online transactions.

The recipes are a good introduction to vegetarian cooking for newcomers, Asher said. One thing the reader may find missing is a recipe from her, but she’s saving them for her next book, “On the Way to Becoming a Mindful Vegetarian: An Illustrated Watercolor Cookbook,” which she is working on now.

Asher sees strong connections between art and cooking. For one, both artist and cook are selective in the tools they choose before getting to work, whether a favorite knife or favorite paintbrush.

Beyond that, she said, “Making these dishes is nurturing your body and making art is nurturing your mind and your spirit, so I think there’s a definite connection.”

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