Prime cuts for body and soul

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 12:00am

IF YOU LIKE BEEF, Sonia Stevenson's Prime Cuts - The Last Word In Beef (HarperCollins Illustrated $195) will make you salivate. Stevenson, a cookbook author, consultant and restaurateur, has filled her pages with a tempting mix of beef recipes, sauces and side dishes.

Steaks are plentiful: Stevenson includes recipes for au poivre, tartare, chateaubriand, entrecote and T-bone. They can be served with the simplest herb butters or more complicated - but not difficult - sauces such as Bearnaise and Espagnole. There are also plenty of dishes for minced beef - various kinds of hamburgers (even Korean and Italian) and meatballs.

Stevenson's chapters are divided into marinades, sauces and butters, garnishes, bistro, grilling and barbecuing, European dishes and Asian dishes (under which she includes Malay steak with coconut-peanut sauce, Chinese coconut meatballs, and curried steak with cucumber and banana raita).

At the opposite extreme, healthwise, is The Chinese Herbal Cookbook - Healing Foods From East And West, by Penelope Ody with Alice Lyon and Dragana Vilinac (Kyle Cathie Limited $165). The writers incorporate Chinese herbs and the philosophies of preserving balance and using seasonal foods to create inventive dishes. There are some that wouldn't be out of place in any Chinese granny's repertoire - summer bean curd soup, basic chicken congee and six treasures chicken soup, but there are many more dishes that use Chinese ingredients in more Western preparations.

Chapters are divided into eating in season and eating for health (building the immune system, energising body, mind and spirit, strengthening the digestion and alleviating women's concerns). Nor are the writers just dabbling in exotic 'Orientalism' - all three studied at the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Guangzhou.

Home Food - Exploring The World's Best Cooking, by Richard Whittington (Cassell $265), starts off with an irritating eight-page essay by the author, where we learn, among other things, that he doesn't like sea slugs. Some of his points are good: food should taste as good as possible, and should be eaten with enjoyment, not guilt. Once through the intro, the reader is rewarded with a round-the-world culinary journey from the very English (deep-fried scallops with bacon, venison pie, peppered sausage cakes in Yorkshire pudding) through Europe, Asia, South America, North America and Africa.

Throughout, Whittington's culinary preferences shine through, with a premium on great flavours and a minimum of pretension.