“Are you easily offended?”
It’s a question I ask all who interview to work at the Metro Spirit, and it’s the first thing I knew I had to make clear when I decided to review my brand-new cookbook “Thug Kitchen.”
You see, Thug Kitchen believes, and I agree, that food culture in this country is elitist. Most cookbooks, cooking shows and so-called experts make home cooks feel like they can’t cook competently without going to great expense buying ingredients they’ve never heard of.
Thug Kitchen, which, up until this book, operated solely as a blog, says they believe anyone can cook nourishing food for themselves and their families on a budget, with real ingredients and, therefore, cut their reliance on takeout and processed food.
Sounds great, right? Of course… in theory. In practice? Well, that’s another matter altogether.
After I unwrapped the book, I was fascinated. But then I began to notice several things that bothered me. For one, the language.
Now, understand that I, as mentioned above, am not easily offended. I enjoy using a good swear word every now and then. In fact, I enjoy trying to string together a plethora of them as creatively as possible. It’s a challenge. As the old Facebook meme goes, I’m a lady with the mouth of a well-educated sailor.
The only reason I mention it is because there’s cussing, and then there’s cussing in the Thug Kitchen cookbook, which is funny at first but then just comes off like a 13-year-old trying to shock Grandma.
For instance, in a section on building salads, here’s a paragraph:
“We’ve f**king had it with all this salad shaming. You’ve probably had some bland-ass salads that wouldn’t satisfy a rabbit. Done right, salads are delicious and filling as hell. It’s just a big bowl of plant nachos and we’re all about that. Here is a basic guide to building a salad with whatever random s**t you have in your kitchen.”
To me, this much cussing (in recipes, in a section on stocking your pantry, in the author thank-you section) comes off as egregious and, quite frankly, juvenile. It’s tiring after a while.
And with the above excerpt, you might guess my second problem with “Thug Kitchen.” Despite it’s name, it’s written by a couple of 29-year-old California hipsters who like to call salads plant nachos, as well as use phrases like “on point,” “dropping knowledge” and “next-level s**t.” Kids, you’re trying way too hard.
(I do not, like a bookstore in Seattle, think authors Matt Holloway and Michelle Davis are trying to misappropriate another group’s culture for their own gain. That store, which cancelled a book signing by the duo, apparently thinks only certain racial groups can be called thugs which is, in itself, racist. In my opinion. But what do I know.)
For all it’s talk about cooking simple food that appeals to everyone, however, “Thug Kitchen” is, for all intents and purposes, a vegan cookbook. And though it decries elitism, there are some recipes that call for ingredients that might be foreign to some, things like nutritional yeast, tempeh and Bragg’s liquid aminos. Not all of those ingredients are cheap, either. Nutritional yeast, for instance, comes in a big bucket that costs $15. Of course, you’ll probably never have to buy it again, but that’s still a lot of cash to pay for something you may just throw in the garbage after tasting it.
After reading a lot of the book’s introduction and flipping through the recipes, I really, really wanted to dislike this book. But I decided to try one of the recipes, Sweet Corn and Green Chile Baked Flautas.
I chose this recipe because I’m familiar with “normal” flautas, usually served in a Mexican restaurant deep-fried and filled with chicken or beef. I also chose it because it did actually deliver on Thug Kitchen’s promise of being inexpensive.
Their version uses onion, spices, pinto beans, a can of green chiles, lime juice, fresh corn and flour tortillas (surprise — Thug Kitchen isn’t a stickler on the whole gluten issue). Counting what I already had in the house (all the spices and the lime), I was able to pick up the rest of the ingredients for under $10.
After throwing the beans, chiles and lime juice together in a big-ass bowl as instructed, I found that the recipe included a fair amount of prep. Chop and brown onions, mash the bean mixture together, cut the corn kernels off the cob, combine everything, put filling in tortillas and roll tightly — 12 times. It took a while longer than I thought to get the flautas in the oven. On the upside, cooking time was less than 20 minutes.
“Thug Kitchen” doesn’t promise quick and easy recipes and it doesn’t include estimated cooking times or nutritional information. But the one recipe I tried was totally on point (sorry): the filling made exactly enough to fill 12 tortillas, even including the cheese I added to it, and it cooked in exactly the time the recipe told me it would.
And the flautas were good and filling. I may add a little more spice and cheese to the mixture next time, and find a better dipping sauce than the mango salsa and sour cream that I threw together at the last minute, but there will be a next time.
Next up, though, will be smoked almond and chickpea salad “sammies” (ugh, that word!) which the person who recommended this cookbook to Santa said is a fantastic recipe that she makes often. It does use nutritional yeast, Bragg’s liquid aminos and liquid smoke, all of which I don’t have on hand.
Because apparently, up until now, I haven’t eaten like I give a f**k. Whatever.