Early on Sunday, the texts start flying. Angel will be late and needs to finish her tamarind chicken in my oven. (And by the way, where can we buy tamarind in Des Moines?) Natalie shares a photo of garden tomatoes about to be transformed into curry. When she shows up at my house with her covered dish two hours later, I offer a drink and an apron. Channeling memories of her study-abroad trip to India, she rolls my chapati dough into tortilla-like rounds. I man the griddle. Tami and Terry arrive. More hands. Our assembly line moves quickly, lubricated by wine and hungry anticipation.
My friends and I had a traditional book club once. But frankly, our food usually outshone our literary critique. When we disbanded, I missed the themed meals, not the guilt over novels left unread. Then we saw a story online about cookbook clubs. Intrigued, we voted to reboot.
We’re not pros yet, but our fledgling club has survived its first year. We include husbands (because they cook, too) and children (because we want to expose our littles to new foods). We meet at 5 p.m. and feast around the host’s coffee table. It’s a lax, jeans-and-tees way to close out a weekend—but the food is amazing. We’ve explored Cajun, Italian and Ukrainian fare, and we’ve waddled happily home from a meal based entirely on potatoes.
As this magazine’s food editor, I knew that we’d all appreciate a nudge to try new recipes, but I didn’t anticipate how elevated club dinners would feel above ordinary potlucks. No one walks in with a tired three-bean salad. Every dish is a conversation piece, and it all fits together.
When the last chapati lands on the stack, we survey the table: green beans flecked with mustard seeds, eggs poached in tomato sauce, lentils redolent of cumin and onion, a comically dense cardamom cake. We grab plates and dig in.
How to Cook the Book
Invite curious eaters Our roster runs the gamut: Meg and Erik have made DIY bacon, but Rachelle didn’t own a pepper grinder. (She does now.) The common denominator is that we’re game for new things. We have about 10 core members, plus a few who come occasionally. (Fewer than that, and you won’t get a good sampling of the cookbook.)
Plan ahead We created a private Facebook group to avoid messy e-mail chains, then used FB’s calendar feature to schedule hosting duties for a year. (First Sunday of the month is easy to remember.) The host chooses the book, and we all post our recipe picks. Couples usually make two dishes, and we all chip in with wine.
Pass it around Cookbooks are pricey, so we had to figure out a way to keep things affordable. The host usually buys a copy of her pick (Amazon is great for used books), and we check the library, too. Then we pass our books around for two weeks before the meeting. We’ve also shared funky ethnic ingredients, so that we don’t buy multiples.
Oven-Roasted Chicken Tikka
Our club loved Meera Sodha’s Made in India ($35, Flatiron). Her flavors are fresh and authentic, but the ingredient lists are manageable.