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Revisiting 'The Good Food' cookbook with co-author Daniel Halpern

David Chang and Michael Chabon are among its fans.

"The Good Food," co-authored by Daniel Halpern, is

"The Good Food," co-authored by Daniel Halpern, is back with a reissued edition. Photo Credit: Composite photo; Ecco, left, and Lily Halpern

By his own reckoning, Daniel Halpern had no business publishing a cookbook. But in 1985, the poet, teacher and founder of the publishing company Ecco did just that. “The Good Food,” written by Halpern and his friend Julie Strand, was inspired by the dinner parties the amateur cooks would throw, with recipes for soups, stews and pastas based on their travels and meals in New York City restaurants, as well as classics from the likes of Julia Child and Marcella Hazan.

“I probably cook 90 percent of the meals that I make out of that cookbook — of course I’m biased,” said Halpern, the president and publisher of Ecco. “They’re hearty, mostly basic recipes.”

Over the years, “The Good Food” has become a staple in others’ kitchens as well (fans include the author Michael Chabon). And while you can still find the rare 1985 copy on Amazon, the cookbook is getting new life. Ecco’s reissue of “The Good Food,” out this month, is a largely untouched reprint of the nearly 200 recipes, for everything from jambalaya to bobotie.

amNewYork spoke with Halpern, 70, about the book and its reissue.

How did you land on the title then?

We just wanted it simple — as simple as possible. That’s even about as simple as you can get. And nobody else had used it so we did it. I still like the title. . . . It’s fun to have a book that came out in 1985 have a new life, especially given all of the trends and everything that has happened in the food world since 1985. The book weirdly is not really dated. There’s still classic recipes. There are things in there that people don’t do anymore, like thicken a soup with heavy cream and an egg; there’s enough heavy cream in this book to float a battleship. But the only change we made was we changed fresh coriander to cilantro because nobody knows what fresh coriander is. Basically we left the recipes alone.  

What was the reception like when you first published it?

[Laughs] Quiet. Neither of us was known in the food world, obviously, so it was a little bit odd. But people bought it. Years later, I heard from people like Michael Chabon, people who just loved the book and kept it and cooked from it. I really discovered that many years after the book came out. So this time around we got new quotes — we got a quote from David Chang which was very nice, I’m a big admirer of his restaurants and what he’s done in the food world. And Marcus Samuelsson who I also admire. Wylie Dufresne. Our group here wrote to people who I most respect, and we just hoped that we would get quotes back from them. It was very nice that they did. It was just a happy experience.  

Why are there no photographs? Was that to make it as cost-effective as possible?

There were two reasons. In 1985, all cookbooks didn’t have photographs, not like now — they have to. And I don’t think that Viking would have bought the book from us with photographs because it would have been too expensive for two unknown people. I was good with that, I’m still good with that. The fact that we can charge $20 instead of $35, it’s a good price point. And Allison Saltzman did a beautiful cover for it. I love that design she did for that cover. It’s like an Italian still life.

Who did the original cover?

That was a painting by Susan Walp. She was somebody I knew, she did a lot of still lifes and food shots. She did a lot of stuff that Danny Meyer used at Union Square Cafe when they opened. Again, very simple and nice.

Are you still influenced by places where you eat and try to replicate dishes at home?

There are no Asian recipes in the cookbook because it was not an area that we went into. I didn’t know anything about cooking Asian food. But recently, I really love Korean food. Korean food is really interesting. So I try to duplicate some of that. But I’m not cooking that much right now because I’m in an apartment that doesn’t have a very conducive space.

Where have you been eating now?

There’s a new Korean place called Atomix which is unbelievable. It’s one of the best meals I’ve had in the city in a long time. And I like the restaurants of Ignacio Mattos — he’s got Cafe Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar. I like Manhatta. I’m going to Danny [Meyer’s] new restaurant, Intersect, which just opened.

Do you have a big hand in Ecco’s cookbook program?

Yes, I pick the cookbooks for Ecco. We don’t do a lot of books, we probably try to do two or three a year. But we try to do books that are definitive books. We’re just bringing out a big book of vegetables by José Andrées. We did Tony Bourdain’s “Appetites” a while back. We did Paula Wolfert’s book of Moroccan food. You know, books that are going to be around, that are not trendy.

Correction: Daniel Halpern's first name was incorrect in the headline and has since been updated. 

Pozole for winter 

Among the 43 stews featured in “The Good Food” is this hearty Mexican staple. “I love that, I make that not often enough,” Halpern said of the recipe. “It has hominy in it and all good things.”

Serves 8

  • 5 dried chilies (a combination of ancho, pasilla and serranos, if possible)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 lb. pork loin, cut into 11/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 lb. pork rinds (cueritos), cut into strips
  • One 4-lb. chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5 cups chicken stock  
  • 2 lb. pork bones
  • 3 pig’s feet
  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano)
  • 4 cups canned whole hominy, drained
  • Salt

Garnish

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 8 wedges lime
  • 1 dish mixed spices (5 tbsp. ground cumin, 5 tbsp. dried oregano, 2 tbsp. chili powder)
  • 2 avocados, sliced
  • Fresh hot tortillas

1. Cover the chilies with the boiling water, let them stand for 1 hour, and drain, reserving the liquid. Remove the stems, seeds, and inside veins (it’s best to wear plastic gloves when you do this) and purée the chilies in a food processor with the reserved water.

2. In a large glass or ceramic bowl, place the pork, pork rinds, chicken, garlic, chili puree and the stock. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

3. Drain the liquid from the meat mixture into a large casserole and reserve the meat. To the liquid, add the pork bones, pig’s feet, 1 of the onions, the bay leaf and oregano. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 3 hours, occasionally skimming the scum that rises to the surface.

4. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids, skim off the fat that rises to the surface and return the sauce to the casserole.

5. Add the remaining 2 onions, the reserved meat, except for the chicken pieces, and the hominy and simmer for 1 hour. Add the chicken (and any juices that have accumulated) and simmer for another 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Add salt to taste.

6. Serve in large bowls with a bit of the cilantro scattered over the top of each bowl and the other garnishes on individual plates placed around the table.

Excerpt from "The Good Food" by Daniel Halpern and Julie Strand. Copyright 1985, 2019 by Daniel Halpern and Julie Strand. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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