On my mind

Ingredients as the backbone of an index

24 May 2024

My local bookstore has the best cookbook selection. But it isn’t a collection of best sellers. Some books have no stars and no reviews on Amazon yet. This is a place to browse, discover, and buy cookbooks, especially hard-to-find ones.

Last Saturday, as I ran my thumb along the spines of the cookbooks, the title Tenderheart caught my eye. As I pulled it off the bookshelf, I was already opening the book, flipping to the back to view the index. And that index was something to behold.

Hetty Lui McKinnon’s cookbook does not contain the standard, run-of-the-mill index. Instead, this index is a feast for the eyes, thanks to:

  • Boldfaced heading of all ingredients.
  • Left-aligned boldfaced page numbers, followed by unpretentious recipe names in lowercase.
  • Main headings consisting of only of ingredients—no recipe names.

The absence of recipe titles as headings doesn’t detract from the index. Rather, leaving them out streamlines the index. In other words, if you had a vegetable in your kitchen that you wanted to use up, if it appeared in a recipe, you could find that recipe in the index, regardless of whether it was the star of the dish or a minor character.

Here’s an example pulled directly from the cookbook’s index:

BEAN SPROUTS

 42   curry gai lan chow fun

156   charred cauliflower and crispy tofu with sweet peanut sauce

364   seaweed, tofu and sprout soup

480   daikon with cold spicy noodles

This is a refreshingly organized cookbook index—easy to peruse and search. Kudos to the publisher Alfred A. Knopf for this intuitive design. I haven’t seen one like this before. Could that be because this cookbook was originally published in Australia? I’d love to thank the indexer personally or interview them for my podcast, but no name was listed on the copyright page.

After marveling at the index in the store, I thumbed through the book, deciding to buy Tenderheart on the spot. There were enough recipes that I wanted to make to justify its hefty price ($40). And yes, that index had me at first glance! For those of you who like glossy-colored photos of the food, you will not be disappointed.

The first thing that I made was sweet potato fries and aioli. I give the recipe two thumbs up, both for taste and ease of cooking. Want to know the secret to good sweet potato fries made in the oven? Soak the wedges of sweet potato for 10 minutes in hot water before baking at a high temp.

Next up for me: ginger and coconut mochi cake. Or eggplant balls with spicy tamarind tomato sauce. I can’t make up my mind!