When all there was to do was go for a walk, local artist Rikki Asher found a new way to connect with her neighbors during quarantine.
“I would go for walks — which most of us are doing — and if I see somebody in my neighborhood, I’d stop them and I’d say, ‘Hi, would you like to make a cookbook with me?’ and often they would say, ‘Great, when do we start?’” Asher said.
Asher is the creator of the new vegetarian cookbook, “The Art in Queens Cuisine,” which features recipes from cooks across Queens and her own drawings of the delicious eats inside.
She figured that most people during quarantine were looking for new recipes to try so this plan would initiate interacting with others by sharing recipes with those in her community.
Many of her neighbors were eager to get started but weren’t sure if they would be able to contribute vegetarian dishes. Asher suggested they look at old family recipes or find ways to substitute ingredients to make their recipe vegetarian.
Queens is the most ethnically diverse area on the planet and Asher wanted to portray that in her cookbook by selecting cooks from all around the world.
Asher’s cookbook features cooks and bakers who are Bulgarian, Indian, Italian, Hungarian, Filipino, Romanian, Russian and Thai.
The process behind making this cookbook occurred virtually; neighbors would send Asher their recipes and stories, which she will then add into the book.
To add a personal touch, recipes include a small anecdote on the side about each cook. Also on every page is a piece of artwork Asher made herself which highlights an ingredient in a particular dish.
“For me, it’s a way of beginning to introduce people to art and particularly cooking. So not only the art of cooking but the mindfulness of what’s going into the pot and what it looks like and what’s the color and what’s the texture of it,” Asher said. “I guess, in a way, it’s rare to find a vegetarian cookbook that has illustrations by the author. There are some out there but the difference between mine and those is that mine really come out of the recipe.”
In the 30-page book, you can find recipes for salads, side dishes, entrées and desserts. Some of the recipes include a bulgarian eggplant spread, Italian baked stuffed mushroom dish and filipino cassava cake.
Aside from teaching people how to cook vegetarian meals, Asher’s book has another mission. She hopes to unify people and spread love through her recipes.
One page of her cookbook, where she gives a word about “The Art in Queens Cuisine,” Asher wrote, “Art and cooking may not change suffering or violence in this world, but eating delicious food and being inspired by art may gladden the hearts of those whose spirits are deeply saddened.”
“There are so many people suffering; not only the people who have COVID, but their families,” Asher said. “So the people who have COVID might not be interested in food but their families need food and so that is basically why I did it,” Asher said.
Asher said she is truly thankful that she has been able to cultivate friendships among those in her neighborhood because of the cookbook.
“Now we’re sort of friends and we look out for each other if there is something going on in the neighborhood,” Asher said. “Or, we just say, ‘Hi,’ or share cookies or something like that, which is really great and it’s because of this cookbook.”
Around mid-November, the first-edition copies of “The Art in Queens Cuisine” sold out. This high demand led her to create a second-edition of her book which was released just at the beginning of March.
The newest edition includes recipes from two more chefs – including Asher – as well as a collage of all the artists at the end of the cookbook
If you are interested in purchasing Asher’s book you can buy it for $12.99 on her website, or you can pick it up in Q.E.D. Astoria and Kew and Willow Books for $14.99.