We've discovered a text that could rank among the geekiest of all cookbooks. It's based on Settlers of Catan, that German civilization-building board game with the cult following.
If you've never played, here's how it works: In the mythical land of Catan, players are settlers attempting to build a community. The board is made up of hexagonal tiles that represent a different terrains: forest, pasture, fields, hills, mountains and desert. The terrains produce natural resources that players can use to build up settlements in between the tiles. There's cards and dice involved. The person who can build the most settlements wins.
It sounds complicated, but the game moves surprisingly fast. And a single play can easily evolve into a tournament that lasts all night.
With all the settling (and trash talking), you're bound to build up an appetite. That's where writer Chris-Rachael Oseland's cookbook comes in.
Conceptually, "Wood for Sheep: The Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook" is all about recipes that take inspiration from the game. Inside, you'll find dishes like "Settlers of the Cold Salad" and the "Breakfast Taco Map."
But Oseland says it was her friends — and their many digestive restrictions — that really inspired the book.
"I don't know what it is about us geeks, but you can't get three, four or five of us together in a room without three having something wrong with our digestive systems," Oseland tells NPR's The Salt. Oseland is herself lactose intolerant, and the friends she invites over for game night have their own taboo foods. "I've got some good Muslim friends who are obviously eating Halal, some Jewish friends, tons of vegetarian friends and these days a lot [who are] gluten-free."
To accommodate picky eaters, Oseland uses hexagonal dishes made for scientists so no two ingredients have to touch. Arranged as a "board" they also mimic the game's tiles. She fills them with side dishes made from ingredients that evoke terrains — red hills, green forests, yellow fields, dark mountains and white deserts.
The recipes range from things like "Settlers of the Nacho Bar" (a deconstructed nacho platter) to the much heartier "Thanksgiving Dinner Board" (mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans).
The second half of Oseland's book features more complete dishes and desserts that incorporate creative interpretations of wood, bricks, sheep, grain and ore – the resources that players spend and trade in game. The dishes in this section are more abstract, like "Settlement Pancakes," in which flour represents the grains and strawberries represent bricks. They're topped with "clouds of sweetened cream as white as a fresh shorn lamb."
Is it all a bit much? Probably. It's the sort of thing only a die-hard Catan fan could truly appreciate.
But to be fair, the recipes do sound pretty good.
Deconstructed Salad Nicoise
This dramatic French salad is meant to be served at room temperature and enjoyed over a long, leisurely lunch. That makes it perfect fodder for a health conscious crowd of gamers. It's also the most obscure-diet-friendly board in this book since it is already gluten-free and can be served as is to people who keep Kosher and Halal.
Hills = 6 cups cherry tomatoes
Forest = 3 lbs green beans
Pasture = 1 head iceberg lettuce
Mountains = 4 lbs baby red potatoes
Fields = 4 large pouches or medium cans tuna
Desert = 8-12 hard boiled eggs
Cut your red skinned potatoes into equal-sized pieces. Dump them in a gallon of boiling water. Add a pinch of salt and let them cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Use a slotted spoon to fish out your potatoes. Rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking and set the potatoes aside.
You can now either dump out your potato water and start from scratch or reuse it to cook your green beans. I'm a fan of efficiency. Either way, put your fresh green beans in some boiling water and let them cook until they're tender-crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. While they're cooking, fill a large bowl with ice water. When your beans are ready, use a slotted spoon to transfer them from the boiling water to their icy bath. This stops the cooking (so they don't end up too mushy) and preserves their color.
Use the largest, prettiest lettuce leaves to make liners for your tuna mountains. In France, canned tuna is the norm, but you're welcome to pan sear fresh tuna if that's in your budget. A full can or pouch of tuna won't quite fill a hex, so fluff it up with extra lettuce before arranging your tuna on top.
After that, simply fill the rest of the hexes with their appropriate edible terrain. Drizzle everything with your freshly made dressing. This is already a massive amount of food, but feel free to enhance the continental atmosphere by adding on a store bought crusty baguette and the herb butter from the biscuit bar.
Salad Nicoise Dressing
½ cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced fine
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp basil
1 tbsp thyme
½ tbsp dark Dijon mustard
1tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black or mixed peppercorns
Simply pour everything into a large bowl and whisk it together. This board makes a dramatic amount of salad (remember, each hex holds 2 cups of food) so feel free to double the recipe if you like your salads heavily dressed.
Ports variation: substitute cooked seitan strips for the tuna to make the board vegan or cooked sweet potatoes for the red potatoes to make the board primal
Year of Plenty variation: add ½ cup olives, ½ cup anchovy filets, or ½ cup caper berries