Lamb stew with dried plums, district breads and goat cheese everything.
It wasn't just the drama of the arena that riveted fans of Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games." From the simplicity of a District 12 repast to the lavish Capitol feasts, the culinary descriptions were fabulous as well.
Two months ago, as anticipation for the March 23 release of the movie began to build, we asked readers to deconstruct the signature dishes of the "Hunger Games" and give us recipes for those distinctive breads, Greasy Sae stews and other exemplars of Panem cuisine. But we had no idea just how remarkably creative you would be, nor how delicious the results.
Submissions came from "Hunger Games" fans from across the United States and the United Kingdom, accompanied by notes that made us grin, sigh happily or laugh out loud. One suggested we combine wild dog with pond water. Another took the idea of the arena's sugar berries to lofty lavender heights, while others tinted bread dough green and infused it with seaweed and salt in homage to District 4. Not surprisingly, dozens of recipes paid homage to Prim's goat, Lady.
We posted the recipes online and invited you to vote for your favorites and determine our finalists. Our judging panel then prepared and tasted those dishes — because, as Katniss Everdeen will be the first to tell you, it takes more than a pretty picture to win the "Hunger Games" — and chose the five most delicious dishes as the winners. Our decisions weren't even difficult. Those five dishes were swooningly wonderful.
Katniss would have been utterly impressed by Lorin Cook's "Going Into Battle Lamb Stew With Plums & Cranberries." Many people submitted lamb stew recipes, but this one, which also snagged an overwhelming number of votes, completely captured the flavors and textures of a dish that manages to be Capitol-caliber luxurious and comfortingly hearty at the same time.
Cook and her 9-year-old daughter, who hail from Alpine, N.J., are "huge Hunger Games fans," and it's clear, Cook says, "why this (stew) was Katniss' favorite part of the Capitol. You can win any battle with this hearty stew, served on a bed of wild rice."
The breads that Katniss and Peeta enjoy at the Capitol's training center represent the different districts, and fans took great pains to re-create those distinctive rolls. Julia Christy and Cristian Martinez made small nori-infused, fish-shaped rolls for District 4, while Fletch Hopper, a San Jose, Calif., 10-year-old, took a larger-scale approach with an elaborately woven Salty Seaweed Panem that lets the seaweed peek through the tender, pale green dough.
And Antioch, Calif., English teacher Sherri Livingston and her Deer Valley High School English class collaborated on a "Hunger Games" bread that was inspired by Prim's goat cheese and the agricultural bounty of District 11. The result is a slightly sweet, oversized, crescent-shaped roll — stuffed with savory goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, pesto, nuts and seeds — that delighted our tasting panel, too.
GREASY SAE'S CREATIONS
We approached the Greasy Sae-inspired Hob recipes with some trepidation, but Carolyn Moore's Catching Fire Chili With Wild Boar and Venison captured District 12's wild frontier — and tasted amazing.
"I imagined Greasy Sae combining meats straight from Katniss' latest catch with special spices to spark the passion for our beloved heroine," says Moore, of Los Gatos, Calif., "and to ignite the taste buds as folks feast and watch the televised games."
If you're not planning to shoot your own game with a bow and arrow, Moore suggests looking for the necessary venison and wild boar bacon at a specialty butcher.
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