The cultural universals of food and love take on subtle hues of meaning in Lara Vapnyar’s new collection of short stories Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love. In these half dozen tales of Eastern European immigrants comes a cornucopia of emotion, from the wry and the sad, to the hopeful and the poignant, as each character tries to find a place in this new world. Vapnyar’s immigrants’ hopes and dreams and despairs are framed through the lens of food. In these stories, immigrants become more — or sometimes less — settled as their perspective and proximity to familiar and foreign dishes change, as they settle into new lives while still at times grasping for little bits of home. Vapnyar’s book concludes with recipes annotated with a pleasant but strikingly personal voice that loosely corresponds to the collection of stories.

Lara Vapnyar, author of the novel Memoirs of a Muse and the short story collection There are Jews in My House, has created a compact and emotionally charged collection of work in which the stories are thematically very similar — a tight array focused on identity and community as experienced by immigrants to America. Four of the six stories have been previously published in magazines like Harper’s and The New Yorker; “Puffed Rice and Meatballs” was one of the O. Henry Prize stories in 2006.

In Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, it’s all about assuaging loneliness — physical and emotional — and finding that salve in unexpected places and ways. Vapnyar’s characters strive to be happy with their new lives, and end up with consolations far from what they originally had in mind. For example, in “A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf,” Nina finally gets to the cook the vegetable that she so faithfully and optimistically buys every Saturday, only to let it lay forgotten in her refrigerator; however, it isn’t a dish for her husband. In “Borscht,” Sergey goes off in search of a touch of home, but finds it in the culinary rather than coital experience he expects. Luda and Milena, the eponymous pair in “Luda and Milena,” are dueling students in an English class for adults, who vie for the attention of the same man, with a result that is opposite — and catastrophic — from their original hopes and intentions.

The dominance of food as a theme is an effective entry point for the reader, as just about everyone can relate to these experiences. Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love swings from a familiar dish being reminiscent of home, to the discomfort of trying to order something unpronounceable from a menu, from the fluidity of a recipe passed on from family to family, to the competitive streak that can ignite between one cook and another. Vapnyar’s short stories allow for a peek into the hidden lives, the secret desires and regrets, and the expression or repression of the same, in everyday people.

In The Fray is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers. If you liked this piece, could you please donate $10?