A bank holiday weekend, some great new books, and my kitchen inspiration seems to be well and truly back.
I loved Sabrina Ghayour's first book, Persiana, when it came out so I've been quietly excited about what her next one might contain. Well it's here now and the first nice surprise comes in the form of colourful shiny bits on the cover. It's a little thing (and obviously has nothing to do with the contents) but the effect is pleasingly colourful and uplifting. The sky outside is grey and cloudy, I'm ready for cheerful. The second thing I noticed before I even opened the book is that it has 2 place marking ribbons, again it's a small thing, but helpful and I like it.
The reason I loved 'Persiana' was that it was full of simple things with great flavours, there are a handful of recipes from it that have become standard fall backs in my kitchen, and it's one of the first books I turn to if I want something that's going to be easy to cook and please everybody.
The third thing I like about 'Sirocco' is the continuation of that emphasis on flavour, along with the particular philosophy behind it. "Sirocco" to quote is "a hot dry wind blowing from east to west - sometimes described as warm, spicy and sultry". Ghayour's wider heritage may be eastern, but she was raised in the UK - different produce, techniques, and recipes. This book is to be a blending of both traditions, so whilst not authentically Middle eastern it has an authenticity of a different sort that appeals to me.
I live a few hundred yards from the most multicultural street in the country (it was in the papers, so it must be true). In the time that I've known the city I've seen the Narborough road (before my time it would have been white working class) change from predominantly Indian in character (sari and gold shops made it look incredibly exotic to a girl from Shetland when I first saw it) to something much more mixed in character with Eastern European and Turkish shops taking their place now as well.
The flavour of Leicester is whatever you want to make it these days (and maybe always has been, the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, all left their mark on the city a thousand years and more before the waves of immigration the 20th and 21st century have seen). Personally I can't resist interesting new (to me) spices or other ingredients any more than I can resist a classic pork pie. In short it all makes the flavours in this book an authentic reflection of what I see around me (which is another reason I love Ghayour's recipes).
The recipe I had to try first was Quince glazed chicken fillets, it uses membrillo, easily available from any supermarket, I used quince jelly (because I had it) made with quinces scrumped from the museum garden last autumn (I'm anxiously waiting for the tree to flower again, the weather has not been kind). The quinces I can buy in Waitrose the autumn are Turkish, which makes me think someone in the UK ought to have a commercial orchard to cut down on food miles). They were delicious and as good an example as any of being able to use very local ingredients with a slight twist. The next chicken dish to get an outing will be orange thyme and spice chicken wings, it uses. marmalade and as I always have more of that than I need this sounds like a winner. But then the whole book is full of things I want to try - the salads especially look fantastic.
I think the appeal of the book can be summed up in a recipe for nectarine pavlova with mint almonds and tea syrup though. Pavlova is the pudding that's shorthand for what seemed the height if sophistication in my teens, and clearly due a revival. The tea syrup and mint is the bit that makes it interesting, not just nostalgic, and again I love the idea of taking things as familiar as tea and mint to make something new again