I've been in a bit of a slump since returning from holiday, there's so much going on (generally, work is busy, there are people I want to see, things I want to do) and it seems like no time to do it all in. Hours spent following the news haven't really helped with time management, and even though I could really do with escaping into a book I'm finding it really hard to concentrate on fiction right now.
Thank god then for cookbooks. I bought 'Samarkand' just before I went away (because it was irrisistable) and promptly buried it under a pile of other books. I dig it out last night and promptly got lost in it again the moment I opened it.
This is a book that explores recipes and stories from Central Asia to the Caucasus. Samarkand, in its role as a cultural crossroads is a starting point for this particular culinary journey. It's a part of the world that's mostly a total mystery to me, but it's a romantic mystery with all the associated history of the Silk Road, and just the kind of escapism I'm looking for.
My one criteria for buying a cookbook is that it pass the flick test - if the first two or three recipes found at random don't appeal then the book stays in the shop. 'Samarkand' got me on the first page I looked at - roasted peaches with marzipan and rose syrup. It's not a complicated recipe, though it does provide another pleasing hint of romance, it just sounds delicious and subtly different from anything I might normally do with a peach. (It led me to experiment with roasted apricots with a rosemary and thyme syrup with just enough butter added to make it slightly toffeed - something I can recommend...)
After that there were pages of salads and dips that sounded just as good, combinations of sweet and sour, sweet and savoury, familiar and new that were all beguiling. Even more so thanks to the beautiful photography. I'm not generally a fan of cookbooks that devote pages of potential recipe space to atmospheric images of spice markets, temples, or artfully piled vegetables, but I'm making an exception for this one. Perhaps because it sets out to give context to the recipes as well as the recipes themselves they don't feel like filler, or maybe it's just that the balance is right here, but either way it's a gorgeous book to look at as well.
For anyone already smitten with Persian, or Middle Eastern cooking, or who has encountered Georgian food (or fans of Olia Hercules fantastic 'Mamushka') the flavours and ingredients will be familiar, but the combinations here are different enough to be fresh. Or at least they're fresh to me, and there's nothing I like more in the kitchen then that moment where you take familiar things and with a minimum of effort meet them anew (a salad of grated courgette with pine nuts and poppy seeds was another flick test winner). I love this book!