I'm fairly sure I met Sabrina Ghayour once at a book thing, I definitely have a memory of someone charming and glamorous talking about this kind of food and having one of the rare moments when I wish I lived in London (or some other similar city) where there is so very much more going on than Leicester (which has it's own charms - though they're not always obvious to me).
I get very excited about Middle Eastern inspired food and perhaps even more excited by books about Middle Eastern food. I love how colourful it can be - jewel like pomegranate seeds, vivid green salads, glowing orange segments, the wonderful deep yellow of saffron, scarlet peppers, dusky pink rose petals, jade green pistachios - it's the sort of exotic I find deeply appealing, it puts me in mind of the Arabian Nights and Oscar Wilde in about equal measures. There's also something very attractive about the way this kind of food quickly builds up into a multi coloured banquet - a bowl of couscous, a salad, something meaty, maybe a couple of dips, or possibly a whole lot of mezze, possibly a bread... it's all the joy of a picnic at the comfort of a table and perfect for sharing. More than that it's food that demands to be shared. Finally the flavours suit me, I'm a wuss when it comes to really spicy food, most of the (really good) Indian food which Leicester excels in is far to hot for me but the gentler spiciness of Middle Eastern food is just right. I'm also a big fan of fruit in savoury dishes (it always surprises me when I find people who really don't like that) along with things that mix honey and citrus - basically I'm a fan.
'Persiana' is billed as recipes from the Middle east and beyond, some of the recipes are traditional others are the result of a cultural exchange which must mirror the authors own life. Her family is Iranian but she grew up in England and as a cook is self taught as it seems nobody in the family was particularly interested in cooking. In terms of learning how to cook that's possibly a bonus, it suggests you get the kitchen to yourself and an audience ready and willing to be experimented on if it saves them having to face an unwelcome chore. Family influences also encompassed Turkish, Arab, Armenian, and Afghani cultures and cuisines, so that along with the more English elements really does make for a cultural exchange. The British bit comes in with the use of some ingredients (fennel, pork, rosemary) which really aren't traditional in Middle Eastern food but the spirit feels authentic. Recipes evolve - another thing I really like about this sort of cooking is that although the ingredient list can be quite long there are elements that can be played around with according to what the cook has on hand and personal preference (I'm not a fan of coriander leaf and will happily do away with it wherever I can).
I've had this book for the past week and have been having a lot of fun with it, I've made a pistachio orange blossom and honey ice-cream which has a brilliant texture, a herby rice dish that's traditionally served with dried fish but which is a meal in itself, a really good orange salad rich with sumac and pomegranate molasses, experimented with herby sugars to go with pineapple and strawberries (I prefer those without sugar, herby or otherwise, but admit that they look considerably more dressed up with) and have any number more things bookmarked. There's a lot of great looking stuff in here, some of it demands a little time but it's all really good tempered food with no unnecessary complications, and there are plenty of really simple (but very effective) bits - like those herby sugars. In short this is a really exciting book from an equally exciting writer.
I am so hungry now! I love fruit with meat, but I think it was the mention of orange blossom and honey that was most evocative, I think because I find both scents really comforting. And, obviously, delicious. On another track: I had duck cooked with honey a few times in Paris: again, a combination which at first glance sounds a bit odd, but honey really picks up the aroma of herbs and manages to add another dimension to the gamey-ness. I am now very hungry.ReplyDelete
And now I'm hungry again as well. Was it a specific sort of honey with the duck? I'm thinking something strong like a Greek honey would be good.Delete
Sounds like a great book. I love cookery books with a story to them, and a sense of travel. Have you tried "The scent of orange blossoms" which is a Sephardic Jewish cookery book. Some fascinating tales of the interconnections between Jewish and Moroccan cookery.ReplyDelete
I haven't and will look it up. Jewish cooking is something I know nothing about despite seeing some really nice looking books on it, perhaps it's time to investigate. I'm always fascinated by the way that Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, Mince pies etc (especially mince pies) have similar flavours to some Moroccan and middle eastern recipies I've seen. I'm assuming it's something to do with the crusades but it's a bit of food history I'd love to know more about.Delete