Enchanting dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa
By Diana Henry
How could you not want to own a book with a name like this? It dates from 2002 and is Diana Henry’s first cookbook, reissued loads of times. In the introduction Diana talks about how, in her 20s, a move to London led her to discover a world of food she had never before encountered. Soon she was experimenting with recipes using exotic ingredients from local Middle Eastern grocers. Her enthusiasm and passion light up the introduction and carries you through a book that makes you want to cook everything in it, immediately!
Look and feel
My copy is the 2016 edition in paperback, hardback copies seem to be earlier editions and only available pre-owned. It is also available for download (but I already made my views on softcopy cookery books known in a previous blog) . I presume the lovely photographs by Jason Lowe are the same in all versions. Although you won’t find a picture to go with every recipe, the text that introduces each dish creates wonderful word-pictures. There are twelve chapters of recipes, each focusing on a selection of specific ingredients, and including dishes from dips and nibbles, through mains to sweets.
Each section has its own introduction – enticing you to explore the recipes and imparting little snippets about the ingredients. For example, the chapter entitled ‘Sweet Cloves and Liquid Gold’ which covers garlic, olives and olive oil, is really instructive on how to prepare garlic and how much to use. It also recalls the days when, in these parts, olive oil existed in tiny bottles and was stored in the medicine cabinet. The descriptions in this book are so evocative that I could immediately recall the size and shape of the little bottle, and the sensation of gently warmed olive oil being dripped into a gummed up ear (yes – it is fairly gross, and if you remember that, you may also remember people using a film of cooking oil to aid their suntan development?)
What sort of food is it?
There’s a bit of everything, with a good selection of meatless dishes. Handfuls of herbs, yogurt in many forms, fruits such as figs, quince and pomegranate, dark black rice and tiny noodles make the recipes cry out to be tackled. There’s a heavy emphasis on fish, the Crazy Water of the title is actually sea bass poached in a chilli flavoured broth. Along with recipes that are clearly intended to be mains, there are snacks, dips, sauces, ice creams and much more.
Obscure equipment needed?
Not really – there are some techniques that would require specialist stuff if they were absolutely true to their roots, but these are generally still possible with more commonly found casseroles and things like pizza stones.
Ingredients easily available?
I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book so much if I had owned it when it was first published – many of the ingredients would have been just too difficult to source and I would probably have given up. As hard as it is to believe, Amazon didn’t enter the grocery market until the mid 2000s so that wouldn’t have been an option, and I’m fairly sure that most of the thriving specialist food shops I love to potter in hadn’t opened.
Happily, today is a different world food-wise and I can get most ingredients reasonably easily between a good supermarket and some specialist shops. Like a lot of international recipes it’s probably best to do your research a bit ahead so that you don’t end up rushing around like a lunatic trying to pick up obscure stuff. To get the best out of this book you will need a friendly fishmonger – sardines, salt cod and swordfish are not usually readily available without one.
Who is it for?
Even if you (or your giftee) have little or no kitchen experience you’ll still manage to make a good fist of many of the recipes in this book – there are good step-by-step instructions. For a more experienced cook there are new takes on familiar ingredients, and the introduction of elements that may be new to many.
This book is a feast for the senses, something normally achieved by clever food stylists and photographers, but here weaved with words.
Published by: Mitchell Beazley; UK
Now this one I want to buy!