From the page to your plate
EVERYDAY SUPER FOOD by Jamie Oliver (Penguin/Michael Joseph)
FROM VENICE TO ISTANBUL by Rick Stein (BBC Books)
NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ebury Press)
THE SUPPER CLUB by Phillippa Cheifitz (Struik)
Here we have some of the biggest knives in the culinary publishing kitchen, sharp chefs who regularly bring out new books to tempt our taste buds and lighten our wallets.
Some are more regular than others, of course. Jamie Oliver has 16 books to his name already. I am not one of those purists who boycotts his books because of his irritating puppy-dog enthusiasm, his laddish language and his supposed lack of real cooking originality and skill.
I own several of his books and have used his recipes often – especially when looking for an easy family mid-week meal. But there is something disturbing about this new book, Everyday Super Food.
At first glance we might believe the title is just another in the long line of his adverb-laden recipe titles: amazing, incredible, delicious, etcetera. But no, the subtitle is: Recipes for a healthier happier you.
Nearing his 40th birthday, the always slightly chubby Oliver embarked on a journey “through the world of health and nutrition”. He has returned much thinner and determined to convert us all to the benefits of balanced meals.
So the recipes for the admittedly enticing-looking meals in this book all come with a very technical table that states exactly how many grams of calories, fat, saturated fat, protein, carbs, sugar and fibre are involved.
Oliver claims that there are many “super-quick” dishes in the comprehensive breakfast section but the long names of the recipes and the crowded lists of ingredients don’t back this up.
I can’t imagine waking up on a Tuesday morning and, in between putting the rubbish out and shouting at my son in a vain attempt not to be late for the school run, producing a nice plate of “berry pocket eggy bread with pistachios, honey and cinnamon”. And as for the “sexy stewed prunes, toast, banana, yoghurt and almonds” … maybe in my younger days. Hand me the box of Weet-Bix and a banana, please.
The lunch menus are “quick to rustle up”, says Oliver, but I’m not sure when we are supposed to find time to make “tasty fish tacos, game-changing kiwi, lime and chilli salsa” or “amazing Mexican tomato soup, sweet potato chips, feta and tortilla”.
We would all be fired for continual late arrival at work if we attempted that. Bung some of last night’s left-over “spag bol” in a Tupperware for me, please.
This is not to say that these lunch menus don’t look great. Perhaps they would seem less intimidating if they were included in the dinner section. It is just that everything is so correct and obsessively healthy.
Mackerel and mussels are “super-high in selenium and iodine. The latter helps our thyroid gland to function, in turn helping to control our metabolism”. Chicken is “a great meat, leaner than most and high in essential B vitamins plus the mineral selenium which among other things puts lead in your pencil, fellas – woop, woop!”
Enough detail there to put one off those healthy meals, fella.
Rick Stein is a chap whose down-to-earth presenting style and enthusiasm for authentic cooking from locations all around the world make his television series so appealing.
His latest food adventure involved travelling from Venice to Istanbul to discover the flavours of the Eastern Mediterranean. The journey takes him through rugged landscapes, steeped in tradition, where the recipes, all made with the bountiful local ingredients, have been handed down from generation to generation.
So, above the instructions for each recipe, instead of Oliver’s list of how healthy all the ingredients are, we get Stein’s anecdotes about where he ate the dish.
Tavë kosi (Albanian baked lamb with rice) is the “national dish in Albania, but I only had it once, at a restaurant at the top of a mountain pass at Llogora”. The recipe for slow-cooked pork knuckle and onions comes from the “Neraida restaurant just outside Neapolis [in Cyprus], which describes itself as the tavern at the edge of Europe”.
Toni Lozica, “who works at the most expensive boutique hotel on island”, called Lesic Dimitri Palace on Korcula, “famed as the possible birthplace of Marco Polo”, provided the recipe for zelena menestra (Croatian green stew).
Barbecued sardines in vine leaves comes from “Canakkale on the Hellespont, the nearest city to ancient Troy and just across the water from Gallipoli”. The man who provided the recipe for Mesut’s blue fish stew with chilli cornbread is “a very pleasant fisherman who works the Bosphorus in his small diesel engine boat, dodging the steady procession of oil tankers and passenger liners”.
The mouthwatering culinary journey goes on and on, and it is hard not to rip off the kitchen apron and start googling frantically for cheap tickets to the Mediterranean. But reality soon sets in and bringing those flavours to life in your kitchen seems a more sensible option.
So start off by sampling the irresistible recipe for halloumi saganaki in the Mezze chapter. Slices of halloumi dipped in beaten egg, rolled in semolina and fried, then drizzled with warm honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds, oregano and black pepper. After a quick stop-off for pizza bianco with sliced potato, onions, white anchovies and Taleggio cheese in the Street Food chapter, move on to Meats, where there are enough lamb recipes to make Karoo farmers smile. Hunkar begendi (rich lamb stew with aubergine purée) makes a nice change from the usual lamb kleftiko.
Oven-roasted chicken with sumac, pomegranate molasses, chilli and sesame seeds is too tempting to pass by but don’t get too distracted because this is Rick Stein and this is the Mediterranean so Seafood deserves a lengthy visit. Tuck into a Greek fish stew, slurp up seafood linguine and savour grilled mackerel stuffed with hot red pepper paste, parsley and garlic.
You might think Vegetarian and Sides can be bypassed but you will definitely want to try the stuffed vegetables. Then loosen your belt and round off your journey with a Dalmatian fresh fig tart or Croatian sour cherry strudel.
The Mediterranean is familiar territory for Yotam Ottolenghi, who garnered a huge following with his books giving his take on Middle Eastern food. His vast range of salads packed with colourful ingredients are a particular favourite.
Once again it was traditional cooking made with the region’s produce, with a slight Ottolenghi twist, of course, but not too complicated and generally easy to create at home.
A glance at the cover immediately shows that the latest helping of Ottolenghi is something entirely different. The minimalist design with not a picture of food in sight on the cover and gilt-edged pages indicate that this is a step-up.
“This is a restaurant cookbook: it features restaurant food,” writes Ottolenghi in the introduction. Nopi is the “grown-up” restaurant created by the Ottolenghi team in
London, and the co-author of this book, Ramael Scully, is the chef behind the more complex creations at the eatery.
Scully brought in an Asian influence and a tendency to make more complex food with more ingredients than previously created by Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi, who “just ‘throw together’ a few things on a large platter in a pretty effortless way”.
So even though the restaurant recipes have been toned down to make them easier to make at home, expect to do some hard work when you try to make these dishes to impress your dinner guests: char-grilled asparagus with Romescu sauce and apple balsamic; three-citrus salad with green chilli, stem ginger and crunchy salsa; lobster, fennel and grilled grape salad; smoked lamb cutlets with aubergine purée, jalapeno sauce and kohlrabi pickle; chicken livers with red wine, smoky bacon and cherries; or baked blue-cheese cake with pickled beetroot and honey.
Combine some of these in a dinner menu and we’re talking Come Dine with Me South Africa champion. You might just be collapsed on the kitchen floor though.
Last but not least is well-known South African food writer Phillippa Cheifitz. Her book The Supper Club is just what the title implies: a group of foodies getting together regularly to produce delicious meals.
It sounds pretty simple and the recipes are deceptively straightforward but the beauty of this book is that it is the ideal combination of the other books mentioned here.
There are some healthy dishes that Oliver would approve of (quinoa salad with prawns and avo), rustic recipes that Stein might have unearthed on his journey (Mediterranean-style chicken pie, Turkish lentil soup with mint and lemon) and some combinations that diners at Ottolenghi’s Nopi would be impressed with (lime-marinated fish with red onion and radishes, smoked salmon trout with fennel Carpaccio).
The seasonal feasts are all four-course menus so you are bound to find something to your liking. How about roasted sweet pepper tart as an appetiser or, brushing aside those alarmists at the World Health Organisation, bacon-wrapped fish with spicy tomato sauce for a main course. A side of citrus wedges with torn dates and lemon-gin dressing is hard to resist and the warm ricotta cheesecake with hot cherry sauce is a winner in the “irresistibles” section.
Cheifitz has provide us with a perfect combination of dishes that are easy to prepare in your kitchen but look and taste as though they belong in a restaurant.