Despite being the birthplace of much of Western culture, religion, language, science & history, the Eastern Mediterranean remains a place of veiled mystery; seductive, fragrant, textual & textured, simple & exotic. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current interest in foods from this region. Silvena Rowe’s Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume may not be the first book this year to look at foods of the Eastern Mediterranean, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful, evocative & with the author’s heritage & view point, a worthy addition to the kitchen shelves.
Silvena Rowe was born & raised, by her Turkish father, in the ancient city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Plovdiv, orginially ‘Philosophillis’, a Greek Macedonian, then Roman, Byzantine & finally Ottoman city is the second city of Bulgaria and for millenia, a crossroads for the mingling of Eastern & Western culture. All of these Empires, imported, sometimes forcibly cuisines, cultures & ingredients from their trading partners and neighbours resulting in a complex, multi-faceted cuisine
This, perhaps in part, explains why her food is equally comfortable, yet exotic to cooks familiar with the Western Mediterranean menu dominated by French & Italian influences.
Although not in any way a memoir, the book provides occasional glimpses of Silvena’s family traditions, Ottoman food culture, and her innovation.
Numerous interesting boreks, salads, kofte & gozleme beckon and will be cooked shortly. Ingredients may seem unusual, but most can be easily purchased in either a good supermarket or a Middle-Eastern deli.
Silvena’s first book ‘Feasts’ won a prestigious Glenfiddich Food & Drink award
What do we say: a copy has already gone home, & will be staying there.
Melbourne is more a Mediterranean influenced city than an Asian one. Our climate, the produce we grow locally, our wine regions (5 within an hour) and the waves of immigrants since WWII all contribute to a Mediterranean influenced sensibility both in our food and the way we eat. And this is now being reflected in our contemporary food and our local chefs.
Emblematic of, perhaps leading this trend is Karen Martini. With Italian, Nth African, & Greek family influences, but having cooked professionally in many restaurants her food defies conventional description except to say that its modern Australian with a ‘mostly’ Mediterranean heritage. Which means that her dishes have English, Western, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Eastern European & Australian influences at their heart, but she borrows from Asian concepts of balance and texture.
Karen’s first two books ‘Where the Heart is‘ and Coming Home feature the usual, starter, main, dessert chapters & organisation. In Feastingthe recipes are grouped together as a themed meal; allowing you to cook all or some recipes depending on the occasion. This grouping takes into account both seasonal influences, and a balance of textures & flavours both within and across dishes.
As with many modern cook books, there is not a lot of ’story’ surrounding the 130 recipes. Karen’s food is allowed to speak for itself (a photo is really worth a 1000 words when it comes to most cookbooks) leaving Karen to add appropriate helpful hints, sort of like a garnish, artfully placed, not too much, and in most cases just enough.
The striking aspect of her new book (actually all her books) is the casual, but classy nature of the dishes. They all mix & match. They all could dress down or up for a meal depending on the occasion. They all bear the hallmarks of the use of acid and texture. In many dishes there is a balance of the silky smooth (think yogurt or tahini or ricotta) with texture & crunch (perhaps fennel, crisp toast, almonds or hazelnuts). Equally with sweetness & fat, comes lemon juice, capers, wine & vinegar & other like flavors. Vegetables too are allowed to shine. It’s not a vegetarian cookbook, but a vegetarian would thrive on it.
For those who already know & love Karen’s recipes - you will love this compilation. Inventive, mostly Mediterranean influenced dishes with depth of flavour, texture & fun that are easy and easily combine to form a feast, a dinner, a lunch, a snack, a lunchbox of leftovers or an impromptu dinner with friends & family. There are very few recipes that don’t say cook me, eat me instantly. The conservative diner might say they don’t have some of the ingredients she uses, but they could - they are easily available.
As for the practical matters: first, the wipe down cover reflects the fact that this is a working book; second, the indexing is comprehensive, if spread out, first by course (at the front of the book) then by meal/cuisine/season (by chapter) and in the traditional way, by ingredient (in the rear); and third, ‘Feasting’ will combine well with Karen’s earlier books.
What do we say: a copy has already gone home, and will be staying there. What have we tested: Thumbs up for the Soba Noodle Salad with Broccoli, Chicken & Toasted Nori (p.219) & the Bruschetta with Smashed Broad Beans, Garlic & Parmesan (p.53) Why should you have it: a great collection of flexible recipes that sum up Modern Melbourne casual eating Who should get it: people with families & friends to feed, comfort & entertain When can I get it: Out Now $59.95 (signed copies from next week)
A word from Karen
(a free recipe from ‘Feasting’)
Chocolate and Orange Creme Caramel, page 110
finely grated zest of 2 oranges
160 g dark chocolate buttons
600 ml milk
250 g caster sugar, plus 3 tablespoons extra
120 ml water
4 large eggs
2 egg yolks
I love this dessert. It has a delicious combination of flavours and textures - the orange in the custard and the richness of the chocolate and caramel create a rich treat.
Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan-forced).
Combine the orange zest and chocolate buttons in a small bowl. Bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan and pour over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth, then set aside for 5 minutes.
Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook, without stirring, until the mixture is a caramel colour. Pour the caramel into a 20 cm ceramic ovenproof dish and swirl it around to coat the sides.
Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and extra sugar in a medium bowl until well combined. Add the milk mixture and stir until smooth, then pour through a strainer into the baking dish. Place the dish in a baking tray and carefully pour hot water into the tray until it reaches halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 1 1/4 hours or until just set. Remove and allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
To serve, run a warm dry knife around the edge of the dish and invert the creme caramel onto a plate.