Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan

Ripe Figs
Ripe Figs is a culinary journey through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus documented by recipes and the stories of the people the author encountered on their travels.

The author is food writer Yasmin Khan, a former human rights campaigner. She is the author of two other books, The Saffron Tales and Zaitoun.

You should buy Ripe Figs for the knock out food of course, but it’s so much more than a recipe book. Khan brings the Eastern Mediterranean to vivid life with tales from her journey through the region. She meets Lena Altinoglou, one of four female founders of Nan restaurant in Mytilene in the Greek island of Lesvos, a social enterprise established so that Greek nationals and refugees to the area could work side by side and help bring the two communities together, while in Istanbul, she visits the apartment of Berrak Gocer to learn how to cook yoghurt soup and lamb meatballs with orzo pilaf. The book contains classics such as skordalia, kleftiko and halva as well as Khan’s own creations that include sweet potato, chickpea and tahini salad.

Cuisine: Mediterranean
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
£26, Bloomsbury

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

andre simon logo

Med by Claudia Roden

Med by Claudia Roden
What’s the USP? An exploration of dishes from across the length of the Mediterranean by one of the most iconic names in food writing today, Claudia Roden. As well as being an instantly recognised figurehead of Middle Eastern cooking, Roden has previously written no less than four books on the wider Mediterranean cuisine (and another two focussing more closely on the food of Italy and Spain). So, not exactly a USP – but given that this is the octogenarian’s first book in a decade, perhaps the words ‘a cookbook from Claudia Roden’ are enough in themselves.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s lots to enjoy here, even if Roden’s written segments won’t occupy more than an evening of light reading. Opening with a section that explores both the theme of the book and the influence Roden’s own life journey has had on her food, Med sets itself up to be both a welcome addition to the shelves of existing fans and a suitable introduction to new fans.

Deeper into the book, both chapter and recipe introductions alike offer a good balance of the practical and the personal: glimpses into Roden’s experiences shimmer alongside useful tips and ideas for ingredients that can be substituted. There has always been a very passionate cultural anthropologist Claudia Roden that looks over the shoulder of the Claudia Roden that cooks the dishes and passes them out to her family for testing, and it’s a pleasure as ever to hear the snippets of history and humanity that are commonplace throughout Med.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Would the grand dame of Mediterranean cooking do that to you? Roden’s recipes are clear, concise and to the point, with coherent instructions and – thanks to the popular awareness the author herself played a significant role in developing across the UK – ingredients that are widely available in supermarkets. Even ingredients like harissa and pomegranate molasses that might not have been so readily available at the time of release for her last Mediterranean cookbook in 2007 have since become staples of Tesco’s aisles.

What’s the faff factor? For the most part, Med offers up relatively simple dishes that are full of flavour. One of the elements that unites the cuisines of the broad range of nations that have the sea in common is the quality of ingredients used. Very often this means that dishes allow those ingredients to speak for themselves, and require very little alchemy from the home cook. The fifteen or so salads in the book are a perfect example of this. Roden’s instructions for the vibrant Citrus Salad with Green Leaves read closer to flower arranging than cooking, and result in an intensely tangy, fresh dish. Even the Store-Cupboard Mediterranean Salad, which calls for piquillo peppers, tinned tuna, black olives and plum tomatoes has only two sentences of actual recipe.

Elsewhere in the book, Roden is a keen champion of ready-made pastry, making even the most complex dishes a good deal more achievable. Nowhere is this more apparent than her Chicken and Onion ‘Pies’ with Moroccan Flavours, which look incredibly elaborate, but should come together with relative ease in forty-five minutes or so.

How often will I cook from the book? There are plenty of options to keep the home cook occupied here, which is bound to happen when a title can draw from the cuisines of around twenty different countries. Roden the cultural anthropologist is excellent at sharing the origins of dishes – or owning up to those few recipes that are more a collection of fine ideas than a replica of anything already in the world.

Killer recipes: Spaghetti with Prawns Provençal, Bullinada, Chicken in a Spicy Honey Sauce Buried in Vermicelli, Yoghurt Cake, Parfait Mocha Praliné

Should I buy it? The only real qualm anyone might be able to muster with Med is that there isn’t much in the book that you couldn’t already find fine versions of elsewhere – either in Roden’s own illustrious back catalogue, or amongst the pages of very many fine Mediterranean cookbooks already in print. But the recipes are consistently very tempting and offer a thorough insight into both the dishes of the sea and the way the different nations have interacted with one another over the centuries. Med will be a welcome addition to the shelves of Roden’s long-term fans, and a useful all-rounder for those who have yet to explore the wealth of flavours on offer across the Mediterranean countries.

Cuisine: Mediterranean
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book 
Med: A Cookbook
£28, Ebury Press

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds by Ainsley Harriot

088_ainsley_Artichoke_pasta

This pasta dish has a Spanish twist with chargrilled artichokes and roasted red peppers combined with toasted almonds. It’s a delightfully simple and tasty recipe using storecupboard ingredients and great for a mid-week supper. Use the best quality jarred artichokes you can find – the chargrilled ones in oil really do add extra flavour to the dish. If you aren’t following a vegan diet, top with some grated vegetarian hard cheese.

SERVES 4
400g dried penne pasta or other short pasta of choice
1 x 175g jar chargrilled artichoke hearts in olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium–hot red chilli, finely chopped
3 roasted red peppers from a jar, sliced
50g Spanish or Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
35g chopped almonds, lightly toasted
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
100g baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish
zest from 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a handful of flaked almonds, lightly toasted, to garnish (optional)

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rolling boil, add the penne, stir once, then cook until al dente, according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, strain the olive oil from the jar of artichokes into a large frying pan, then cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and set aside. Set the frying pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and chilli and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the artichoke hearts to the pan along with the red pepper strips and olives, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook for 2–3 minutes to warm through, then stir through the almonds and a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Cook for 1 minute, then add the spinach to the pan, a handful at a time, and allow to just wilt down.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the vegetables along with 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water, stirring to combine. Add the parsley and lemon zest and check for seasoning.

To serve, share the pasta among warmed pasta bowls, drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if needed, and scatter with the parsley and toasted flaked almonds, if using.

Cook more from this book
Lentil and haloumi bake
Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review

Lentil and haloumi bake by Ainsely Harriot

067_ainsley_Lentil_Halloumi_Bake

While I was in Corsica, I tried many delicious vegetarian dishes that were simply prepared yet full of flavour from fresh herbs and garlic. Marjoram is a versatile and aromatic herb that works beautifully with vegetables; it’s similar in taste to oregano but with a milder sweeter flavour. This dish is easy to prepare for a mid-week dinner – just toss it all together in the one dish! For a creamy topping, serve with a little Greek yoghurt or hummus. This is great on its own or with my Quick Flatbreads.

SERVES 4

2 courgettes, cut into 2-cm slices
1 red onion, cut into 8 thin wedges
1 medium aubergine, cut into small cubes
2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut into chunks
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tsp fresh marjoram leaves (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
1 x 400g tin lentils, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
250g cherry tomatoes
1 x 250g block halloumi, thickly sliced
zest and juice of ½ lemon
8–10 basil leaves, shredded with a few reserved whole for garnish
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.

Put the courgettes, onion, aubergine, red pepper, chilli and garlic into a large, shallow baking dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, season well, then scatter over half of the marjoram and toss together. Roast for 16–18 minutes.

Remove from the oven and toss through the lentils and balsamic vinegar, then stir in the cherry tomatoes and sit the halloumi slices on top. Drizzle with another 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle over the lemon zest and remaining marjoram.

Roast for a further 16–18 minutes until the tomatoes start to blister and release their juices and the halloumi is golden around the edges. If you like, you can brown the halloumi a little more under a hot grill for 1–2 minutes after baking.

To serve, drizzle with a little oil, squeeze over the lemon juice and scatter with the fresh basil.

Cook more from this book
Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake
Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review

Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake by Ainsley Harriot

105_ainsley_Mediterranean_Seabass_Potato_Bake

We ate some beautiful baked fish on our journey around the Mediterranean. One of the most memorable was in Corsica – a whole baked fish served simply on a bed of potatoes and onions. Sometimes, it’s the simplicity of dishes that make them taste so delicious; pared-back cooking really allows the ingredients to shine. This is also great with bream or snapper, or you can bake a whole fish on top of the potatoes for 18–20 minutes instead of using fillets. Try throwing
in some capers, if you fancy.

SERVES 4

4 sea bass fillets, skin on
2 lemons: 1 thinly sliced; 1 for squeezing
4 large waxy potatoes (Désirée work well), peeled and thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
120ml white wine
2 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp fresh marjoram or oregano leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh bread, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Line an ovenproof dish with baking parchment. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and squeeze over a little lemon juice. Set aside.

Layer the potatoes and onions in the bottom of the lined ovenproof dish, season well with salt and black pepper, then add a layer of tomatoes. Sprinkle over the garlic, then place a few lemon slices on top. Drizzle over the oil, squeeze over some more lemon juice and pour in the wine. Add the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, 2 tablespoons of the parsley and sprinkle over half of the marjoram leaves. Season well with salt and pepper, cover with foil and bake for 25–30 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and lay the fish fillets in the dish skin-side up. Sprinkle with the remaining marjoram and bake uncovered for a further 12–14 minutes or until the fish is cooked through (it should flake easily when cooked).

Use a spatula or fish slice to carefully remove the fish from the dish, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm. Return the vegetables to the oven to bake for a further 4–5 minutes (if needed) until the potatoes turn golden brown in places.

Remove from the oven and serve immediately, scattered with the remaining fresh parsley, with some fresh bread on the side.

Cook more from this book
Lentil and haloumi bake
Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Read the review

Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook

9781529104677

What’s the USP? A diverse collection of recipes from the Mediterranean region, including dishes from Corsica, Sardinia, Morocco and Andalucia. The book also investigates the influence of Jordanian cooking on the food of the Med.  

Who is the author? For British readers of a certain age, Ainsley needs no introduction. He is a beloved broadcaster who has achieved national treasure status. If Ainsley Harriot is an unfamiliar name to you, he is probably best known as the presenter of the hugely popular 90s tea-time cooking challenge show Ready Steady Cook. He is a trained chef (he once headed up the kitchen at the  Long Room of Lord’s Cricket Ground) but also found success in the ’80s and ’90s as a comedy performer in the duo The Calypso Twins. He has presented numerous food-themed  TV series including Ainsley’s Big Cook Out, Gourmet Express and Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook and is the author of 17 cookbooks.

Is it good bedtime reading? With a three page introduction and two pages covering storecupboard essentials, this is not a book that will live much outside of your kitchen. That said, many of the recipe introductions go beyond just offering serving suggestions and substitute ingredients and contain lots of interesting nuggets of information Harriot picked up on his travels. But they add to the enjoyment of cooking from the book rather than making it a book you’d want to sit down and read, other than for the purposes of choosing a dish or writing a shopping list.  

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The book covers an awful lot of culinary ground but this is Ainsley ‘Mr Mainstream’ Harriot we’re talking about so, as you might expect, you’ll encounter very little difficulty getting hold of everything you need from your favourite supermarket including baharat spice blend and pul biber. Most keen cooks will find they already have many of the storecupboard ingredients to hand.

What’s the faff factor? It’s tempting to say the book is faff-free but some of the recipes do require a bit of work. For example, if you want to make cheese and walnut-stuffed aubergines, you’ll need to simmer the aubergines, cool, cut in half, scoop out the flesh, chop it up and mix with bread soaked in milk, grated cheese, chopped garlic, beaten egg, finely chopped walnuts, lemon zest, chilli flakes and herb de Provence, put the mixture in the dried and oiled aubergine skins then fry or bake and finally serve with basil, walnuts and cheese.  But it’s all very far from Michelin starred madness and nothing a keen cook would baulk at. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There is the odd ‘drizzle’ of oil and ‘handful’ of coriander or spinach leaves (I’d imagine Ainsley’s hands are about twice the size of mine)  but in the main, the recipes are detailed enough for a competent cook to follow.

How often will I cook from the book? You might well find yourself referring to Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook on a weekly basis. As well as the broad geographical scope which keeps things interesting, the book has recipes for everything from delicious lunchtime dishes like herby sesame falafels with hummus to the vegan-friendly Mediterranean stuffed peppers and beef tomatoes.

Killer recipes:  Rachida’s spiced roast cauliflower and chickpea curry; Mediterranean sea bass and potato bake; dukkah crumble fish pie; best-ever beef and red wine stew with olive and thyme dumplings; beef kofta rolls; harissa lemon chicken skewers with glazed aubergines and garlic-mint sauce; orange cardamom panna cotta with spiced mandarins and pistachio crumb.

What will I love? The sunny Mediterranean feel of the dishes and the location photography will lift your spirits and inspired you to cook on even the most miserable of rainy, grey-skyed British summer days.

What won’t I like so much? If you are like me and super sensitive to Jamie Oliver-style recipe titles that give the reader the hard sell, you might bristle at the likes of ‘best-ever beef and red wine stew with olive and thyme dumplings’ or ‘mighty pork and chargrilled pepper sandwich’. Thankfully they are few and far between and don’t spoil what is otherwise a very enjoyable book.

Should I buy it? If you’re looking for an undemanding introduction to the flavours of the Mediterranean that covers what may be some unfamiliar ground in a very accessible way you can’t go far wrong.

Cuisine: Mediterranean
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds by Ainsley Harriot
Lentil and haloumi bake by Ainsely Harriot
Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake by Ainsley Harriot