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.
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