30 April 2014

Review: Mediterranean Cookbook


When DK contacted me about reviewing a book from their Mother's Day boutique, my first instinct was to say no. Ever since my mom died, Mother's Day hasn't exactly been a happy time for me. But I decided to take a look at the books anyway. I was happy to see a good selection on offer, and when I saw the Mediterranean Cookbook it immediately reminded me of my mom, an amazing Greek cook. So in honour of her I thought I'd go ahead and review the book, after all, and test a few of the Greek recipes while I was at it.

Before I get to that, let me first say that the book has a satisfying heft to it. It's well designed, has plenty of lovely photos, and tons of tempting recipes from all over the Mediterranean region (albeit a tad heavy on Italy). I liked that it also includes special sections on the cuisines and foods of the different areas; the Greek one brought up pleasant memories for me (the others were just fun to read about).

The first recipe I tried was Revithosoupa, a chickpea-potato soup with rosemary and lemon that's apparently a specialty from Corfu. I actually had never had this soup before (maybe because my family hails from Sparta), which is unfortunate because it's really good. It's delicious (fresh and bright), filling (but not heavy), healthy, and easy to make. One bowl was a great light meal, but it would also be good as a side. It's also vegan (I suspect it originated as a dish for Lent). This is something I'll be making again.

Next I made the Saganaki, a classic you probably know from your neighbourhood Greek restaurant. This version does not get flambeed, but as my cousins like to point out, that's just for the tourists. It might not be authentic but it is fun, so if you decide to flambe the dish anyway (shouting "Opa" is optional), remember to do so with caution. Try explaining to the insurance company that your house burned down because your flaming cheese got out of hand. In any case, this was another easy recipe, taking all of ten minutes from start to finish. Maybe not as healthy as the soup but just as delicious: crispy and salty with a tang of lemon. Even my cheese-hating SO approved, stating, "That's a very inoffensive cheese" and likening it to a lemony grilled cheese sandwich (minus the bread). High praise indeed. For your eating pleasure I've included the recipe below.

Lastly I made Keftedes Tiganites, which translates as Fried Meatballs. My mom made these all the time (often serving them with rice and a red sauce), so I'm quite familiar with them. At some point over the years my mom switched from frying the meatballs to baking them, so I did the same with this recipe. They're good either way, but I prefer to skip the extra fat. The recipe in Mediterranean Cookbook differs from the one I'm used to, and--no surprise--mom's wins. Although the book's version is easy to make (this seems to be a common theme), the SO and I both agree that the meatballs were only okay. Of course, we're prejudiced. If you get the book, give them a try for yourself and see what you think.

While I stuck to testing Greek recipes in honour of my mom, she was always happy to try new things. The Mediterranean Cookbook offers all kinds of tasty possibilities, including:

Middle East/Turkey/Lebanon/Israel: Marinated Olives, Mujaddara (rice, lentils & crispy onions), Kibbeh Samiyeh (spiced meat dumplings)

North Africa/Morocco/Egypt/Tunisia: Beid Hamine (spiced eggs), Tagine bin Hout, Bstilla bil Djaj (savoury tart)

France/Provence/Languedoc: Sardines Farcies aux Epinards (stuffed sardines), Tomates Confites, Daube (beef stew)

Portugal: Pasteis de Bacalhau (cod fritters), Rojoes de Porco (potatoes and pork), Acorda de Mariscos (bread and seafood stew)

Spain/Andalusia: Arroz a la Cubana, Atun (tuna) Escabeche, Churros

Italy/Sicily/Tuscany/Sardinia: Acquacotta di Funghi (wine & mushroom soup), Ravioli alla Fiorentina, Risotto Primavera, Pizza Napolitana, Cannoli

Balkans & Pyrenees: Tarator (garlic-walnut soup), Omelet Basquaise, Piperade Sauce

My big complaint with this book? The Moussaka recipe. Now, since moussaka (a layered dish of meat and vegetables with a creamy topping) is my absolute favourite food, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not forgiving of versions other than my mom's. I will tolerate reasonable facsimiles; however, the recipe in this book is absolute sacrilege. The filling seems passable, but the topping is the real problem: under no circumstances does Greek yogurt or feta cheese belong in moussaka. Ever. Moussaka has to be topped with Bechamel. Perhaps the author wanted to make a lighter version of the dish--that's still no excuse. If I had access to my mom's recipe right now I'd share it because it really is the best moussaka of all time (perhaps I'll do a future post on it). In the meantime, I suggest that anyone wanting to make Moussaka using the Mediterranean Cookbook use the topping from the Pastitsio Makaronia recipe instead of the one given for the moussaka (it's at least in the ballpark of what the topping should be).

Other than the moussaka issue, I think this is a great book. I can see myself using it over and over, and many of the recipes becoming favourites. I think my mom would have liked it too, and that is the best seal of approval I can think of.


2 x 8 oz (250 g) packages halloumi cheese [I found it in the deli section of my local supermarket]
flour, for dusting
1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 handfuls of thyme or oregano leaves [I used dried because that's what I had]
juice of 2 lemons [I found 1 lemon to be plenty]
1 lemon, cut into wedges to serve [optional]

Rinse the halloumi cheese before using to rid it of excess salt; dry well on paper towels. Cut the halloumi into 1/2" (1 cm) thick slices and lightly dust with flour [I dipped mine into the flour and shook off the excess.]

Heat the 1/2 cup oil in a non-stick frying pan over high heat and cook the cheese for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Remove from the pan and sprinkle with the thyme/oregano and lemon juice. Serve immediately with a little oil drizzled over the cheese and with lemon wedges on the side [I skipped the extra oil and lemon wedges and didn't miss them, but the book's way is more traditional.]

The book suggests serving with crusty bread and a spinach and red onion salad. I think it would also be great served alongside tomato wedges and cucumber slices (lightly salted, sprinkled with oregano, and drizzled with olive oil).

Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer.

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Mediterranean Cookbook, edited by Marie-Pierre Moine. Published by DK.

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