Nightingales and Roses

When I was 10 years old, we moved to Teheran. My dad is a civil engineer, and he was working for Sir Alexander Gibbs, specialising in dams and irrigation. The Shah of Iran was investing in infrastructure, building the Lar dam in the Alborz mountains, to the north of Teheran. 

We lived in north Teheran, in a dilapidated house that belonged to a dentist. It had a walnut grove, cherry trees, red and white mulberry trees, and a pomegranate tree. It was lovely. Our family employed Zara, a woman from Tabriz in the north west of Iran, to help out. She cooked us traditional Persian food. 

Particular favourites included Lubiya Polo, barbary nan, thick white yoghurt sold in blue-glazed earthenware bowls, nougat, salted pistachios, chicken stuffed with walnuts and plums. Zara showed us how to wash long-grain rice and cook it so it formed a delicious buttery crust at the bottom of the pan. I’ve longed to try these dishes again, and I’d love to revisit Iran to eat these dishes as an adult. 

It is only in the last few years that I have been able to find recipe books for Persian delicacies. Nightingales and Roses has to be the best. It is written by Maryam Sinaiee, who was born in Teheran, and only moved to the UK in 2011. She writes a food blog, and keeps alive the very strong tradition of Persian cookery. The book takes care to explain the balance of ingredients, how meals are structured and how the seasons bring their own flavours. The recipes are easy to follow, and any new techniques are well explained. 

An excellent book. 

 

The QUICK After-Work Vegetarian Cookbook

My copy of the Quick After-Work Vegetarian Cookbook is so old the binding is going, and the pages are getting a little yellow. To my shame, I only ever made two recipes in it; Mexican rice, and cheesy polenta. I have recently tried some of the other recipes and they have been excellent. The ingredients are generally easy to source locally, and the cooking techniques are easy too. There are over 120 recipes to choose from, including such classics as Fettucine with carrot carbonara, and Balaton Hotpot

I hadn’t realised, until I searched online, that this is one of a series of books, including an Indian version, one for summer ingredients and another for the winter. I am tempted but my recipe book collection is rather large. Although the recipes aren’t glamorous, they are tasty and filling; I would say that this would be an ideal first recipe book for any vegetarians, as they head off for pastures new. 

Dear Francesca

I bought this book, ‘Dear Francesca‘  for myself for Christmas, along with a bag of cooking essentials from Valvona and Crolla, an Italian shop in Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Valvona and Crolla has been an institution in Edinburgh since 1934, and when I was a student there in the 1980s, no picnic was acceptably provisioned until we bought something there. The shop is fabulous, long and with high ceilings, hung with hams and with shelves loaded with carefully chosen produce. 

I was delighted when they opened a small cafe at the back, and delighted again when they started selling their stock online. I’m now delighted a third time with this book. 

Written by Mary Contini, from one of the many Scottish Italian families in Edinburgh, this book tells the stories of the families that came from impoverished areas of rural Italy, from the countryside near Rome. They bought with them a direct knowledge of the ingredients they had produced from the land, and the recipes that can be made from them. They changed the food culture in Scotland. 

There are ice-cream parlours, fish and chip shops, delicatessens and restaurants, linked together from that period. A special treat when we went to visit my grandparents, was to call at Luca’s ice-cream shop in Musselburgh. All round Scotland, Italian families brought their values – use fresh local ingredients, waste nothing, honour tradition and quality, cook with style. 

The book is not a classical recipe book, more of a history and demonstration of regional food. Mary Contini successfully weaves together the family stories, the history of Italians in Edinburgh, the food and the recipes. Many of the ingredients called for in the book are in the Valvona and Crolla store cupboard hamper. 

I’ve tried out several recipes from the book, divine, simple and authentic. Her descriptive language for cooking techniques has taught me more than most. A good gift to myself and a good gift to others. 

 

Moro, the cookbook

I was excited when this book was published, a collection of recipes from Spain, North Africa and the Levant. The ingredients are simple, and the recipes are easy to follow. The flavours are outstanding. 

The story behind Moro, the recipe book is a tale of two people both called Sam, a husband and wife team who own Moro restaurant in London. They were already in love and inspired by Moorish influences on the food of Spain and the Mediterranean, so when they married, they took a camper-van and went on a food adventure, researching techniques, flavours, and the culture that brings the food to the table. 

In 1997, they opened their first restaurant in London, and in 2010 they opened their first tapas bar, Morito. They also have a news page on their website that occasionally showcases other recipes. There are other recipe books as well, since this first one: Casa Moro, Moro East and Morito. 

I was so excited to visit, can’t remember the year, but I can remember that I had their outstanding Seville Orange Tart. There are several of their recipes on this site from the first book, but you’ll just have to get your own copy. 

Jamie Oliver – The Naked Chef

This is the first recipe book that Jamie Oliver released, the cover has him looking fresh-faced and fashionable. I hadn’t seen the television programmes, but he was everywhere, it was hard not to be aware of the impression he was making at the time. The naked recipes aimed to strip food back to the basics of technique, good ingredients, and a twist of modernity. 

Unfortunately, he rather put my back up. I can’t work out exactly why. You don’t have to be young and trendy to cook, just like you don’t have to be a man or a woman, old or young. Anyway, I got over that little hurdle and tried out the recipes. The next hurdle is that most of the delicious fresh ingredients that he specifies are not available in the co-op, or have to be transported for miles and miles, so they are not as fresh or as fancy. 

The saving grace is, however, that if you do find a recipe in the book for which you can assemble the ingredients, the food is really delicious, and the directions are easy to follow. I haven’t got rid of the book, and I’m using it a little more. 

If you want to see what the hype was all about, and why I still have the book, it is available second-hand if you google, or available new here:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-naked-chef/jamie-oliver/9780141042954 

 

Italian Food, by Elizabeth David

Elizabeth David started writing about food in the 1950’s, inspired to learn about and describe the food she tasted first as a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, and then when she lived in countries around the Mediterranean. Her books are not like most recipe books. The food is described in context, aimed at an audience for whom this was exotic and new. The recipes recall the regions where they come from, the fresh ingredients at the heart of the cuisine, and the places she first tasted them.

The recipes sometimes lack exactitude,  but they also offer the options for easing the recipe to account for the ingredients to hand. They teach you to cook and to taste, and to learn about food. There are few illustrations, mostly sketches of implements, and the recipes are very many. This is a book that remains influential in the development of post-war cookery in the United Kingdom, such is its ability to explain and inspire. 

I have many recipe books, but if I am stuck for something new, if I have an ingredient I want to test, I will often pull this book off the shelf, and find myself leafing through the pages. I commend it to you. 

It is available from many online book sellers. I like the review on the Waterstone’s website (click to link to the book page)

Ottolenghi – SIMPLE

I’ve been cooking from SIMPLE all week, and the food that I have produced has been astonishingly delicious. The recipes are generally quite easy, and the ingredients are usually available locally. Many of the ingredients I have grown myself, and I am totally in love with this book. 

Another plus: lots of recipes. The book is not stingy. The recipes themselves seem to be easy to adapt to what is available as well. Where fresh dill has not been available, dried dill has worked. I have swapped the cheeses in some of the recipes, and used lemon as well as lime in others. 

If I could only have one recipe book, this would be the one. 

 

Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Pasta

Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Pasta is another recipe book that has stood the test of time on my bookshelf; I bought it in 1997. I have already got some of Rose Elliot’s other recipe books, but this one lifted vegetarian cookery to another plane, into something fresh and colourful. Several of my other recipe books at the time were a bit worthy. The book is illustrated with wonderful photographs, as well as plenty of practical and tasty recipes.

The recipes are divided into types of pasta recipe, starting with soup, moving onto salads, simple dishes, and then the classic sauces and baked pasta dishes. Most of the ingredients are readily available locally, and the methods of cooking are easy to follow.

One difficulty that I have is that the index could be better. If I have, for example, leeks and carrots, I would like to be able to find recipes that use these ingredients. The index only lists dishes by recipe title or type of pasta. But that is a minor grumble.

I recommend this book to you all.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking

In 1983, I was living in Edinburgh. My boyfriend at the time announced that he wanted to be a vegetarian, and after a short discussion, we renounced meat. I can no longer recall his reasons, but for myself, my concerns were around animal welfare and factory farming, especially for pigs and chickens. I also was aware of the environmental impact of feeding livestock as opposed to using land to grow plant-based food.

One of the first recipe books we acquired was Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking. I think we didn’t get much past the first chapter, there were so many delicious recipes. The book includes recipes from Syria all the way through to Japan. There are chapters on Vegetables, Pulses, Rice, and Eggs, for example. The chapter on condiments, dips, chutneys and relishes is wonderful; Madhur Jaffrey explains that this allows each diner to ring the changes with combinations of different flavours.

I find that I don’t cook some of the more complex dishes. Although I love the illustrated guide to making tofu, I have never tried this myself. I’ve also struggled to find some of the ingredients listed, especially for some of the Korean, Japanese and Chinese dishes.

To compensate, this is a book full of wonderful recipes, properly indexed. The book isn’t full of glossy pictures, but there are 500 pages of advice, descriptions of ingredients and flavours, techniques and culinary tips. The food I have produced from these pages has been outstanding.

Maw Broon’s Cookbook

Here’s another go-to book. I was given Maw Broon’s Cookbook one Christmas, and I resisted it. It looks like an old book, whimsically recreating the basic meals of the 1950s, complete with hard-to read hand-written notes, and styled-in splashes and old sellotape. The biggest Christmas gimmick, I thought.

But the recipes are really good. They cover all sorts of basic recipes for clapshot, Eve’s pudding, jams and chutneys, roasts and stews, dumpling and the rest.  If I want to recreate a dish my grandmother used to cook, this is where I will look. The added benefit is that none of the ingredients are that hard to get locally, and there are some dishes in the book that are quite old-fashioned. The opposite of Jamie Oliver, no modern twists, or ingredients that you can only get mail-order.

The success of this book has spawned a whole series, none of which I have tried. On the basis of this one, though, I would be happy to give them a go.