Mediterranean food has long appealed to me for several reasons; as a light eater, I prefer the mezze / tapas tradition of grazing from several small dishes versus a large sit-down meal, the emphasis on fresh seasonal produce with simple, uncomplicated flavors to allow the fruits and veggies to shine through, and the fact that so many wonderful dips, spreads, salads, and main dishes are vegetarian-friendly.
DK’s “Mediterranean Cookbook” provides readers with the tools to master more than 300 authentic recipes from the Greek Islands, Spain, Provence, northern Africa, and the Middle East. Recipes are structured by type of food, rather than country of origin, and feature spreads showcase the iconic foods of key regions such as Provence and Tuscany. In typical DK fashion (I own several of their Eyewitness travel guides for Spain, Italy, and Japan), lush photography assists readers in their journey to prepare meals with confidence. Marie-Pierre Moine provides recipes from France and Turkey, While Elisabeth Luard and Ghillie Basan contribute delicious recipes from the western Mediterranean and the Middle East. (I own several of Ms. Basan’s other titles on Middle Eastern and North African cooking, including Vegetarian Tagines & Cous Cous: 65 Delicious Recipes for Moroccan One Pot Cooking, so was happy to see her name as a contributor here).
Beginning appropriately enough with mezze, tapas and antipasti, you’ll find a wealth of new and familiar favorites like tapenade, canapés a la brousse et aux figues (goat cheese, lavender honey, and figs on a toasted baguette), pasteis de bacalhau, hummus and baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves, and Moroccan fish cakes.
As eggs are one of my favorite foods, I really appreciated the eggs chapter, which features such gems as ouefs mimosa a la nicoise (hard-boiled eggs stuffed with black olive tapenade, aioli, lemon zest and topped with anchovy fillets), beid bi tom, uovo alla sarda (eggs in the style of stuffed sardines), shakshouka, piperade, tortilla de primavera and tortilla de habas from Spain, Turkish cilbir, and the pastry-based dishes avga tiropita and brik with eggs.
The seafood chapter deserves a special mention for its wonderful whole fish preparations, tajines, bacalao, kebobs and of course that iconic Spanish dish paella, here with handy step-by-step photos. Spanish fabada, cocideo madrileno, and cassoulet are just the ticket for cold winter days. There are some real showstoppers like pato amb peras (duck with glazed pears) for fancier dinner parties. Pizzas, spanakopita, lahma bi ajeen, and bstilla make wonderful portable snacks or delightful nibbles on the patio or terrace.
I tried the hortapitta recipe, and found I could have done with a few more instructions; the spanakopita recipe specified the size of the phyllo sheets, while the hortapitta recipe simply said “10 oz. package of phyllo dough.” Also, the spanakopita recipe called for a 9 x 12 pan, while the hortapitta recipe simply said “brush a baking sheet with a little melted butter and layer in two-thirds of the phyllo sheets.” I found this a little too vague and wasn’t sure about the size of the pan (this is only supposed to serve four), so I had to cut down the phyllo sheets to fit. Another step I found odd between the two recipes was the spanakopita called for preparing the filling first, then assembling, while the hortapitta recipe has you begin to layer the phyllo in the pan then prepare the filling, which takes a good 10-15 minutes, allowing the phyllo to dry out. I decided to assemble mine right before baking instead. I loved the flavor of the filling, but had miscalculated the amount of phyllo (it would be helpful if it listed the phyllo sheet size / number of sheets / suggested baking pan size). Other recipes had clearer instructions; I loved the sigari boregi, panzerotti, and empanadillas de atun.
I also loved some of the unique salads and vegetable preparations such as the Sicilian orange salad, patlican salatasi, and mahshi felfel. The tomatoes deserve special mention, especially the tomates a la provencale and tomates confites. As I am primarily a baker, the fatayer bi zahtar, khubz bil hummus, fougasse aux olives, crostini napolitana were wonderful and easy enough to be in frequent rotation.
To end your Mediterranean meal or tapas party on a sweet note are a variety of fruit-based desserts, including amaretti-stuffed peaches, Moroccan orange salad, membrillo, and pears poached in Marsala. You’ll also find Middle Eastern puddings, flan, cheesecake, a showstopping cassata gelato from Sicily, and an intriguing pine nut – candied fruit tart from Provence. The Galician favorite pastel de Santiago makes an appearance, as do Tuscan chestnut flour cake, Sicilian cannoli, and the gorgeous (and delicious) Moroccan m’hanncha and Greek baklava.
From the book’s attractive “tiled” cover featuring typical Mediterranean fruits and veggies to the gorgeous photography of ingredients and feature spreads on spotlight cuisine (Tuscany, Greece, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain, Sicily, Provence, Turkey), you are sure to find many dishes to fall in love with whether this is your first Mediterranean cookbook or you are a seasoned pro. The many helpful photos and sidebars on Mediterranean ingredients and step-by-step photos for some of the more complicated dishes make this a great choice for new cooks, although you may need to refer back to similar recipes for more guidance as previously mentioned.
DK’s “Mediterranean Cookbook” is quickly becoming my go-to for Mediterranean dishes from appetizers to dessert without having to reach for individual cookbooks focusing on specific countries or ingredients; you’ll find enough variety to keep you happily experimenting for months to come!
(Thank you to DK for the review copy!)