Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Grains and Greens shares her adventures as a cultural explorer. Her discoveries show the probing of a culinary scholar and the passion of a true amateur. The result is a rich tapestry of information, images, and alluring recipes. Even if you don't cook, you will be entranced as this culinary Scheherazade spins her tales of a thousand-and-one discoveries and delights, which, in this case, are all real.
Typically, Wolfert introduces her recipe for Wheatberries, Lentils, and Rice with Fresh Herbs by regaling you with information about many other pulse-and-grain dishes from Spain to the Middle East that you have probably never heard of. She then enchants you with the story of how a Cretan chef shared this particular recipe, and explains that on Crete, there are three names for this type of soup: one is rooted in ancient times, one is linked to a local festival, and the third uses a play on words.
Few recipes in this, Wolfert's fifth cookbook on the Mediterranean region, are familiar. Her goal is to open our eyes to ingredients like green wheat, farro, mallow, and Tuscan kale. Some of the work records recipes for earthy, traditional dishes that are fast disappearing from the table as women in Mediterranean countries no longer have the time to make them, and as prosperity pulls people away from this "cooking of the poor." This book should also inspire wider demand for wild greens such as tart purslane, spinach-like lamb's quarters, grains like farro, and other unfamiliar Mediterranean ingredients. Wolfert also suggests substitutes, since many of the greens are interchangeable with chard, arugula, watercress, or spinach.
For simple dishes, try Escarole Stuffed with Capers, Golden Raisins, and Pine Nuts; Egyptian koshery, a blend of rice, lentils, pasta, and browned onions; and Winter Squash Pilaf with Bulgur. Bread bakers will be intrigued by recipes that use barley, semolina, and chickpeas. --Dana Jacobi
From Publishers Weekly
In this return to the well of Mediterranean cooking, Wolfert (Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean; Mediterranean Cooking) takes an agreeable, sensible approach. Rather than repeating early recipes, she directs readers to the books in which they appear, and instead of trying to adapt recipes for dishes that would be patently impossible to re-create here, she simply describes such delicacies as Cretan "Scarf" Pies, filled with an elaborate collection of wild greens, in appealing sidebars. Nevertheless, there are plenty of challenges and specialties, e.g., Honeycomb Tripe Stew with Celery, Parsley, and Sardo Cheese and Homemade Cretan Rustic Pasta with goat's milk and skinned wheat. Young Mustard Greens with Pomegranate Molasses is a simple dish?for readers who can get their hands on pomegranate molasses. Wolfert can always be counted on to deliver some real discoveries: The Monk's Pizza with Pan-Seared Cabbage, made with a yeastless dough; Black Sea-Style Chard Bundles Filled with Veal, Toasted Corn Kernels, and Fresh Mint; and Bran-Crusted Barbecued Whole Fish with Chard Stem Tahini Sauce. Wolfert's expertise lies in linking the various Mediterranean cuisines, as in the highly informative mini-essays on rough-hewn pastas such as fregula, couscous, miftool and mhamma, and on Spanish rice dishes that accompany recipes like Tunisian Fish Couscous with Pumpkin and Leafy Greens and Black Rice with Mussels and Shrimp.
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