The table of contents of The Essential Mediterranean
is the first hint that author Nancy Harmon Jenkins is about to reveal to the reader a Mediterranean most never see or know. "Salt." That's the first chapter, followed by "Olives and Olive Oil," "Wheat," "Pasta and Couscous," "Wine," "The Oldest Legumes," "Peppers and Tomatoes," "The Family Pig," "The Sea," and "From the Pasture." This is a reader's book. Jenkins writes her way into the heart of the region, its history, its food, its people with a level of prose and insight rarely encountered in food writing. But she's also a wonderful cook. So these chapters are followed by two appendices that explain basic technique and food sources, because The Essential Mediterranean
is also a cook's book.
"Food," Jenkins writes, "is present in Mediterranean cultures in a way it's not in our own ... the way it's grown and harvested, the way it's prepared, what's in season and out...." The Essential Mediterranean brings that same sensibility, or at least its potential, into the North American kitchen and home. These are fabulous flavors, she reminds the reader, simple foods, with health benefits suited to life in a spa. And, they are easy to include in our daily fare. It's a matter of understanding the key ingredients, as though they are building blocks. "A recipe," Jenkins notes, "is a formula.... Cooking, on the other hand, is a strategy...." This is a book to read, and then to taste, with dozens of classic, delicious recipes. By the time you finish The Essential Mediterranean, you will not only be a better Mediterranean cook, you will know why. --Schuyler Ingle
From Publishers Weekly
Books on Mediterranean food are common, but this one is uncommonly good. Jenkins's writing experience stands her in good stead in this innovative exploration of this sunny region. Chapters are organized by major ingredient, and each opens with a thoughtful essay on the item that blends personal experience and well-researched information. The first chapter, on salt, explains the salinity of the Mediterranean and recounts a tour of a saltworks in Sicily with its owner, a gentleman over 80 years old who credits the magnesium in the salt for his good health. While almost every recipe in the world calls for salt, Jenkins does a good job featuring those in which salt or salt-preserved ingredients are key: Salt-Baked Fish and Moroccan Chicken with Black Olives and Salted Lemons. Another chapter on olives and olive oil features Turkish Green Beans and Olive Oil and a Tunisian Orange-Olive Oil Tea Cake that calls for pulverized whole oranges, skin and all. A chapter on wheat contains a recipe for Classic Mediterranean-Style Bread Made with a Sponge that cleverly transforms the dough into everything from focaccia to a North African bread with fennel and nigella seeds. Jenkins enables those of us not lucky enough to reside along the Mediterranean with the tools for an authentic re-creation; e.g., Focaccia di Recco from Liguria calls for a combination of taleggio, goats' milk cheese and sour cream to reproduce the flavor of a local cheese not available outside the area. She also plucks deserving dishes such as Green Tomato Jam Pie and Balkan Oven-Baked Meat and Vegetable Stew from obscurity, proving that no matter how many books have been written about the Mediterranean, a talented cook can still find more recipes to harvest.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.