Customer Reviews: Against the Grain: 150 Good Carb Mediterranean Recipes
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on March 13, 2009
I have several hundred cookbooks and this one's a treasure. It consider it great just as a Mediterranean cookbook: it compares favorably to the works of Joyce Goldstein, Marcella Hazan, Phaidon's Silver Spoon, and other great cookbooks of that region.

But this book goes further than great recipes: it is low carb, grain-free, gluten-free, mostly dairy-free, and mostly paleo. It is by far the best low carb cookbook out there; I have them all. The emphasis is on fresh vegetables, fresh meat/poultry/fish, olive oil, and Mediterranean flavor ingredients like olives, capers, etc.

I've made more than a dozen of the recipes so far, and each has been great. Not just good, but exceptionally good.

I can only hope that the author will write a second volume (and third, and fourth ...).
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`Against the Grain' is the fifth book by leading culinary writer in English on Greek food, Diane Kochilas. And, it is written as a source book on Mediterranean recipes for low carb diets, primarily in response to the author's taking up first the Atkins and then the South Beach diet regimens which limit carbohydrate intake. The title of the book is a pun on the fact that grains, especially wheat, rice, and corn are such a big part of the Mediterranean diet.

This book raises the issue that while the Mediterranean cuisines are commonly thought to be so healthy, why is it that not only carbohydrates, but especially carbohydrates from processed white flour are such a bit part of classic Mediterranean cuisines in bread, pasta, couscous, and dumplings of various sorts. The author answers part of this question when she cites that until quite recently, white flour and its products were simply not available to people with average or low incomes except on special occasions. However, one of the most basic poor people's staples, chestnuts and chestnut flour are very high in carbohydrates with little collateral nutrition in the calories. Another part of the answer is that the `healthy Mediterranean diet' story arose from a demographic study of residents of Crete, which is a very small sample of the whole Mediterranean cuisine.

In opening this book, I feel it is actually more difficult for it to attain a high rating than a straight cookbook on Mediterranean food. This is because in addition to presenting good recipes, the book aims to present recipes that will help you loose weight. Bobby Flay's latest book, `Grilling for Life' takes a very similar tack, in that he is using a nominally healthy (low fat) food preparation technique and telling us what the (negative) nutritional analysis of each dish is. By negative, I mean the amounts of all the things we wish to avoid on one or another style of diet, that being calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and total carbohydrates, plus the good stuff, fiber and protein. Neither book deals at all with the principles behind the various diet regimens. This means that these books are probably not really going to help you unless you know the ropes of your diet of choice. Kochilas does spend a little time discussing the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats and how the latter (olive oil) is better than the former (animal and tropical fats), but neither book explains how the nutritional analyses were done and neither book has a nutritional expert as a co-author.

Kochilas nine chapters are:

Eggs for Breakfast, Brunch, and Dinner

Small Plates of the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Garden in a Bowl

Side Dish and Main Course Vegetables

The Mediterranean Soup Kitchen

Fruits of the Wine-Dark Sea

Chicken and a Few Duck Dishes

The Sacrificial Lamb

The Ubiquitous Pig and a Few Beef Dishes

The first two chapters really puzzled me, as the calorie, fat, and sodium counts on so many of these recipes seemed rather high. On the other hand, it was interesting to see some of the tricks to keep some basic carb flavors, such as potato, in some recipes without adding much potatoes (its done with potato peels). In the vegetable, soup, and fish chapters, it was not surprising to see all the bad stuff drop to reasonable levels. Even the chicken and lamb dishes were pretty reasonable, especially with calories. I guess Ms. K. wanted to end on a luxuriant note when her last recipe is the French Bistro classic, Steak au Poivre done with shell steaks and weighing in with 594 calories per serving.

In spite of the winnowing of carbs from grains and selected fruits, I confess that almost all the recipes look very, very tasty. As with all of Ms. K.'s books, I find this a fascinating read, even considering the dismal subject. There is plenty here to enrich your insight into Mediterranean cuisine. And, it is important to note that the book does cover the entire Mediterranean and even goes pretty far inland to get some all time favorite recipes.

Ultimately, I give this five stars because of the great culinary storytelling, the quality of the recipes without limiting oneself to one method of cooking, and the fact that the list price, $24.95 is far below the conventional $35 for a new celebrity cookbook.

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VINE VOICEon July 9, 2012
The author is a genuine foodie, writing for Saveur, the late lamented Gourmet and the New York Times. She runs the Glorious Greek Kitchen Cooking School on a Greek Island and has written several award-winning cookbookjs, including The Greek Vegetarian: More Than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece,Mediterranean Grilling: More Than 100 Recipes from Across the MediterraneanThe Glorious Foods of Greece: Traditional Recipes from the Islands, Cities, and Villages,Meze : Small Plates to Savor and Share from the Mediterranean Table and more.

This cookbook was written when the author was struggling with her weight and learned that a low carb approach worked. This is basically an informed selection of naturally low-carb recipes from the Mediterranean repertoire. Some of the recipes have been tweaked to be lower carb. She uses real food, no pre-fab shortcuts. She does not include any desserts - desserts are not her passion and she dose not use sugar substitutes. She recommends fresh fruit in moderation.

Recipes are not limited to Greek food. One of my favorites is the next to the last one in the book, "A Simple French Country Beef Stew" - a classic Provencal Daube which captures the essence of that recipe with appealing simplicity. (The recipe is also excellent when substituting pork shoulder for beef). I wish there were more recipes for beef and pork but the ones included are great. And there are plenty of seafood, egg, chicken, lamb and vegetarian recipes.

An inspiring book. I follow a primal diet and these recipes are all good choices. Some of the recipes are quick, some take hours, but all are basically simple. They do assume that you know how to cook - this is not a primer.

Recommended for all who love Mediterranean food. Recommended for all who love real food.
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on February 24, 2006
I have lots of cookbooks, and this one has unique recipes and good extra information. The outside cover is colorful and nice quality, implying the same inside. The inside pages are, however, thin (like newspaper) and have no color and no photos. I appreciate glossy cookbook pages because you can clean off grease and spills. This one is hard to keep clean in the kitchen and is less inspiring without photos or color.
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on March 16, 2013
I have been on a quest to healthier way of eating a friend recommended this book.  I picked it up and I am actually really enjoying the recipes.  I found them very tasty. I love the use of fresh vegetables and extra virgin olive oil.  I was not use to using garlic and now it is a main staple in my pantry.  I love the recipes I do have to eliminate the meat from some of the recipes, but I really do love the book.  I heard the Mediterranean Diet is the way to go and I am very happy I picked up this cook book.  I really recommend that you add Against the Grain to your kitchen counter.  
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on May 30, 2008
Book came very quickly and was in perfect conditon for a fraction of the new price which I could not afford, Thank you so much, I love the book and it's most helpful for those who are needing to do little grains in their diets and want delicious meals. This is Meera's review not Alex's.
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on December 16, 2014
I was stuck in a stir-fry rut. Even the cat was looking at me like, You've lost your kitchen magic, so off to the library I went to browse the cookbooks. I started making recipes from this one--satisfying, flavorful, vegetable-rich dishes like warm broccoli salad; lemony one-pot chicken; and a crustless quiche studded with broccoli and rich cheeses...It was the shrimp with chardonnay, fennel and feta sauce that finally made me buy this book for myself, and the fish topped with a bright and briny salsa made from olives and oranges that prompted me to add ALL of Kochilas' cookbooks to my Amazon wish list and daydream about a culinary tour of Morocco, the country that inspired the olive-orange combination. It's true what the other reviewers said--the ingredients can get pricey, and this cookbook has no photos. But you know what? The cat is not judging me anymore.
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on March 11, 2014
As a pre-diabetic I got interested in Low-carb diets and along came the astounding and maybe exaggerated health benefits for the Mediterranean diet. So I searched for a cheap recipe book and found this old library copy for a few bucks. Nice book with only recipes. No photo spreads. Alas, ingredients for these pretty authentic Greek and Turkish dishes are not always easy to get. So this recipe book sits on the shelf unused. You can get just about any recipe online nowdays, but I still collect recipe books that sit unused like this one. I should be more circumspect. At age 75, I could spend the rest of my life trying to make all of these unused recipes. Good luck on your low-carb recipes if that is what you were looking for. This one has some interesting dishes to try. Maybe I will get to doing that in another life. I swear never to buy another recipe book again.
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on September 23, 2011
The reason I only gave this book 4 stars is too many unusual ingredients for my taste....also often expensive. However, so saying, my rule of thumb on a "good" cookbook is that I find at least 3 good recipes and that is certainly the case here. Enjoy!
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on January 29, 2014
Another cookbook from my favorite Greek cookbook author. The recipes are authentic and health conscious. I loved the recipes I have tried so far.
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