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 ...).
`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.
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.
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.
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.