This may seem an unusual post from me but I enjoy eating almost as much as I enjoy reading and would do a lot more of it were I not in fear of an exploding waistline. Travel comes a close third which makes Mina Holland’s culinary atlas an attractive prospect, all the more so thanks to the puff from Yotam Ottolenghi adorning the dust jacket. It’s a clever idea – five geographical areas (Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas) are broken down into countries, some further divided into regions, with an essay about the local cuisine, maps charting indigenous ingredients and a set of recipes.
Holland kicks off with a chatty introduction discussing influences on regional cooking, from invasion and immigration to climate and geographical conditions, encouraging her readers to take a relaxed attitude to recipes and use their creativity. There are regional larder lists and an appealing inventory of kitchen equipment which steers well clear of arcane, expensive accoutrements plus a handy list of stockists for more exotic ingredients. I’m not going to catalogue all thirty-nine cuisines – that would make for a very dull post – but just to give you an idea, you’ll be visiting France, Italy, Germany (yes, I know), Scandinavia, Turkey, Iran, India, Thailand, Ethiopia, Louisiana and Brazil. Holland (bit confusing, that) has something interesting to say about all of the areas I picked out to read, often drawing on her own travels and extensive reading. Her recipes looked clear and easy to follow if a little disappointingly predictable at times – Gazpacho for Andalucia and Guacamole for Mexico – with interesting, unfamiliar dishes from the more unusual destinations such as Iranian Chicken with Barberries, Yoghurt and Orange Peel and Brazilian Shrimp Stew. I’ve a feeling I’ll be dipping into the essays rather than using it as a cookery book, though.
I bet you’re all dying to know about those German dishes so here they are: Savoy Cabbage and Caraway Seeds, Braised Red Cabbage (H’s favourite), Sauerkraut and Beery Bratwurst with Sauerkraut. Danish Dream Cake sounds more up my street. Apologies to any German readers but you know you’d make fun of British recipes featured in a German cook book, and I’m more than happy to look at any traditional German recipes you’d like to send my way, particularly in the cake department. And speaking of cakes – I met a friend in Oxford yesterday where we had lunch at Bills. We both finished of with a Jaffa cake which may sound dull but this was a Jaffa cake like no other I’ve tasted – I urge you to get your hands on one as soon as you possibly can.