Book Review – Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry
Imprint: Mitchell Beazley
Size: 260 x 194 x mm
Published: 6th February 2012
I am a huge fan of Diana Henry and I have several of her books; however, this was one book that I didn’t already have in my cookbook library, so when Octopus Publishing Group sent me a copy to review I was delighted. Diana Henry writes with such passion and authority, and never more so in Crazy Water Pickled Lemons. The book covers dishes and recipes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa and the whole cookbook is a veritable magic carpet of enchanting and magical dishes that titillate the taste-buds and are a feast of exotic colours and fragrant aromas. The Levant and the Maghreb are home to some of my favourite cuisines and these regions are covered extensively in this cookbook. Expect to see exciting and exotic ingredients such as saffron, pomegranates, quinces, dates, figs, rose petals, flower waters, lavender and cardamom to list just a few. The recipes are accompanied by lavish photos and excerpts of poetry ~ this is a truly magical book and offers some simple and achievable meals to create at home whilst retaining an element of mystery and uniqueness not often found in modern cookbooks.
The book is divided into twelve aromatic chapters; the chapters themselves are almost like tales from A Thousand and One Nights, so much so that one almost expects Scheherazade to come drifting by in a cloud of rose petals and sandalwood……..they comprise:
The Spice Trail – cardamom, chilli, cumin, ginger, coriander, pimenton and saffron
Fragrance if the Earth – lavender, rosemary, thyme and oregano
A Bowl of Fresh Herbs – parsley, coriander, dill, basil and mint
Sweet Cloves and Liquid Gold – garlic, olives and olive oil
The Sweet and the Sour – honey and vinegar
Of Sea and Salt – anchovies, bottarga and salt cod
Plundering the Stores – almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts and dried fruits
Fruits of Longing – figs, quinces, pomegranates and dates
Curds and Whey – yoghurt, feta and ricotta
Food from the Hearth – flatbreads
Pith and Skin – oranges and lemons
Heaven Scent – flowers and flower waters
There is also an interesting introduction by Diana Henry and a comprehensive index at the back of the book.
Each chapter has an extensive and informative introduction where the ingredients are discussed as well as some of the dishes that are featured in the ensuing chapter – an encyclopaedic essay of what’s to come. Diana’s writing is exciting and descriptive……the individual introductions for each chapter set you up for the recipes ahead and tempt you through her historical notes and observations; her words and descriptions are pure culinary poetry. The recipes dance and pirouette throughout the book – who can resist the idea of making and serving Chocolate, Hazelnut and Sherry Cake with Sherry-Raisin Cream, or maybe a dish of Cardamom-Baked Figs with Plums and Burnt Honey and Yoghurt Cream. Then there’s the savoury Aubergines with Mint as well as the delicious sounding Chermoula-Marinated Tuna with Pomegranate Couscous……or maybe you’d be tempted with Roast Duck with Honey, Lavender and Thyme……..my personal favourite is the Ladies’ Navels with Cardamom and Rose Syrup and Berries – which are little Turkish doughnuts, served with several exotic embellishments.
The recipes cover most meats such as lamb, beef and pork as well as poultry and numerous vegetarian dishes and flat breads; desserts, cakes and sweets are well represented and, in line with all of the recipes, they are studded and perfumed with herbs, spices and flowers……the range of dishes in the book is imaginative and extremely diverse……and yet, the ingredients are all easily available from most supermarkets, as well as small independent shops that specialise in Middle Eastern produce. There are ice creams, beverages, sauces and rubs…….I was very taken with the idea of Flower-scented Truffles, and I plan to make them this Valentines’ Day with some fresh violets from the garden.
The book lived up to my expectations and if I have any criticism at all, it is directed at the quality of the print; the book was published in China, and I didn’t think that the quality matched the high standard of writing and photography – I felt that the images were poorly reproduced and the finish of the cover was a little disappointing……I have a copy of Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul that was published in 2005 and the quality of print is far superior. That said, the hardback book is a very modest £15:99 from Octopus Publishing and an unbelievably low £10:23 from Amazon co uk. The book itself is an enchanting collection of aromatic and stunningly visual recipes which have all been well written and are exquisitely showcased……Diana Henry’s writing is lyrical and yet honest and authoritative; the book really does whisk you away on a magic carpet of exotic flavours, aromas and with more than just a hint of Eastern culinary promise and mystery; an exquisite cook book that offers recipes to suit all levels of cooks, from simple family meals that can be made in under an hour to more accomplished and intricate feasts.
Karen S Burns-Booth
Diana Henry is the food writer for the Sunday Telegraph and has twice been named Cookery Writer of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers in 2007 and 2009. She is the author of six books including the much acclaimed Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons which was shortlisted for a Glenfiddich Award for best cookbook. Her other titles include Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, The Gastropub Cookbook, Cook Simple and most recently Food from Plenty which has been shortlisted for Food book of the Year by the Andre Simon Awards (announced in June 2011). She is a contributor to many magazines including Red, House and Garden,Sainsbury’s Magazine and Waitrose Kitchen. She lives in London.