Last Updated on November 19, 2021
Claudia Roden revisits the Mediterranean
Claudia Roden’s newly published cookbook, Med (Ebury Press), is a collection of some of her favourite recipes. Roden is not simply a food writer, she is a cultural anthropologist whose books are intricately researched culinary histories of the Levant, Spain, Italy, Jewish cuisine and more. Her international influence is enormous and she is acknowledged by none other than Yotam Ottolenghi for having introduced British readers to Middle Eastern cuisine, coincidentally in the year he was born, with her book on Middle Eastern cooking published in 1968. Decades on and many books later, Roden revisits some of her favourite recipes and treats us to a collection of new ones, the dishes she feeds to her friends and family. It is a table one wishes to join and now readers can do just that, albeit in their own kitchens.
In her introduction, Roden recalls a time 35 years ago when her three children all left home at the same time. She decided to go on her own adventure and set off to the Mediterranean without any particular plan. Having grown up in Cairo and later studied and lived in Paris, she wanted to recapture memories and experiences of a culture and cuisine in which she has always been steeped and which have influenced her writing and style of cooking. Travelling alone as a woman was not common in the 1980s and researching food gave her not only a focus for her trip but also a way of connecting to people and gaining entrée to both restaurant and domestic kitchens. The Mediterranean has remained the focus of her writing over the past decades, and in Med she celebrates the diversity of the food cultures across this fascinating region.
Each recipe in the book is introduced by Roden whose memories of where and with whom she ate particular dishes, as well as a sprinkling of history, made me feel as if I was on a tour of the region with her at my side. Roden is such a personal writer, sharing her stories and her recollections of her childhood and bringing the reader up to date with marvellous family photographs of her children and grandchildren eating in her garden.
Med has an extensive collection of 120 recipes from appetisers – mezze being an essential component of a Mediterranean meal – to desserts via salads, soups, grains, veg, fish and seafood, meat and poultry. I have many favourite Roden recipes which I have been cooking for years, some of which have an annual outing such as her much-copied almond orange cake, and I am delighted to have found some new recipes in Med which are sure to join the other family favourites.
I began with an irresistible recipe for green olive, walnut and pomegranate salad. This was as easy to put together as it was enticing to eat. Combining olives, nuts and pomegranate seeds with a simple dressing of pomegranate molasses, chilli flakes, lemon juice and olive oil, Roden creates a perfect balance of salty, sweet, and sour flavours with a marvellous balance of textures. The salad is also beautiful to look at with its palette of colours. Roden suggests using good quality green olives and I would bring out the best you have for this dish where the quality of every ingredient counts. In previous books, Roden has written about using the freshest walnuts you can as they tend to get bitter with age. So buy a fresh bag of nuts if you can rather than using the remnants from the back of the cupboard from a cake baked six months ago.
From the chapter on grains, I made creamy polenta with mushrooms. Once again, this recipe was easy and quick to prepare. Roden is well aware that her readers may be short on time to spend in the kitchen. Polenta is a grain with which I rarely cook yet, each time I do, I resolve to do so more often. In this recipe a pot of polenta is accompanied by a heap of mushrooms – I used portobello, shitake, oyster and chestnut along with rehydrated porcini – which are simply sauteed in oil and garlic and finished with chopped parsley. I used the leftover mushrooms the following day in an omelette. Simply delicious.
A memorable meal was enjoyed when I cooked Roden’s chicken wrap inspired by the flavours of Palestinian musakhan. This long recipe title describes exactly what it is – musakhan being one of the national dishes of Palestine, a beautifully spiced chicken dish that is served with flatbreads. Roden, in characteristically chatty style, introduces the recipe with a story about how her three granddaughters visited her one evening and she whipped up this dish for them which they ate in tortilla wraps while sitting in her garden.
The multi-layered fragrance of this dish is hard to describe but just imagine the combination of lemony sumac, ground cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom which suffuse a pan of caramelised onions on top of which are cooked boneless chicken thighs. Serve with toasted pine nuts and flatbreads and you have a simple meal that is a flavour bomb. I recommend that you try the recipe for yourself. Then treat yourself to a copy of Med for Christmas and bring a taste of the Mediterranean to your kitchen this winter.
A simple salad with multiple layers of Mediterranean flavour
- 100 grams pitted green olives use good quality olives
- 50 grams walnuts
- 3 spring onions chopped
- 25 grams flat leaf parsley leaves picked and chopped
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- salt to taste
- chilli flakes to taste
- 3 tbsp pomegranate seeds
Coarsely chop the olives and the walnuts. Arrange on a serving platter and mix in the chopped spring onions and parsley.
Mix the olive oil, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses together in a bowl and add a little bit of salt (remember olives are salty) and a pinch of chilli flakes to your taste.
Dress the salad and finish by sprinkling over the pomegranate seeds.
Looking for more Mediterranean dishes? We loved Ottolenghi Test Kitchen Shelf Love