The Essential Mediterranean: Cookbook Review

The Essential Mediterranean: Cookbook Review

By Brenda Hyde

Author: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

448 Pages

Published by Harper Collins

Ordering Information-SAVE 40%

When I think of the Mediterranean, I envision sitting on a balcony, sipping iced tea, watching the ocean and eating food made with fresh herbs, tomatoes and garlic. In The Essential Mediterranean, Nancy Harmon Jenkins shows us how to recreate the rich recipes of this region with ease. You may not have a view of the ocean, but you can certainly dream of it while enjoying Sardinian Couscous with Vegetables. Every ingredient can be found in a well-stocked grocery store!

The author also shares the rich culinary history of the Mediterrean, and explains why not all salt is the same--and how it's used in many different cooking processes. I especially enjoyed the pasta recipes that take simple, fresh ingredients and make them into elegant dishes to serve at the family table or for special occasions. I also loved the recipe for Tunisian Aromatic Spice Mixture, an authentic and very old recipe that was given to the author by the Mahjoub sisters.

A chapter is devoted to The Family Pig, in which we learn why the ham and pork of this region is so unique and how it is a process steeped in family tradition. From the Pasture was also a favorite chapter of mine since I grew up on a dairy farm and remember the wonderful taste of fresh milk, cream and butter. The author introduces us to some wonderful dairy products of the region and of course shares recipes in which to use them.

The Essential Mediterranean is a book for those of us who dream of traveling to this wonderful region, as well as a wonderful way for those who have travelled there to recreate the dishes they remember. It's a cookbook that will bring simple, fresh and elegant dishes to your family table.

Chapter Excerpt and Recipes Used by permission.

Haouari's Lamb Couscous with Dried Fruits and Nuts

Couscous A L'Agneau Et Aux Fruits Secs

Makes 8 servings

Most North African cooks buy their couscous ready-made, just like buying commercial pasta, but my Tunisian friend and occasional traveling buddy Chef Abderrazak Haouari sometimes makes it from start -- just to keep in practice, he says. In the old days, he says, they always made the couscous in August, well after the harvest, when there was lots of sun for drying it rapidly. Then it was stored and used throughout the year.

For ease of preparation, make the basic lamb stew a day ahead and refrigerate it when done; the fat will rise to the top and can be easily removed before continuing with the cooking, making a tighter stew.

Use medium-grain couscous, which is what is generally available in health-food stores, gourmet shops, and supermarkets. Do not use the large-grain couscous variously called Middle Eastern or Israeli couscous or maghrabiye (mahgrah-BEE-yah).

To toast the nuts, spread them on a sheet pan or cookie sheet and set in a preheated 350°F. oven for about 10 minutes, or until they turn golden.


3 pounds lamb shoulder meat, cut into stewing-sized pieces

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


6 large carrots, cut into chunks

6 medium white turnips, peeled and cut into chunks

1 tablespoon harissa, plus more for serving (page 280)

4 ounces dried figs

4 ounces dried apricots

2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

1/4 cup shelled pistachios, toasted

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

2 to 3 tablespoons golden raisins or black currants

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 pound medium-grain couscous (about 2 1/2 cups)


Using your hands, combine the lamb in a bowl with salt and pepper to taste, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and the saffron. Toss to mix. Set aside, covered, to marinate for at least an hour.

When you are ready to prepare the lamb stew, combine the onions and garlic with the olive oil in the bottom part of a couscoussiére or a heavy stew pot. Set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not brown. Add the marinated meat and raise the heat slightly. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat has completely changed color, about 15 minutes. Add water to cover -- at least 6 cups -- and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and let simmer for at least 1 hour. The stew may be prepared ahead up to this point and refrigerated until you are ready to continue cooking. if you wish, remove the fat from the top of the stew before continuing.

When you are ready to continue cooking, return the meat stew to the bottom of the couscoussiére. Add another 1 1/2 cups of water and heat the stew to simmering. Mix in the carrots, turnips, and harissa. Cover the pan and let simmer gently while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Combine the figs and apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to soften.

Simmer the milk very slowly in a small pan until it has reduced by half.

Combine the chopped toasted almonds with the toasted pistachios and pine nuts. Set the raisins or currants in a separate small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to soften for about 10 minutes, then drain thoroughly and add to the nut mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of melted butter to the nut mixture, mix well, and set aside to keep warm.

Dissolve 1 teaspoon salt in 1 cup of warm water.

Spread the couscous out in a thin layer, about 1/4 inch thick, in a sheet pan. Sprinkle the couscous with a little of the salty water, raking your fingers through the grains in order to distribute the water evenly throughout. The grains of couscous will quickly absorb the water, but continue sprinkling, using all the salty water, and raking and rubbing gently so that no lumps form in the couscous. Then let the couscous rest for about 30 minutes while the grains swell slightly.

Transfer the prepared couscous to the top of the couscoussiére (or the colander). Set the top over the stew in the bottom, sealing the join well with a length of aluminum foil. (Traditionally, the join is sealed with a thick flour-and-water paste, but this is messy and time-consuming.) Do not cover the top of the couscoussiére, otherwise steam will condense inside the lid and drip back inside, making the couscous lumpy. When you see steam begin to rise through the grains, start to time the cooking.

Meanwhile, prepare another cup of warm salty water, using 1 teaspoon salt.

After 15 minutes of steaming, remove the top of the couscoussiére and tip the partially cooked couscous back onto the sheet pan. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, start to toss, rake, and stir the couscous with your fingers to make it more fluffy and airy, breaking up any lumps that may have formed. Sprinkle the salty water over the couscous as you do this, using the entire cup.

Return the couscous to the top of the couscoussiére and set once more over the boiling liquid, again sealing the join between top and bottom well. Let it steam for 10 minutes, then turn again into the tray and repeat the previous step, again sprinkling the couscous with 1 cup warm salty water and tossing and raking it.

Return the couscous to the top of the couscoussiére for the third and final steaming, which should last for 7 to 10 minutes. Turn the couscous out onto the sheet pan and add half the buttery nut mixture, tossing the grains with a fork to distribute the nuts throughout. Continue to toss the couscous, using a fork and your hands, while you mix in the reduced milk and then about a cup of the rich juices from the lamb stew. Use a very light touch as you mix in these additions, tossing the couscous gently. The point is to enrobe it with these savory ingredients and not to mash it to a paste.

When the couscous is ready, mound it on a platter. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter with the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and dribble it all over the couscous. Arrange the meat and vegetables around the couscous and garnish the top with the remaining nut mixture. Serve immediately.

Baked Swordfish Rolls with an Orange Sauce

Involtini Di Pesce Spada

Makes 6 servings

Thin slices of swordfish can be rolled around a stuffing similar to the one used for squid. Have your fishmonger slice the swordfish very thinly -- 1/4 inch or less. Otherwise, the rolls will be too bulky.


12 thin slices fresh swordfish

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 to 4 chard leaves, preferably white and green

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

1 1/2 cup finely minced yellow onion

1 1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons capers, preferably salted capers, well rinsed under running water and drained

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons golden sultanas or black currants, softened in warm water

4 salted anchovy fillets, cleaned and chopped (see page 411)

1 tablespoon Sicilian or Greek oregano (rigani) (optional)

1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest

Sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1/4 cup dry white wine

Pat dry the swordfish slices with paper towels and set aside. Use a little of the olive oil to grease an oval or rectangular baking dish that is large enough to hold all the swordfish rolls in one layer.

To make the stuffing, strip the chard leaves from the center stalks, which are too firm for this dish. (Reserve the stalks for another use.) Set the leaves in a colander over a pan of boiling water to steam until they are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and coarsely chop the chard.

Toast the bread crumbs by stirring in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until they have turned golden.

In 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sauté the onion, parsley, and garlic over medium-low heat until soft. Add the chopped chard and stir to mix well. Cook for about 5 minutes, or just long enough to beat the chard thoroughly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the capers, pine nuts, raisins, and anchovies. Add the oregano, if you wish, the bread crumbs, and the orange zest, mixing well. Taste and add salt.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the stuffing at one edge of a swordfish slice, leaving a good margin at each end, and roll the slice as tightly as you can, securing it with a toothpick. Set the slices, toothpick side down, in the prepared baking dish.

Combine the orange juice and white wine and heat to just below boiling. Pour over the swordfish rolls, then dribble the remaining oil over the top.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the fish rolls are cooked through and the tops are starting to brown.

Serve immediately, spooning the pan juices over each serving.

The foregoing is excerpted from The Essential Mediterranean by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

About the Author:

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer, wife and mom to three living in the Midwest. She is an avid herb gardener and cook.

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