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Lyrical, seductive writing about food; delicious dishes

Crazy WaterIn many ways, as a vegetarian, I should not be reading this book; not with practical intent. Many, perhaps most, of the recipes are not ones I am ever going to make, so cannot judge, too much, how practically tasty and workable Diana Henry’s recipes are.

Crazy Water ( a Italian recipe for sea-bass) and Pickled Lemons is Diane Henry’s journey around ‘enchanting dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa’ – regions which produce wonderful tastes, flavours, inventive combinations using seductive combinations of real food, whether it is the stuff I don’t eat, fish and animal flesh based, or the stuff I do – a rainbow of succulent sun bathed fruits, vegetables, spices, cheeses, yoghurts, mouth-watering ways with grains and pulses. This cuisine, though meat and fish are of course a central part of food celebrations, is very different from cuisines where meat is the star turn, and vegetables a kind of afterthought accompaniment. So there is a lot to delight a vegetarian, and all these countries have many vegetarian or vegan dishes which can be relished as stand-alone main dishes as well, as, for omnivores, accompaniment to the stuff I will avoid.

I must admit though, that it was Henry’s writing which lured me to the book, as much as the gorgeous recipes I will indulge in. This is as much a book for reading, evoking memories or imaginations of place through sensual writing, as it is a book for doing, in order to evoke the memories or imaginations of place through eating

How could writing like this be resisted :

Places, as well as tastes, are locked up in food. The clear perfumed stillness of a bottle of flower water, the sexy, velvety skin of a fig, the sunburnt blood colour of a jar of cayenne. Our love of foods has as much to do with what they represent as what they taste like

Tearing myself away with difficulty from Henry’s loving evocation of these gorgeous cuisines, I can do what Henry suggests

experience the otherness of places by cooking and eating..go on journeys with.my tastebuds and my mind … the magic of the exotic is there, right beside the everyday stuff, for you to bring into your kitchen

Her chapters are structured around ingredients: collections of warm spices; herbs we might cook with; herbs eaten raw; the classic marriages of the produce of the olive tree and garlic; the sweet sour combinations of honey and vinegar; store cupboard delights of seeds and nuts; sensual, sexy fruits; cheeses (especially from sheep and goats) and yoghurts; the breads of the region; those vibrant citruses; and, finally, ‘Heaven Scent’ – flowers and flower waters.


Photographs are gorgeous, instructions are clear, type face is easily readable. Unlike some more regrettable and trendy cookbooks I’ve come across recently where someone decided that rainbow coloured pages and distressed typefaces would be cool and edgy, Henry, despite the beauty of her descriptive writing, is most anxious that you get into the kitchen, and, well .. prepare stunning food. And then, of course, delightedly eat it. And some of the rather extraordinary dishes are also incredibly simple.

For example, a chocolate and rosemary sorbet, has just 4 ingredients :
2 sprigs rosemary, 7 oz (200 g) caster sugar, 21/4 oz (60 g) cocoa powder, 18fl.oz (500 ml) water.

Henry instructs : bruise the rosemary ‘bash it with the back of a wooden spoon’ and put it into a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Heat gently to help the cocoa and sugar to melt. Bring to boil, boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, leave to cool. Remove the rosemary and either churn in an ice cream machine, or still freeze – put it in the freezer, removing a few times to beat the freezing mixture. And…wow, eat. She suggests serving with double cream mixed with sweetened Greek yoghurt and raspberries.

The recipe, she says, serves 4 to 6. Hmm, not sure I believe that upper figure!

Those who rightly will want to know in more detail some of the other recipes, can look at the index on a look inside – selections of the region’s fish, lamb, chicken are all there and the vegetarian amongst us might be inclined to try some of these recipes with tofu, though there are plenty of the region’s pulse, grain and vegetable recipe delights to follow without the need for trial and error substitutions.


I was immediately tempted by the Persian starter dish of Sabzi Khordan – again, a simple recipe, packing a fine taste-buds punch, not to mention deliciously healthy – fresh herbs, mint, tarragon, coriander, basil, a big bunch of radishes with their leaves, feta broken into chunks, peeled red onion in wedges, flatbread (recipe to make your own, or use pitta breads) optional olive oils and wedges of lemon

Up to you whether the herbs are torn up like a salad, or left in individual bunches. Put everything attractively on a plate, and serve with the warmed flatbreads – a pick and mix kind of antipasti. This is eating, and cooking, to celebrate the pleasures of the table, and of company.

Though some of the making is fast, the eating deserves to be slow and joyous.

It is a million miles away from food constructed in a lab, to be slung in a microwave and gobbled down as some kind of punishment to be got through and endured

I received this as a copy for review purposes from Amazon Vine UK, where it is re-published in paperback format. Lucky denizens of these isles can get it easily. Alas, in the States it appears just as mainly used, marketplace, in prices rating from the affordable to the – probably not. Perhaps her publishers will bring you a reprint soon!Diana Henry

Crazy Water, Picked Lemons Amazon UK
Crazy Water, Picked Lemons Amazon UK

And especially for those in parts of the world where your only chance of trying the recipes depends on a second hand bookshop, and a copy with not too much evidence of well-thumbed and sauce-spattered usage, I discovered that Diana Henry has a blog, and on that blog are some recipes for your (and my) delectation and delight I took you STRAIGHT to the recipes pages

However……….I am cheekily claiming this for READING (Northern) IRELAND month – Diana Henry was born in Northern Ireland -, so despite cooking the world, she is an Irish cook. And as the month was a celebration of Ireland…………celebrations need food!

Now, I hope Cathy at 746 is not going to call me a cheeky spalpeen