The summer has arrived! Wait, no… where did the sun go? Along with the usual impatience to finally bring my summer shorts and gladiator sandals into rotation over the last few weeks I’ve had an extra reason to desperately scan the skies for evidence of summer: the arrival of a beautiful, upmarket cookbook, A La Grecque: our Greek table.
Like many Brits, I have holidayed in Greece and have fond memories of delicious meals, washed down with questionable local booze, in gorgeous tucked-away tavernas. And yet: if you had asked me, specifically, what Greek food really is and what makes it special, I would have struggled. Pam Talimanidis, an Australian who married a Greek man and runs a popular Greek restaurant in Australia, has written an affectionate tribute to Grecian dining in an effort to show us the answer.
A really important caveat: the author states very explicitly that this is not a purist Greek cookbook. Her mother-in-law, her key cooking tutor, originally hails from Turkey, and it shows in the recipes. The name ‘a la Grecque’ is defined by Talimanidis as the ethos of doing things in the Greek style, but not exclusively. For me, that wasn’t a problem, but if you’re looking for an exclusively Greek collection, this isn’t the book for you.The recipes are set out clearly and, judging from the happy responses at my table, can be successfully followed by even the most flappable of cooks. My major complaint was that the ingredient listings in some recipes and the glossary left me with unresolved questions – few UK foodies need to be told what dill is, for example, but what does Talimanidis mean by Greek basil (different from Italian basil? More like Thai basil? Altogether different? Help!). I presume that this is because both the author and publisher are Australian, but I did find myself doing extra internet research for some meals. I was also surprised not to find moussaka among the recipes, but in its place are less well-known but equally delicious dishes, so perhaps this is a good thing.
I chose to start with the idiot-proof recipes, like a simple-but-effective baked sardine dish served with feta-stuffed sweet peppers, and a few of the classic dips like the tzatziki. I found the baked nectarines with yoghurt and brown sugar quickly became a favourite dessert, and I was pleased with the slightly spicy braised aubergine dip. Some of Talimanidis’ ingredients are a little on the ambitious side: unless you’ve got a good local butcher I doubt you’ll find yearling or kid in your average food shop – but they can be easily substituted. I felt that there are dishes for all places on the cooking skill spectrum and they offer a welcome range of vegetarian-friendly options.A La Grecque is a loving description of a nation’s culinary ways and a worthy effort to present Greek food in an accessible yet sophisticated manner. By throwing off the constraints of a strict Greek-only policy she has embraced many of the regional culinary traditions that are often overlooked: in particular, Turkish regional delicacies. The presentation is excellent, with atmospheric landscape as well as food photography, and her personal anecdotes of Greek life are charming. It’s a great addition to a foodie’s shelves and ideal for the al fresco summer dining season. When it arrives…
A La Grecque: our Greek table by Pam Talimanidis is available to buy online here.