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Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean [Paperback]

Ana Sortun
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: ReganBooks; Reprint edition (30 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061147834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061147838
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,788,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A delightful book. I purchased Spice, along with several other cookery classics, for a friend's birthday; she loves exotic flavours. Of all the books purchased, it was Ana Sortun's that I wrapped with reluctance. Have promised myself that I will buy a copy for myself. Whereas similar books tend to become a compendium, Spice is fairly short, but full of really usable information.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully Different Restaurant Book. Buy It Now. 12 Aug 2006
By B. Marold - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
`Spice, Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean' by New England chef, Ana Sortum is, behind its façade of being a text on spices and herbs, is really a restaurant cookbook, but done in such an imaginative way that one immediately forgives this little subterfuge. All the recipes are from Ms. Sortum's current restaurant, Oleana or from her previous postings, before starting out on her own and almost immediately winning the James Beard award for best chef in the Northeast.

One thing which immediately impresses me about Ms. Sortum, even before reading any recipes, is that she gives ample acknowledgments to four of the leading writers on Mediterranean cuisine, Paula Wolfert, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Clifford Wright, and Claudia Roden. She has amply repaid all her gratitude to these sages by giving us a book whereby the casual foodie can really appreciate important tastes of the Eastern Mediterranean without wading through, for example, Clifford Wright's monumental study of Mediterranean cuisine.

A second thing which impresses me early in my reading is that the author, assisted by ghost writer Nicole Chaison, cites Internet sources for important ingredients directly in the text, rather than having you flip to the back of the book. A minor note worth pointing out is that this is the first cookbook in which I have seen our beloved [...] as a source for cited foodstuffs.

A last bit of ephemera to note is that this is an exceptionally well designed book. While there are few color photographs, the warm tans and browns of the fonts, paper, and sidebars, with the old-fashioned ornamentation is the kind of care I usually see from only from Alfred A. Knopf cookbooks. Congrats to Harper Collins for the great window dressing which makes reading the book just a bit more satisfying.

By far the most interesting thing which sets this book apart from all other restaurant books I have reviewed is that the recipe chapters are organized by collections of spices, grouping together in a chapter those spices which often appear together in Eastern Mediterranean cooking. While most of these spices and herbs are pretty familiar to those of us who routinely work the French, Italian, and Spanish cuisines, there are several which are never found in Western European cooking, or in Far Eastern cooking either. The most important of these are Sumac, Aleppo pepper, Urfa, Nigella seeds, Fenugreek, Za'atar, and Jasmine.

The twelve (12) groups of three, four, five, or six flavors are divided into six spice combinations and six `herbs and other flavors. The seven (7) spice combinations are:

Cumin, coriander, and cardamom
Saffron, Ginger, and Vanilla
Sumac, Ditrus, and Fennel Seed
Allspice, Cinnamon, and Nutmeg
Aleppo Chile, Urfa, and Paprika
Poppy seeds, Nigella seeds, and Sesame seeds
Curry Powder, Turmeric, and Fenugreek

The five (5) other flavor combinations are:

Dried Mint, Oregano, and Za'atar
Fresh Parsley, Mint, Dill, and Sweet Basil
Oregano, Summer Savory, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
Flowers: Nasturtium, Orange Blossom, Rose, Chamomile, Lavender, and Jasmine
Nuts, Yogurt, and Cheese

The grouping that may be most familiar to us is the third, the family of `cookie spices', allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg; however, the author does not limit herself to recipes familiar to us. Most of the recipes even in this chapter are savory rather than sweet. But even the sweet recipes are pure Eastern Mediterranean, such as baklava.

In addition to the featured spices, there are several other distinctly Eastern Mediterranean ingredients used, such as tamarind, pomegranate molasses, Grano, Yufka dough, Greek yogurt, and Basturma. Even when Ms. Sortum colors outside the lines a bit and gives us a western Mediterranean dish, the Moroccan Bisteeya, she calls for genuine ethnic makings, in this case, brik pastry (Oddly, Paula Wolfert says brik is a Tunisian and not a Moroccan dish) but the author assures us the dish can quite successfully be made with phyllo dough sheets.

Speaking of the Bisteeya recipe, this is the only case where the author (or her design and illustration team) has made a misstep. I only consider pictures in a cookbook really important when they are presented to illustrate a technique, and here, the pictures must agree perfectly with the text. Yet, where Ms Sortum calls for a pie plate in her text, the picture shows the procedure being done with a straight-sided cake pan and not a sloping sided pie dish. My biggest problem with this is that I suspect the author actually uses the cake pans when the dish is made at her restaurant.

Otherwise, the descriptions of the recipes are really superior. In fact, sometimes, as a reasonably knowledgeable amateur cook, I feel the procedures are actually just a bit too detailed, and detailed in the direction of using restaurant kitchen techniques. For example, cooked potatoes are `mashed' for potato dough in the food processor, where I believe the home cook would do just as well with their potato master or even better, and a potato ricer. To be sure, the processor is probably used because other ingredients are mixed in later, but I see no special need for the heavy-duty equipment here.

There are a few other little quirks here and there, such as the recipe for aioli that uses bland canola oil rather than the very Mediterranean olive oil (I will forgive Ms. Sortum here, because aioli is a Provincial preparation and the Larousse Gastronomique does NOT specify olive oil. The defining ingredient is the garlic. On the other side of the coin, the author gives us the great gift of lemon aioli, a very Mediterranean notion indeed!

The recipes are a great mix of main course dishes, sauces, condiments, side dishes, appetizers, and desserts. This is a great source for cooking, but its even greater pleasure starts off as a great foodie read, light, but very illuminating.

Very Highly recommended for all!
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing book 10 Jun 2006
By An avid reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What an amazing, generous book. This is a text dense book that manages to be clear and informative but never boring. I had heard that the recipes were complicated, but this is not true unless you are very new to cooking or don't want to purchase a few simple spices. There are many, many great vegetarian recipes to go along with a fine and unusual variety of meat and seafood ones. I love the spice mixtures, they are perfectly balanced, immensely flavorful and come with many helpful suggestions for their use. I haven't tried to make my own string cheese - yet - but I'm grateful for the recipe. I can't recommend this book highly enough, it is one of those rare cook books that's great to read and great to work with.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Variety 18 Aug 2006
By Brendan P. Delany - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book a few months back and I have tried out a number of the dishes with great results. My personal favorite is the Lamb Steak dish. Her descriptions of the various stages and completed dishes provide just the right amount of information for all cooking afficionados. One criticism I do have is with the authors website which she promotes as a source of some of the more difficult to obtain ingredients. I have had no luck getting a response from it when I tried to order some ingredients.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thinking Woman's Approach to the Middle Eastern Kitchen 20 Jan 2008
By Book Worm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For American foodies, Middle East cooking is fraught with peril. Not only do popular specialties like hummus, baba ganoush, and falafel represent stereotypical ikons of this huge region. But as one becomes familiar with more sophisticated choices, it's easy to dismiss them because of: 1. hard to get ingredients 2. time consuming steps for dishes like stuffed vine leaves, moussaka, Persian rice, etc.
Now comes Ana Sortun. She has demystified the exotic herbs and spices that define the Levantine palate by describing how she discovered the real thing in Turkey and/or other eastern Mediterranean lands.
She should know because her Cambridge, Mass restaurant Oleana offers most every item featured in this handsome treasury of easy-to-follow, step by step recipes. True to its eponymous title, the book is organized by spices, i.e. the predominant seeds, leaves, and blossoms that flavor her signature dishes. It also includes a comprehensive list of web sites and shops that carry admittedly exotic or hard to get ingredients.
One reason for her success is the descriptive passages preceding each recipe. She tells stories of where she encountered the ingredients. She describes the (mostly) women and men who introduced them to her. Then she shows how she and her talented restaurant staff (everyone is credited, including her farmer husband) have adapted traditional recipes for the modern palate. This approach is more than nouveau, more than fusion. It takes tradition, and then expands on it with surprising results. Thus, hummus the old way morphs into a delectable parsnip creation, and falafel becomes a crunchy spinach/chick pea marriage.
But Sortun doesn't stop there. Because she has trained in France, she shares secrets about that country's cuisine. She generalizes about the use of cream and butter and riffs on why cooks should avoid extra virgin oil when sauteing. This is not a cook book for beginners, but, in the great narrative tradition of M.K. Fisher and Julia Child, it is a celebration of creating authentic gustatory delights - a tour de force truly enhanced by the spices of life.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars middle eastern delights! 2 Feb 2010
By Judith L. Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I happen to live down the street from the chef/author's little cafe (as opposed to her restaurant). This area is heavily populated by folks of greek and armenian descent so the ingredients are readily available. I have tried a number of receipes-all have turned out fabulously. Easy to follow , mildly complicated but the ingredients are key. Would recommend to anyone that's adventurous and looking for a new food experience. My 88 year old Armenian adopted grandmother LOVED this book and loved our Christmas Eve dinner- four courses, all from this book (and she is and always has been a VERY tough person to please...makes EVERYTHING from scratch!).
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