`the food of spain & portugal' by Elisabeth Luard is subtitled `a regional celebration' which is actually more appropriate than calling it a `cookbook' or a `book of recipes'. This does not mean it contains no recipes. It contains quite a few, which are generally very good, but the primary objective of the book is to decorate a tabletop with a survey of the foods of the various regions of the Iberian Peninsula.
For American culinary book buyers, one may be hard pressed to justify the purchase of this book as we already have two major and four minor excellent books on the food and wine of Spain from Penelope Casas. One of these, `Delicioso!' covers Spanish dishes by region, and her first book, `The Food and Wines of Spain' covers the Spanish wine scene about as well as you can possibly want. Ms. Luard spends no time on wines except an occasional mention, especially of port and sherry.
For Portugal, there is the award winning volume, `The Food of Portugal' from leading cookbook author, Jean Anderson. Ms. Anderson makes the point in her book that there are major differences between the culinary practices of Portugal and Spain. So why do a book covering the two culinary traditions simply because they happen to be neighbors on the same peninsula. This is like doing a small book on the cuisines of (Jewish) Israel and (Christian) Lebanon because they are neighbors on the Levant, disregarding the fact that their cuisines are by necessity different due to religious background.
There are several things which are good about this book, contributing to its winning a `Best Foreign Cookery Book -UK' award from Gourmand World. The first is that in spite of its oversized pages and excellent photography and illustrations, the book lists at $29.95. This book follows my experience that the Europeans are so much better at doing pictures in books than we are on this side of the pond. The photography is gorgeous; the selected scenes are largely decorative, but quite appropriate and generally interesting in their own right. The selection of paintings and drawings is outstanding. And, every illustration has a meaningful caption. Even the double page pictures introducing a new chapter have on overleafed caption.
Spain and Portugal are treated in two different sections, and each country's recipes are presented by region. The number of recipes for Spain falls far short of the count in Ms. Casas' regional cuisines book. Ms. Casas, for example gives 43 recipes for Madrid and La Mancha while Ms. Luard gives only 22. The difference is more dramatic for the recipes from the Canary Islands where Ms. Casas gives us 20 to Ms. Luard's 5. Ms. Luard makes up for this a bit by slicing Spain into a few more regions (12) than Ms. Casas' nine (9). Ms. Luard gives us Andalusia; The Levante; The Balearics; Catalonia; The Basque Country; Galicia, Asturias, & Cantabria; Nararra & La Rioja; Aragon; Castile & Leon; La Mancha & Madrid; Extremadura; and The Canary Islands. In Portugal, Ms. Luard divides things up into Oporto & the Douro; Entre Douro e Minho; Tras-os-Montes & Alto Douro; Ribatejo; The Mountain Beiras & Beira Litoral; Estremadura & Lisbon; Alentejo; Algarve; Madeira & the Azores.
I give extra credit for the author's covering all the major Atlantic and Mediterranean islands belonging to Spain and Portugal, although I give Ms. Casas even more credit for distinguishing what it is about the cuisine of the Canary Islands which sets it off from the rest of Spain.
On recipe selection, I believe Ms. Luard has included all the important ones from both countries. She has even taken the trouble to give a recipe for a naturally yeasted sourdough bread recipe from Castile. On the other hand, there is no attempt to give a comprehensive coverage of any one kind of dish. Every major type of dish gets one exemplar and we are done.
When I read Ms. Luard's introduction, I dispaired when she said her measurements would not be exact. It turns out her instructions are about as complete as you will find in any decently written cookbook done by a non-specialist. All measurements are done by count, by cup, teaspoon, or tablespoon. There are cases, for wine, for example, where the `glass' gives the measurement. I take this to mean the amount is at the discretion of the cook.
For people who may be making a trip to both Spain and Portugal in the near future, this is a very useful book. It is also very nice for people who like to collect attractive cookbooks. It is clearly inferior to the collected works of Ms. Casas and Ms. Anderson in getting a really good picture of Iberian cuisines. The biggest missed opportunity in a book on this subject would was a good description of exactly what the difference is between Spanish and Portuguese cuisines. The only hint I could gather is the difference in former colonies, with Portugal being heavily influenced by Brazil and the spice trade with the east and it's former enclaves in India and Indonesia.
This is an attractive book with sound culinary content, but it does less than less pretty books on the same subjects. And, the author does not take advantage of her dealing with the two different cuisines in a single book.