Invitation to Mediterranean Cooking
by Claudia Roden

1997. 223 pages, 150 recipes.

Go To Cookbook Archive

"This corner of the world is immensely seductive, with its blue sea and sky, magical light and scented air, fairs, street markets, and open-air terraces."

Bulghur Salad with Walnuts

Fish Soup with Saffron and Cream

•Zucchini Flan with Tomato Sauce

•Spaghetti with Bell Peppers and Eggplants


Invitation to Mediterranean Cooking is available for easy online purchase right now at Click the Amazon icon for current prices.

Remember back when we still thought pesto was exotic? Remember when we began to use the word "pasta" instead of "spaghietti"? When we didn't know Tuscany from Tuscon?

In the last fifteen years, many of us have become Italian experts in a lopsided sort of way. (Say the name "Garibaldi" and most people will assume you're talking about a new restaurant.) The already bloated Italian/Mediteranean cooking section of the bookstores continues to expand with ever more offerings. And still cookbook buyers are hungry for more. Basta already! When I recently came across the book with the lackluster title Invitation to Meiterranean Cooking I wouldn't have given it a second look if I hadn't noticed the author's name, Claudia Roden. This London-based food writer deserves the accolades and renown here in the US that she enjoys in the UK. I became a fan of hers last year when I read her The Book of Jewish Food (see Cravings' archive for my review of it). Roden is a an avid culinary scholar and scrupulous researcher, often traveling off the beaten path to track down recipes at their source. As a result, her recipes have a ring of authenticity that is often lacking when a cookbook author "interprets" another cuisine for an American (or English) audience.

Roden's recipes spring not only from the the familiar Italy/Provence axis of the Mediteranean, but from the "outer boroughs" such as Morocco, Syria, Greece. (The scholar in her cites some of the historical cross-polination of cuisines dating back to Roman Empire.) Her offerings from less familiar cuisines particularly intrigued me. The Bulghur Salad with Walnuts from Turkey was one of them. A twist on the technique of fluffing up the grain by steeping it in boiling water, this dish has the bulghur infused in a puree of fresh tomatoes. The result is a incredibly cool, refreshing dish, a sort of pulpy tabouli (it tastes much better than that sounds).

The dishes, all meatless except for some fish recipes, act as a showcase for the virtues of the Mediterranean Diet, which has been lauded by both the medical establishment as well as the food establishment over the past decade or so. In the introduction Roden briefly discusses the nutritional benefits of the Mediterranean way of eating. While she gives health benefits their due, she says, "the pleasures of cooking and eating are the main focus of this book." (Thank goodness!) Speaking of pleasures, the vivid color photos are visual feasts.

Most of what I've tried from Invitation to Mediterranean Cooking have been, as Roden promises, "fresh, light, delicious, casual food for every day, and quick and easy to cook." (Which is not to say these aren't company-worthy. They are, but not in a show-stopping, tour de force kind of way.) The Zuccchini Flan with Tomato Sauce makes a light, summery main course. Her desserts often are fruit-full. The Roasted Peaches with Amaretto is one of those wonderful less-is-more dishes. Roden obviously believes in moderation rather than deprivation. She is not afraid to use cream or butter if it is essential to the dish. The Fish Soup with Saffron and Cream which she says "is one of our family favorites" is now one of my family's favorites as well. (She also includes some "more elaborate dishes that are ideal for entertaining"; I've got my eye on the fish stuffed with Onion Fondue with Honey for an upcoming party.)

I feel nit-picky mentioning the only dish I made that really missed the mark: the peculiar, overly spiced, overly sweet Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad, a dish. Never mind about that; I love this book. Roden's Mediterranean dishes have a clarity and simplicity that makes trendy cutting-edge cuisine seem like frantic excercise in novelty.