Everything a great cookbook should be.
For centuries the human race has understood the importance of “breaking bread”; that preparing and eating food is about so much more than simple nourishment for the body. Few people are better placed to write about the role of food in community-building than Yasmin Khan.
As a human rights campaigner, as well as food writer, Khan has been in the centre of migratory stories, especially those of the displaced, and of the seekers of refuge.
In her new cookbook, Ripe Figs, she focuses on the food of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. Opening with her tale of chopping tomatoes in Lesvos with Sislo, a Zimbabwean refugee, it is clear that this is no ordinary collection of recipes. As she says in her introduction, “The stories [of refugees] reflect … a crisis which is unfolding and which we simply cannot ignore. It is my hope that this book … will start a conversation … There is no better place to talk than at the dinner table.”
The recipes themselves are divided into meal types: Breakfast, breads, desserts, and so forth. These sections are interspersed with Khan’s beautifully written stories of people and places, ending with a heartfelt cry for peace in Cyprus, which is, of course, still torn between its dual Greek and Turkish heritage. This truly is both a substantial and satisfying read, and an excellent cookbook.
TENDERSTEM BROCCOLI WITH RED PEPPERS AND DILL (PAGE 118)
We are a veggie-loving household, always on the look out for interesting ways to prepare salads or vegetable dishes. So the first recipe I plunged into was this one. I assumed that tenderstem broccoli was what we refer to as broccolini, which happens to be my daughter’s favourite veg. I didn’t have any red peppers at the time, so I substituted semi-dried tomatoes. The result was delicious. Served with some fish, simply baked with lemon, this was an easy and delicious meal.
HOT YOGHURT AND SPINACH SOUP (PAGE 184)
I love soup, and I cannot lie. So I had to give this one a go. Similar to avgolemono, a favourite Greek soup, this is totally delicious. To make it quicker and easier, I used pre-cooked Jasmine rice. The mint and Aleppo pepper butter on top is a delightful addition. This one will become a regular in my household.
HALLOUMI AND MINT MUFFINS (PAGE 84)
Although I’m not a huge fan of savoury muffins, this recipe caught my eye because of the use of halloumi (which, frankly, I could eat until it’s coming out of my ears). It’s a great recipe, as I managed to go from pre-heating the oven, to pulling them freshly baked out of it, in about 30 minutes. They were actually an excellent accompaniment to the yoghurt soup above. A great addition to the lunchbox, or a snack with drinks, they are surprisingly delicious.
Greek/Turkish/Middle Eastern food is my absolute favourite. Khan’s book is now an essential part of my cookbook collection. I’m looking forward to trying out some of the other recipes including Fig & Peach tart (page 271), Adana kebabs (page 237) and Spiced carrot soup (page 187).
Ripe Figs is everything a great cookbook should be.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by: Bloomsbury Publishing
Released: April 2021