Cookbook road test: Black sea

This is so much more than just a cookbook. Travel writing, history, reportage, story-telling – it’s all here in this, the second book from writer Caroline Eden. Black Sea takes the reader from Odessa in Ukraine south along the Black Sea coast through Bessarabia and Romania, to Trabzon in northeast Turkey, with Istanbul as a midpoint.

The author, an expert on the countries of the
former Soviet Union, is a trustworthy guide and delves into the landscape, communities and food, making the book “a way to ‘eat the culture’ and taste the journey,” as she puts it. This is writing of the most captivating sort.

Cookbook road test: Black sea

How good are the recipes?

Each has a story to tell and I couldn’t resist Eden’s description of a ‘half and half manti’, so called because the little lamb and herb-filled dumplings are served with two sauces, “toggling between smooth, silky and yogurty and then crunchy, nutty and chewy”.

The instructions were straightforward but I ended up with about twice as much minced lamb filling as I needed to fill the 25 wrappers called for. The sauces worked a treat, though: one yogurt-based; the other made with chilli-spiked butter, topped with crushed walnuts. The end result took me straight to Turkey.

Lamb manti with yogurt sauce and walnuts

 

Next, Bulgarian zelnik, a pie of filo pastry layered with feta, chard and spinach and flavoured with caraway seeds and mint. It’s made in a round cake tin, which gives a neat appearance, but after cutting the filo to fit, I did end up with a lot of filo offcuts. It tasted great, so I’ll definitely make it again – but maybe in a square tin.

Feta, chard and spinach filo pie (zelnik)

 

Do the pictures draw you in?

Food photography by Ola O Smit reflects the simplicity of the recipes, with just enough detail to make it all look enchantingly exotic, while location photography by Theodore Kaye captures the atmosphere brilliantly.

Who’s the book suitable for?

If you’re a fan of travel writers such as Bruce Chatwin, historians such as Simon Sebag Montefiore and food writers such as Claudia Roden and Olia Hercules, you’ll want this book. But even if you’re not, Black Sea is good enough to seduce anyone who’s interested in new recipes from roads less travelled.

Verdict 4.5/5

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