Can you review a book without reading it completely? I have been debating that as I read The Edible Atlas by Mina Holland. I came across an excerpt of this book in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (which also includes my feature on the 125th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower). So I promptly bought it and have been reading it bit by bit :)
Holland is a food writer and currently edits Cook, The Guardian's weekly food supplement. The Edible Atlas is her debut book and it chronicles thirty nine cuisines around the world - across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. For each of the cuisines, Holland goes into some detailing of basic ingredients, flavours and techniques, iconic and traditional dishes. For some of the countries, she delves deeper, picking out some regional cuisines; e.g. she explores 5 cuisines across Italy where Tuscany is notable by its absence (read instead Take a Cooking Class in Tuscany), but you have the lesser known cuisine of Calabria to read about. India has been conveniently divided into North and South...
Each chapter begins with a quote from a writer or a book (fiction or non-fiction) that celebrates that region. So of course Provence opens with Peter Mayle and Italy is prefaced by Marcella Hazan's well-known quote; "To make time to eat as Italians still do is to share in their inexhaustible gift for making art out of life". The book is peppered with such quotes, references and several footnotes (which have been distracting me from my reading, but only because I have been making copious notes of books to read and historical references to look up).
And the recipes! Soups, salads, mains, desserts - all this and more as the book takes you on a wonderful culinary journey. There is a primer for sofrito, that fried base that is the foundation for many a curry and stew. It's used in nearly all cuisines, though the ingredients vary. There is an entire chapter devoted to chillies around the world. The book ends with a country-wise culinary bibliography, which is a treasure trove of excellent food writing.
This is not a book to be read in one sitting. I have just about finished with France, Spain, Portugal and Italy and already my mind is in a whirl - so many dishes to try, so many places to visit! This is a book to be savoured, re-read, lingered over... The kind of book that you would reach for when you're looking for inspiration - whether in the kitchen or outside it. As the book's dust-jacket says, it's a book that is "as comfortable in the kitchen as it is at your bedside".
The recipe below is not listed in the book, merely referred to. In her chapter on Portugal, Holland writes about Nuno Mendes, the chef patron of London's Viajante restaurant. Mendes remembers his grandmother's friend Maria Luisa and her 'devastating tomato soup with an egg poached into a rustic chicken stock with tomatoes, onions, garlic, bay leaf and mint'. Just reading that description made me want to eat it right away. So I looked up online and found that the soup is called Tomatada. This recipe is my take, based on what's mentioned in the book. I have no idea how authentic it is, but I can vouch for its flavours :)
So give it a try. And pick up The Edible Atlas - it's guaranteed to ignite a desire to travel to these faraway lands and taste first-hand those flavours that Holland so vividly depicts in the book.
Bon voyage et bon appétit!
This recipe serves 2 people.
Tomatada - Portuguese Tomato & Poached Egg Soup
- 3 Eggs
- 3 Tomatoes, grated
- 1 Onion, chopped
- 1 Bay leaf
- 4-5 cloves of Garlic
- 150 ml chicken or vegetable Stock
- Salt, pepper and chilli flakes
- 1 tbsp Olive oil
- Parsley (or mint) for garnish
- Crusty bread to serve
- Heat the oil and fry the garlic and bay leaf.
- After a minute add the chopped onions and fry well.
- Add the grated tomato and cook it down. Season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes.
- Add the stock. Check the seasonings. This amount of stock eventually makes a thick soup. If you prefer a more watery soup, increase the quantity of stock.
- (At this point, you can stick in a hand blender and make a smooth soup or leave it as it is for a rustic touch. I left it as it is.)
- Turn down the heat and gently break the eggs into the soup.
- Allow the eggs to cook in the soup. Cover the pan and let the eggs set.
- The soup will gradually thicken. Swirl the pan a bit so that it doesn't stick to the bottom.
- Garnish with parsley or mint.
- To serve, place a slice or two of crusty bread in a bowl. Ladle over the soup and poached egg. Enjoy!
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