Noth­ing beats ‘Food of the Sun’

Hen­nie Fisher, look­ing for­ward to spring, pre­pares some de­lec­ta­ble sum­mery cui­sine

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

FEW of us who live in the south­ern hemi­sphere are not im­pa­tiently await­ing the on­set of spring — one can al­most feel the first burst of green emerg­ing from the trees, as some of them have al­ready done.

It is in an­tic­i­pa­tion of sum­mer that I jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to cook a Sun­day lunch in­clud­ing dishes redo­lent of a warmer cli­mate — Mediter­ranean food — or Food of the Sun as Alis­tair Lit­tle and Richard Whit­ting­ton called it in the early 90’s when they pub­lished their book on the sub­ject.

The Med (called Mare Nostrum — lit­er­ally “Our Sea” by the Ro­mans) was a long time ago con­sid­ered to be the cen­tre of the world, and in­cluded in an an­ti­clock­wise direc­tion from north Africa the coun­tries of Morocco, Al­ge­ria, Tu­nisia, Libya and Egypt, then the coun­tries of the mid­dle east, Is­rael, Lebanon, Syria, Tur­key and Greece, in­clud­ing the coun­tries around the Adri­atic Sea, on to­wards those of the older south­ern Euro­pean coun­tries up to Spain.

I imag­ined books filled with writ­ings about “Mediter­ranean Cui­sine”, and that the sub­ject would have been ex­ten­sively doc­u­mented. Of course there are thou­sands of pub­li­ca­tions on the in­di­vid­ual cuisines of the sur­round­ing coun­tries, but very lit­tle by way of a sum­mary of food par­tic­u­lar to the Mediter­ranean.

Diet ex­pert C Wal­ter Wil­lett of­fers an ex­pla­na­tion, namely that the cui­sine of these coun­tries in fact does not have as much in com­mon as one would ex­pect. Al­though many in­gre­di­ents are shared and even though the var­i­ous in­gre­di­ents con­trib­ute to a very healthy diet, ac­cord­ing to him the dishes are in fact rather dis­sim­i­lar. Fish and seafood abound, and the ter­rain in all these coun­tries makes for great goat and sheep pro­duc­tion. My lunch started with a large bowl of olives and home-made hum­mus served with toasted pita tri­an­gles.

Per­haps be­cause of my African roots the food from the African side of the Mediter­ranean had more res­o­nance, so the main course dishes tended to be more spicy and flavour­some rather than fresh and pure: bread salad from Tu­nisia; Bul­gar, red pep­per, cu­cum­ber and feta salad; grated car­rot salad from Egypt and a fried aubergine onion and tomato salad — where the recipe ad­vised one to de­gorge the aubergine for 10 hours to en­sure that they ab­sorb much less oil.

For the stars of the show, I opted to pre­pare plain roasted chicken in Ital­ian style and a duck Pastilla — that sweet and savoury cin­na­mon laden phyllo pie that comes from Morocco and is usu­ally made with pi­geon.

For the fi­nale, noth­ing beats a sim­ple but fab­u­lous lemon tart made with this sea­son’s glut of lemons (my trees even­tu­ally started pro­duc­ing a har­vest worth not­ing, ten years af­ter plant­ing).

Of course many bread sal­ads are to be found around the Mediter­ranean, with the most fa­mous ver­sion the Ital­ian Pan­zanella. This is a slightly mod­ernised ver­sion of that old stal­wart.

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