Nothing beats ‘Food of the Sun’
Hennie Fisher, looking forward to spring, prepares some delectable summery cuisine
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.