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Book review: Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul

15 September 2015 by
Book review: Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul

BBC Books, £25

Rick Stein's latest book, which accompanies the BBC series of the same name, explores his gastronomic road trip through the countries of the former Byzantine empire.

Recipes are brought to life with evocative descriptions of the tastes and smells, along with James Murphy's vivid photography of the food, backdrops and people of the countries visited.

Stein writes his recipes in the morning, as that's the time when his heart turns fondly to thoughts of the region - olive oil, tomatoes, red onions, wild oregano, lemons, sweet fish, lean lamb, wine, olives, capers and garlic.

His journey begins in Venice and from there he travels to the mythical heart of Greece, the Black Sea flavours of Croatia and the eastern influences of Turkish food in Istanbul.

Stein says: "I like to think of the cities of Venice and Istanbul as two large books propping up a shelf full of stories about the cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean."

The book covers mezze, street food, meat, poultry, seafood, vegetarian dishes, sides and desserts, with extra sections dedicated to ingredients and cook's tips.

Along the way Stein describes dishes which at first he thought sounded bland but resulted in quite the opposite. By his own admission, he was "almost looking for things not to be good, only to be proved wrong each time".

His recipe for hummus was one which he somehow forgot to include in his Mediterranean Escapes. He was considering leaving it out altogether, but then recalled filming in the town of Tarsus in Turkey. He searched for the recipe and failed to find it in his books. Unable to remember exactly how it was made, he typed it into his computer and was presented with himself talking about it on YouTube.

Stein always likes to guess which dish will be the most popular - for this book he reckons it will be the oven-roasted chicken with sumac, pomegranate molasses, chilli and sesame seeds. From the recipe you can see why: it sounds appetising and is simple to prepare and cook.

By Katey Pigden

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