Book review: Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan

22 April 2021 by
Book review: Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan

Ripe Figs is Yasmin Khan's latest collection of recipes and stories, focusing on the Eastern Mediterranean. Khan's third book – after the acclaimed The Saffron Tales and Zaitoun, which take the reader to Iran and Palestine – is a continuation of her travels, this time making her way through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, and, as always, shining a spotlight on the people at the heart of the dishes she eats.

Chapters are divided into typical sections, including breakfast, mezze, mains and desserts, interspersed with diary-style entries of her travels. The recipes feature flavours you would expect, like citrus, pomegranate, cumin and tahini, which make the vegetable-focused recipes sing, such as in the black-eyed beans with chard Khan first tried at a roadside café in Cyprus, or the lentil-based Turkish bride soup she tells the reader is fed to brides on their wedding day, or simply eaten for breakfast in nearly every kebab restaurant in Turkey.

Meat still plays a part, but for more celebratory dishes rather than everyday cooking, such as veiled rice with spiced chicken, which is a centrepiece pilaf encased in pastry often served at Turkish weddings. Meanwhile, date and walnut are paired to create indulgent brownies and Khan's sour cherry cheesecake makes a hero out of Turkey's prized ingredient.

But this book is so much more than nearly 300 pages of fresh and fragrant recipes from the region. Khan uses Ripe Figs to explore issues of migration, speaking to those at the centre of the refugee crisis. Dedicating the book to "all the migrants", she says: "It's a book about the people I met, shared meals with and cooked alongside… But most of all, I think, it's a book about the resilience of the human spirit."

The way Khan weaves together accessible recipes with the stark political issues of migration is a testament to her writing and activism, making this book an inspiration for any chef interested in Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, and encouraging readers to dig a little deeper behind the origin of the ingredients and recipes they create.

Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury Publishing, £26)

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