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Claudia Roden has been celebrating Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours since the 1960s – and her latest cookbook release is as comfortingly evocative as ever…
As food legacies go, 85-year-old writer Claudia Roden’s is an impactful one. When her first cookbook, A Book Of Middle Eastern Food, was released in 1968, it flooded the UK’s beige food landscape with a riot of colour and flavour never-before-tasted.
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Haven’t heard of her? The Egypt-born cook’s 50-year career has been endlessly varied, including countless recipe books, TV appearances, and even a TED Talk. Paving the way for contemporary Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cookery in the UK, she was extolling the virtues of artichoke, bulgar wheat, cumin and saffron long before they made their way onto UK supermarket shelves. If you now think nothing of adding a blob of rose harissa to your weekend avocado toast, just know it’s all down to Claudia Roden.
Happily, surpassing 50 years of food writing hasn’t abated Roden’s enthusiasm for publishing cookbooks. Instead, she’s set to release a new one – Med – a joyful celebration of the Mediterranean packed with more than 120 recipes as evocative as they are delicious.
From Egypt to the French Riviera, the book is full of geographical inspiration and, better still, Roden doesn’t believe in fussy cooking. Instead, she designs maximum flavour, minimum complication dishes that are easy to make at home. Feeling inspired? Below are three recipes from Roden’s latest book that make the most of Mediterranean flavours…
First up, if Roasting Tin-style dinners are your go-to for weeknights, Roden’s chicken tray bake will slot right in. She roasts chicken thighs with green olives and cooked-down lemons for the ultimate piquant flavour blend.
Hands up if you think soup is an unrivalled starter? If so, you’ll want to add Roden’s bullinada to your menu. This Catalonian fish soup uses garlic mayonnaise for a rich depth of flavour to pair with flaky white fish.
Finally, Roden’s sweet and sour minty courgettes are the perfect side dish for late summer days. She griddles thin strips of courgette until stripy, then dresses with tart white wine vinegar, accompanied by creamy lemon-spiked ricotta. It may be a rainy Wednesday evening in the UK, but mentally, we’re on a Mediterranean beach…
Chicken tray bake with olives and boiled lemon
Claudia says: “The enticing aromas of mingled garlic, turmeric and ginger here are the same as those that waft over the food stalls every night in Place Djemaa el Fna, the great square in Marrakesh that during the day is taken over by Berber musicians, storytellers, comedians, fire eaters and snake charmers. The sharp lemony flavours of one of the most famous Moroccan tagines work marvellously in this bake. It is very saucy and can be served with plain couscous or with mashed potatoes. It is the kind of easy dish I make when I have many guests.”
- juice of 2 lemons
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 ½ tbsp honey
- 250ml dry white wine
- 1 whole head of garlic, cloves chopped
- 16 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
- 120g capers in brine, drained
- 200g pitted green olives
- 1 large or 2 small unwaxed boiled lemons, cut into pieces, discarding the pips
- bunch (25g) of coriander, leaves chopped
- salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.
In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, turmeric, ginger, honey, wine and some salt and pepper, beating well. Add the garlic and turn the chicken pieces in the mixture so that they are well coated.
Arrange the chicken thighs in a large roasting tin or baking dish in which they fit snugly, putting the capers, olives and boiled lemon pieces in between, and pour the liquid contents of the bowl all over. Bake for 1 hour or until the chicken is well browned and cooked through.
Serve sprinkled with chopped coriander.
Claudia says: “The Catalan bullinada is like the bourride of the French Riviera and the gazpachuelo of Malaga – a fish soup with garlic mayonnaise stirred in. It has a mysterious delicate flavour and beautiful warm colour. It is sometimes made with tiny baby squid alone, or a mix of prawns and shellfish. I make it with white fish alone for friends who cannot eat shellfish. Use hake, monkfish or cod cheeks. You can make much of it in advance and finish the soup a few minutes before you are ready to eat.”
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves: 6 finely chopped and 2 crushed
- good pinch of saffron threads
- 2 litres fish stock (use 3 fish stockpots)
- 100ml dry white wine
- 800g new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5cm slices
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- strips of peel from ½ orange
- 800g skinless fish fillets, such as hake or monkfish
- 200ml good-quality bought mayonnaise
- juice of ½ lemon
- good pinch of chilli pepper, plus extra to serve
- 4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
- salt and black pepper
In a wide pan, fry the onion in the oil over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the chopped garlic and stir for 2 minutes until it just begins to colour.
Stir in the saffron and pour in the fish stock and the wine, then put in the potatoes, fennel seeds and orange peel and season with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 20–25 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Ten minutes before you are ready to serve, remove the orange peel and put in the fish. Cook, covered, over low heat for 4–10 minutes, depending on the fish and the thickness of the fillets, until the fish becomes opaque and the flesh begins to flake when you cut into it with a pointed knife. Break the fillets into pieces.
In a jug, beat the mayonnaise with the lemon juice, the crushed garlic and a pinch of chilli.
Just before serving, add a ladleful or two of the hot stock into the mayonnaise mixture and beat it in, then gently stir into the simmering soup. Heat through but do not let it boil or the mayonnaise will curdle. Serve sprinkled with parsley and pass round some chilli for anyone who would like to add more.
Sweet and sour minty grilled courgettes
Claudia says: “Sweet and sour is one of the tastes the Arabs brought to Sicily in the ninth century. This courgette dish, zucchine in agrodolce alla menta, is wonderful with ricotta, which is here as a recommended option.”
- 3 courgettes (about 800g in total)
- olive or sunflower oil
- 100ml white wine vinegar
- 50g sugar
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- salt and black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil, to serve
Preheat the grill to high. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut each courgette lengthways into 1cm-thick slices. Place them on the foil, brush with oil on both sides and sprinkle lightly with salt. Grill for about 10 minutes, turning them over once, until they are tender and lightly browned in places. Alternatively, you can cook them on a griddle pan.
Heat the vinegar and sugar with the dried mint and some pepper in a small pan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts, then simmer for 2 minutes to reduce it a little. Arrange the courgette slices side by side on a serving plate, pour the vinegar dressing over them and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Using a fork, whip 250g ricotta with 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, the grated zest of ½ small lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.
Med by Claudia Roden (£28, Ebury Press) is out on 2 September
Photography: Susan Bell