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Book Review: TRADITIONAL SPANISH COOKING by Janet Mendel

January 4, 2012

This is the lovely kind of cookery book you read as well as use, and I read it last night, curled up on my sofa – and immediately wanted to go back to Spain! When I was ordering my paella pan I realised I had only one Spanish cookbook and some that had a bit of Spanish cooking in them – the Moro books and Jamie Does, for example – but really, I needed something more if I was going to cook more Spanish. This one, Traditional Spanish Cooking by Janet Mendel (Frances Lincoln, 2006), is something of a classic and as a Winner of the Andre Simon Award, Shortlisted for Glenfiddich Food Book of the Year, and with a quote from Simon Hopkinson saying it’s ‘one of my favourite books’, it was definitely a book for my cookery book shelves.

It’s not illustrated (or at least the paperback isn’t) but it’s beautifully laid out and I like the way Mendel has divided the contents into sections like, A Melting Pot – a background history of all the different influences on Spanish cooking; and recipes are divided into parts of the day – Spanish style – with Breakfast, Dinner at Midday, Lunch Tea and Supper, Appetizers (yes, those deliciousl Spanish tapas, some of which, we are told, can be extended easily into supper dishes) and Desserts. Some of the recipes are accompanied by wonderful quotes: under Partridge Salad we read: ‘Even the king got tired of partridge every day, and craved gazpacho’, which is a very lovely thought – craving gazpacho … which I sometimes do in the summer! And with Basque-Style Hake we are told, ‘In months with no “R”, neither fish nor women’ … though I’m not sure how well that would go down in most households!

Of course, I was particularly taken with the information on paella and the paella recipes and will very soon be trying some out; there’s also a recipe for Fideua, cooked in the same pan as a paella with similar ingredients but using noodles rather than rice. I wrote about having one in Valencia last September – and you can see a photo of it in that post.

The book is beautifully written with fascinating information and a vivid background to give you a strong sense of Spain and Spanish culture and food. The author has lived in Spain for over 30 years and there’s a feeling of authenticity here; there’s no ‘interpretation’ of recipes, only the real thing. I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes.

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