Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour

Reviewed by Hayley Anderton

SiroccoI loved Sabrina Ghayour’s first book, Persiana, when it came out, so I’ve been quietly excited about what the next one might contain. Well, it’s here now and time to see if it’s going to live up to expectations. The short answer to that is yes, yes, it does.

The reason I loved Persiana was that it was full of simple things with great flavours; there are a handful of recipes from it that have become standard fall backs in my kitchen, and it’s one of the first books I turn to if I want something that’s going to be easy to cook and please everybody.

Sirocco continues that emphasis on flavour, along with the particular philosophy behind it. ‘Sirocco’ (to quote) is ‘a hot dry wind blowing from east to west – sometimes described as warm, spicy and sultry’. Ghayour’s wider heritage may be eastern, but she was raised in the UK – different produce, techniques, and recipes. This book is her blend of both traditions, so whilst not authentically Middle-eastern it has an authenticity of a different sort that appeals to me.

It may not have been that long since Harissa or za’atar appeared on supermarket shelves but the basic ingredients have been with us a long time. The city I live in was presumably here in some form before the Romans came and tarted it up. Despite being in the middle of the country the Vikings were here too, and before and since then there have been countless waves of people from so many places, all of whom will have bought something with them in the way of flavour. Because of this I find Ghayour’s approach to food really reflects what I see around me and I love it for that.

The other thing I love about it is how much emphasis there is on bold flavours. These are rarely complicated recipes – Lemon, Turmeric, and Black Pepper salmon for example is basically the recipe as well as its title (there are a few instructions, but not many). For the relatively experienced, confidant cook it’s the chance to look at familiar things with new eyes, and for the inexperienced cook who maybe lacks confidence it’s a great place to start exploring from. The salads especially are as spectacular as the chapter heading promises, but the whole book is full of colourful, tempting inspiration.

Most of the ingredients are now supermarket staples, or increasingly becoming so, and that’s something else I love about this book. I can’t help but pick up new ingredients for my store cupboard but am often then at a loss as to what to do with them (a bottle of yuzu juice I never found a use for haunts me still). If I cook regularly from Sirocco I will need have no fear of being left with three quarters of that bag of cumin I bought, or wonder if the Harissa paste will be okay if I scrape the fur off it (probably not).

In the end I think the appeal of the book can be summed up in a recipe for nectarine pavlova with mint, almonds, and tea syrup, though. Pavlova is the pudding that’s shorthand for what seemed the height if sophistication in my teens, and it’s clearly due a revival. The tea syrup and mint is the bit that makes it interesting, not just nostalgic. I do so like the idea of taking things as familiar as tea and mint and using them to make something fresh and perhaps unexpected.

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Hayley Anderton blogs at Desperate Reader http://desperatereader.blogspot.fr

Sabrina Ghayour, Sirocco (Octopus, 2016). 978-1784720476, 240pp., hardback.

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