The Gourmet Atlas is a very good book but before I begin to discuss its positive traits-which are many-I first have to mention what I didn't like about the book (and this may seem picky to some). The problem I have with this book is its title: The Gourmet Atlas, The History, Origin, and Migration of Foods of the World. With a lofty title such as this, stating that it is "the" gourmet atlas, and that it contains "the" history, (etc.) of foods of the world, one is inclined to think that that this is the definitive guide in this area, an encyclopedic tome on the subject. But with the slim volume coming in at slightly more than 200 pages it couldn't possibly achieve this. That said I'll move on to what I liked, which is the book itself.
The Gourmet Atlas is a handsome book, and a well-researched one at that. I am familiar with a couple of the authors, and in fact own copies of other books written by them. Claire Clifton's, The Faber Book of Food, sits well-worn and dog eared on my shelf from my many references to it, and Susie Ward's, Lebanese Cooking, is my favorite book on Lebanese cuisine. And with consultation from the Culinary Institute of America's, Mary Donovan, this book carries strong credentials.
This is an informative book, and while not exactly a cookbook, per se, you could still cook from it, albeit with a little more knowledge behind what you're making. It's peppered with recipes, but mostly it's comprised of text, maps, drawings, and photos. This is the type of book that is as interesting to read as it is from which to cook.
The book is divided into ten chapters (Herbs and Spices, Grains and Bread, Fish, Seafood, etc.) and each chapter is comprised of mini chapters, or sections. The opening chapter, for example (Herbs and Spices) has a few pages on the background of herbs, then a map of where they are grown, then a few pages with brief descriptions in alphabetical order, then a few pages on spices, then more maps. It keeps going like this, as do the following chapters. In short, while this book may be slim, there is a lot of info packed into it.
There are many strong points to this book, but two of the strongest, I think, are the maps and the book's well-written historical research. There are plenty of maps and all are correlated, numerically to information at the side of the page. This makes, it easy to see a food's origin, migration, and subsequent influence on other areas of the world. Historical writing in some books may come off seeming too academic, almost stilted, but that is not the case here. Here's an excerpt from a section titled Wheat and Barley: Early Grains, which is part of the Grains and Bread chapter.
In the New Testament, the Third Horsemen of the Apocalypse measures out portions of wheat and barley, together with wine and oil, to ensure famine does not rise from injustice-an indication of the importance of these two grains to the ancients.
Barley was, without doubt, one of the foundations of civilization throughout Asia and had been known in China since the third millennium B.C. Together with wheat it can trace an even earlier pedigree in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.
This passage represents much of the book's text it draws you in (you may, in fact, find it difficult to put down), but it also offers useful information. The Gourmet Alas is full of historical culinary facts, but the distinctive air of the writing makes it eminently readable.
As previously mentioned there are recipes in this book, and the few that I tested work. These, too, are well written and interesting, and you're able to read about the food or ingredients prior to cooking them, giving the recipe an added dimension. The historical information, maps, and recipes will satiate even the most inquisitive cooks.
The Gourmet Atlas is a welcome addition to any cooks library, whether novice, student, or professional.
Tabbouleh-Lebanese Cracked Wheat Salad
Variations of this salad are popular throughout the Middle East, from Turkey to Egypt.
1 cup bulgur
1 large bunch parsley leaves, trimmed from stems and minced
4 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
1/2 cucumber, peeled seeded and finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
6 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
2/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Fresh mint leaves, to garnish
Soak the bulgur in a bowl of water for 30 minutes. Drain and strain it thoroughly, squeezing out excess moisture by hand.
In a serving bowl, combine the bulgur, parsley, cucumber, pepper, onions, and tomatoes toss well using your hands. Add the lemon juice and oil combine well. Chill the tabbouleh, covered for 2 to 3 hours. Before serving, add seasoning to taste and garnish with the fresh mint leaves.