Rose Elliot is a well known and long established vegetarian chef and cookery writer. She has produced dozens of cook books over the last few decades and quite a few have made their way into my book collection. This is because I find her recipes reliable and accurate. I was aware that she had published a title called "Mediterranean Feasts" but I was not in a hurry to buy it myself. I felt that these types of recipes are often well represented in general vegetarian recipe books. However, I took the opportunity to buy a second hand copy when I saw it, as it was only £3.99 in my local Oxfam bookshop.
THE BOOK ITSELF
I have the most recent edition, published in 2010. This is an illustrated edition of an older title of the same name, although the forward states that some recipes have been adapted between editions and there are also some new additions. The book however is said to remain "largely the same" as the older version. It is a hardback and numbers 174 pages. Inside, the photos are plentiful although there isn't quite one per recipe. I am a bit disappointed with the pictures if I am honest. They have a washed out and muted look which seems an odd choice in a book that deals with cuisine that is often naturally colourful. I don't think they have added much to the book, but I think photos as a whole are expected in such titles now. I know that good pictures often inspire me to actually make a recipe so it is a shame this do not make the food look more attractive.
The rest of the book is presented well. A large and clear typeface has been used, and the pages are admirably uncluttered. These are very easy to read recipes. The recipes instructions are presented in simple numbered steps which makes keeping your place easy. All of the recipe methods are on the short side, which makes each one seem approachable. This doesn't mean any details have been skipped - the recipes just tend to be unfussy, and succintly explained.
TYPE OF RECIPES INCLUDED
The blurb says that the book contains classic summer recipes. This is later clarified to say that the recipes will "bring the sunshine" into meal times, and that the ingredients used are mainly in season within the British summer. I was not necesarily looking or a summer cookbook, but this does feel what the book is to me. There are for example lots of salads, and one section is entitled "al fresco feasts", which includes picnic foods. You could make these dishes all year round, but I have used the book more in the warmer months than I did when I first got this in the spring. I woudn't look in this book for a hearty cold weather soup for example.
The recipes are divided into sections as follows: Tapas, summer soups and salads, al fresco feasts, sunny snacks and suppers, and puddings. I think there are relatively few dishes that would qualify as a main course on their own, the majority being more of what I would call light meals. The exception would be some of the pasta recipes, but I did not think these were especially imaginative and there were fewer of these than I expected to find in a Mediterranean cook book. They are in fact included within the snacks and suppers section, which is confusing.
The tapas section is full of quick and easy ideas, some of which hardly seem to warrant a recipe - such as topping pitta breads. It is good for reminding you what you can make in a hurry though. I enjoyed the soups section more, because I thought the flavour combinations are more creative. I absolutely adored an Egyptian-style chilled lentil soup flavoured with turmeric, cumin and coriander. It is fragrant and full of flavour. Following this, the al fresco feasts includes tarts, flans and iced drinks for example, plus a few barbecue ideas. I was not reallly impressed with the selection here, as I struggled to find anything really different from what can find in countless other books. Stuffed peppers and roast vegetables are staples of vegetarian cookbooks, and many non vegetarian ones too. This is only a problem if you already own a few recipe books though, there is nothing wrong with the dishes in their own right. I was also disappointed with the desserts chapter. I was especially loooking forward to this part, not just because I love making puddings, but because I know fewer mediterranean recipes for these. I dd not expect to find the recipes for chocolate brownies and exotic fruit salads which are presented here. There are not many ideas that really seem to represent the flavours of the region which is a let down. What I did try I enjoyed such as the incredibly simple but delicious cinnamon yogurt which definitely comes under the heading of why did I never think of making that before?
WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
I feel that this is a book best suited to beginners who will appreciate the large number of simple recipes and clear instructions, and for whom the lack of originality would be less of a problem. If you have several vegetarian cookbooks, I am not sure that you will find many original or unusual meal ideas here. I have not found the recipes to be as inspiring as I hoped. I also do not think it as versatile as Rose's other books, beause of the summery nature of the recipes. The cover price is £14.99, which I feel is too much for the number of recipes included. Amazon offer it from just over £8 for a new copy which I feel is more realistic. However, mediterranean flavours are quite easy to find in other cook books, and I feel Rose Elliots own excellent "New Complete Vegetarian" includes a better selection than average. It costs a little more but would be my choice if was buying a book from new. [I use my copy all the time.] In short, I don't think "Mediterranean Feasts" is one of Rose's best cookbooks because of the relatively limited range of recipes, but those that are included may be relied upon to work with little effort on your part.
There are a few vegan ideas included but the majority of recipes would require adaptation if that is your diet. This is mainly due to a high number of dishes using cheese, and in many cases it is a central flavour.
[This review also appears on Ciao, under my user name.]