“Mighty Spice Express Cookbook” by John Gregory-Smith
Published by Duncan Baird Publishers, 2013
In John Gregory-Smith’s first book, the Mighty Spice Cookbook, he encouraged readers to broaden their culinary horizons with recipes featuring spices from around the world. Mighty Spice Express Cookbook was conceived during his subsequent travels, when the street foods he loved inspired him to develop new spice-driven recipes to bring these easily-prepared comfort foods from street carts to the home kitchen.
Gregory-Smith’s research took him from Fez’s medina (old town) and the coastal, walled city of Essaouira in Morocco, to Goa, in southern India, where he learned Hindi recipes with tamarind’s tart zing, and Catholic Goan recipes that feature pungent vinegar.
In the Far East he visited Seoul, Korea, where expectations are high for street food, China’s Dongbai area, Shanghai and Thailand. Mexico is part of the flavorful mix, too. The beautiful photographs that illustrate the author’s travel recollections and accompany most of the recipes stimulate wanderlust and the desire to eat something interesting and new.
I loved the flavors in all but one recipe I tried. Seasonings were bold but not overpowering. Shrimp Torta with Salsa Mexicana was like a pan-sized potato pancake (similar to the Spanish tortilla omelet) with scallions, shrimp and feta, topped with a slightly-smoky sundried tomato salsa. The potatoes were complemented perfectly by the flavors within and without. Similarly, the components of Baked Eggs with Lentils and Goat Cheese melded beautifully, and the simple, basic ingredients with tomato accents and subtle spiciness became an interesting, quick meal.
Blue Mosque Goat Cheese Tart made a great appetizer with a pert flavor profile, quite sharp from lemon and salty from olives, but balanced nicely by the filo pastry and herbs. One caveat: the recipes call for adding salt and pepper, sometimes several times through a recipe’s preparation; one needs to taste as one cooks to prevent inadvertent over-seasoning.
Salmon Bibimbap seemed a good way to use up leftover rice, and it was great. The fish, served atop ginger, scallion, and spice-enhanced rice that had been crisped on the bottom in a searing-hot skillet, was topped with a lovely runny egg and a delicious piquant chili dressing.
The one disappointment was Rita’s Tamarind & Coconut Shrimp Curry, which seemed bland and unbalanced, lacking the sweet and hot elements promised in the recipe notes. And although we’re told that pre-ground spices can be used in place of the whole spices called for, unfortunately the equivalent quantities are not given.
If you are a confident cook and can cope with the author’s sometimes imprecise directions, you will be rewarded with some very tasty, out of the ordinary meals that are quick to prepare.
First published June 2014