There's something very alluring about an award-winning chef who says "I'm not a natural TV presenter or a travel guide. I'm not a celebrity chef, or wanting to be. I am just a cook from Melbourne who loves his life and all that it encompasses."
So writes chef Shane Delia in the introduction to Spice Journey, the delicious second cookbook, which is the culmination of his travels to the middle east.
Delia is the chef and owner of the flagship Maha Restaurant, and recent opened Biggie Small's kebab shop, also in Melbourne. Maha has gone from strength to strength, with The Age Good Food Guide awarding the restaurant one Chef Hat annually since 2009.
As it happens, the humble chef is also the star of the SBS television series, Shane Delia's Spice Journey, which is currently in its third season, and has aired in 135 countries across five continents.
Peter and I watched the entire series and loved it. Delia is a delightful presence on the screen - he is clearly passionate about food, its history, and the people who invite him into their homes or restaurants to share their cuisine.
Divided into the cuisines of Malta, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Morocco and Andalucia, the book is quite literally loaded with inspired recipes - rock solid and tasty, as Delia says.
Stand out recipes (there are many!) include lamb sfiha (little parcels of heaven, like mini pizzas); ricotta and carrot ladyfingers with pashmak; candied spiced pumpkin; fig and walnut ice cream; roasted pork belly with fenugreek salad and roast garlic vinaigrette; saffron roasted peaches with saffron fairy floss; and tea-smoked duck with black cabbage and hazelnut salad. And the rest...
Apart from the recipes, the thing I love most about Spice Journey is the author's invitation:
"Cook with this book, use it, dirty it up and put the recipes to the test... Make these recipes your own, add your own words and give it your own accent. People have been doing just that for centuries, and that's what makes food special and why I love being a cook."
Chef Shane Delia's recipe...
I have chosen to showcase this recipe from Shane Delia's Spice Journey, as a few of you have asked me about the use of pomegranates. Enjoy.
GRILLED HALOUMI WITH SOUMAC AND POMEGRANATE DRESSING
"Simplicity and freshness, for me, are the two things any good cuisine is built on," writes chef Shane Delia. "This dish is one you see all throughout Lebanon. I remember driving from Beirut to Sidon and stopping on the side of the road at a simple store where a man with a huge moustache was making fresh cheese sandwiches — one man, a toaster, some labneh, haloumi, a mound of fresh flat bread, spices, olive oil and a few other bits and pieces. He had a line out the door! This man cooked me a toasted sandwich with haloumi and za’atar drizzled with olive oil and local sea salt. I sat on the kerb out the front of his shop and savoured every mouthful. Simple, fresh and cooked with love. Heaven."
1 teaspoon pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted
seeds from 1 small pomegranate
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon za’atar* (or dried thyme)
1 cocktail onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon sumac
a few rosemary sprigs
150 ml (5½ fl oz) olive oil
pinch of salt flakes
300 g (10½ oz) haloumi cheese, sliced into 1 cm (½ inch) thick portions
Combine all the ingredients, except the haloumi, in a mixing bowl. Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Heat a large chargrill pan or frying pan over high heat. Add the haloumi and cook for 1 minute on each side or until golden. Press the haloumi with a spatula; when there is no resistance the haloumi is cooked.
Remove the haloumi from the pan and transfer onto paper towel to drain, then divide among serving plates. Drizzle over the pomegranate and sumac dressing and serve immediately.
Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 5 minutes Serves: 8
Spice Journey by Shane Delia, $49.99, Murdoch Books. Buy the book, dear readers, and go on a culinary adventure into the ancient lands of Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Phoenicia, the Moors, and the paradise of Andalucia.
Thank you kindly to the publicity team at Murdoch Books, and chef Shane Delia, for giving me the opportunity to review this title. Images and the recipe appear with the kind courtesy of Murdoch Books.
Now it's your turn, dear readers. Tell me, have you ever visited any of these exotic places? Do you enjoy cooking with spices? And are you a fan of chef Shane Delia?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes, postcards and morsels from my adventures, conversations with cookery writers
and chefs, and news on food and cooking.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.