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Cookbook Club: Samarkand

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club, which this month focused on Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford’s Samarkand

It’s always a very good sign—for both the cookbook and our Cookbook Club events—when people leave with lists of dishes they want to try at home and that are set to become stalwarts. In what I hope Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford will take as a compliment to their co-authored Samarkand, I am not sure we expected to feel quite so much that way. That somehow sums up the Cookbook Club’s Samarkand experience: delightfully surprising and a voyage of discovery.

I certainly expected us to be fascinated by the journey and the stories of Samarkand. And we absolutely were. Caroline Eden was so inspired by her travels in the region, and the food she was experiencing there in its homes and markets, that she wanted to spread the word about its joys. She teamed up with her friend, food writer and fellow traveller Eleanor Ford, to work on the book together. The stories in Samarkand that so evoke the spirit of the region are Caroline’s; the delicious recipes are Eleanor’s. The book’s overall feeling and tone are very much a joyful coming-together of the two.

I absolutely include myself in the ‘people’ who left our events inspired to cook more and again from this book. The rhubarb, apple and clove kompot is, I suspect, set to become the new regular Cookbook Club soft drink offering. Sweet, fruity, with a lovely gentle spicing and a cinch to make. (With thanks and apologies to Anna Jones, whose lemonade recipe from A Modern Way to Eat has done three years’ good service.)

Samarkand recipe

Festive feasting
Other hits included salmon kulebyaka—think salmon wellington with hard boiled eggs and you are on the right lines—which is definitely a recipe to bear mind for upcoming festive feasting. We had fabulous slow roast mutton with sultan’s delight. Its cook went for a shoulder of goat instead of the recipe’s mutton and turns out ‘sultan’s delight’ is a silky aubergine puree with cheese—totally delicious. The season’s pumpkins were put to beautiful use, whether stuffed with jewelled rice or roasted with uyghur seven spice. Lazy cabbage rolls and green olive and walnut salad are definitely others on the ‘make again’ list.

It was interesting to note that our members were more drawn to the savoury recipes than the sweet ones. I think that’s not because so few sweet recipes appealed, but that so very many savoury ones did. The happy result of me ‘persuading’ some people to go for making desserts meant we got to discover the joys of a breadth of sweet dishes: from ‘ruins of a Russian count’s castle’ (dense cake, meringue toping, cream, chocolate, winner), to beautiful roasted peaches with marzipan and rose syrup, to fabulous candied quince with chopped nuts. The latter was its cook’s first ever go at cooking with quince—and a triumph it was too.

There was much discussion among our members at the events about how well put together this book is: from the food styling and photography to the evocative shots of the region and even the graphic design of the pages. We were left feeling that Samarkand is a beautiful book to admire, to read and to cook from.