From ocean to olive grove, cookbooks with hooks

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      The late summer sockeye bounty had fish flying off the Steveston docks and into customers’ hands. But undoubtedly some of those customers didn’t quite know what to do with a whole fish once they got it home. Whole fish can be daunting to prepare—fillets too, if they’re varieties like mackerel that you’re not used to cooking.

      The sockeye famine and feast of the last two years highlighted the issue of sustainable seafood yet again. If you’re still confused as to what to eat and what to leave in the water, turn to The Ocean Wise Cookbook (Whitecap, $34.95), which is based on the conservation program created by the Vancouver Aquarium.

      Editor Jane Mundy has compiled a beautiful book that’s an educational read before you hit the fish counter and a practical resource in the kitchen. There’s a rundown of good and bad options (did you know that red snapper is on the “Avoid” list?) and an essay on farmed fish. In it, the Vancouver Aquarium’s Mike McDermid emphasizes that “Some of the time”¦farmed options are far more sustainable than their wild counterparts. This is especially true of shellfish such as farmed mussels, oysters, and scallops, and even some fin fish.” The section with step-by-step guides on how to fillet a round fish, shuck an oyster, clean a squid, and more is especially useful.

      The book includes 139 recipes contributed by chefs across the country, the bulk on the West Coast. Many recipes come from fine-dining establishments, such as Chambar’s Mussels Congolaise and Roasted Sablefish with Soy Sabayon and Chinese Salad from Cioppino’s. But others are geared to the everyday, such as a simple Manhattan Clam Chowder from the Manhattan Restaurant in the Delta Vancouver Suites Hotel. (For the latter recipe and others, see the "Recipes" sidebar.) There’s also a chapter featuring canned products like tuna and smoked oysters. Convenient and budget-friendly, these make getting those all-important omega-3s easier.

      Fish is a big part of the Mediterranean diet, so it’s not surprising that From the Olive Grove (Arsenal Pulp Press, $24.95) includes a chapter on seafood. The book is written by mother-daughter team Helen Koutalianos and Anastasia Koutalianos, who have an intimate connection to olive oil. Helen and her husband, Basil, run the Pitt Meadows–based Basil Olive Oil Products. They import their oil from a single-estate olive grove in Greece, which Basil’s family has owned for generations. Every fall, he travels there for the harvest.

      From the Olive Grove primarily contains Helen’s Greek family recipes. They’re very approachable, and include favourites like spanakopita (spinach pastries), stifatho (venison and pearl onion stew), and papoutsakia (stuffed eggplants). Quick meals and easy appetizers include revithosoupa (chickpea soup) and tirokafteri (banana pepper and feta dip).

      The book also features a handful of contributions from B.C. chefs. For example, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Vincent Stufano gives a recipe for a whole chicken baked inside a pumpkin, and the Jericho Tennis Club’s David Beston offers olive oil ice cream. In general, the recipes aren’t olive-oil-drenched; they just incorporate the oil as a natural part of Mediterranean dishes.

      Though olives aren’t native to chilly Toronto, jae steele doesn’t shun their oil in her book Ripe From Around Here (Arsenal Pulp Press, $24.95). The holistic nutritionist lives in the Big Smoke but makes it clear in the book’s preface: “This is not the 100-Mile Diet”¦I’m not going to tell you to eat exclusively what you can find within an hour’s drive from home.”

      A sequel to her first book, Get It Ripe, the cookbook nonetheless emphasizes the local: it’s subtitled “A Vegan Guide to Local and Sustainable Eating (No Matter Where You Live)”. Steele acknowledges the difficulties in keeping a vegan diet strictly local, and explains that she’s selected recipes using the following criteria: vegan first (so no local honey), nutrition-oriented second (so olive oil’s okay), and local third (which still allows for lots of produce, grains, and legumes). A good quarter of the book is devoted to exploring sustainability, community, and seasonal issues surrounding food.

      Recipes run the gamut from breakfast to bevvies, salads to hearty mains. The book is strong on baking and sweets, such as sweet potato date muffins and flax apple pudding. Other interesting recipes include Great Canadian Hemp Milk, Tomato Chard Bake, Polish Neighborhood (Cabbage Potato) Soup, and a colourful veggie-packed Rainbow Dragon Bowl.

      Cookbook aficionados will happily fondle Around My French Table (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $49.95), a heavy, gorgeous hardcover with luscious photos. Written by American Dorie Greenspan, who authored Baking: From My Home to Yours, this book is more than a pleasure to pour over. It has a clear, easy-to-read layout that encourages you to actually make the recipes. These are mostly for hearty, down-to-earth dishes. Examples include cheese-topped onion soup, potato gratin, and Greenspan’s go-to beef daube. It features plenty of indulgences too, like bubble-top brioches, gourgères cheese puffs, and, lord help us, chocolate éclairs.

      Stories of time and place connect the recipes to Greenspan’s visits to France. She also peppers the pages with odes to French ingredients such as Comté cheese and mustard.

      Stow this one in the back of your mind for holiday gifts.



      Jane Mundy

      Oct 14, 2010 at 11:19am

      Carolyn, thanks so much for reviewing the Ocean Wise cookbook and happy sustainable cooking!
      Jane Mundy

      chris bonnick

      Oct 18, 2010 at 1:50am

      if you like seafood i think that you will love this book.