Nistisima – hitting bookshelves soon...
Once in a while, a book comes across your desk that makes you think: Genius! This handsome cookbook from Georgina Hayden is one of those. The Greek word nistisima is used to describe fasting foods: foods that adhere to the Orthodox church’s fasting rules, and that are made without animal products.
Lent, of course, is the best-known of the fasting periods, but, as the author points out, people following the Orthodox faith (as well as Coptic Christians in Egypt and the Maronite community in Syria and Lebanon) can fast for up 210 days each year. The recipes in this book come from Cyprus (where Georgina’s family are from), Greece, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Serbia, Armenia and beyond, and most are pretty much vegan, apart from a bit of honey here and there.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time travelling in Greece and have long appreciated the meat-free cooking there, as well as the way that abstaining from dairy and meat is simply woven into the fabric of the week, the month, the year. I’d long thought that someone ought to compile such fasting dishes into a recipe collection. Here it is, and it doesn’t disappoint.
I’ve been reading and cooking from this well-researched book for a few weeks and have learned a couple of things. I wasn’t previously aware that olive oil is abstained from during fasting weeks of the Orthodox liturgical calendar, apart from on specific days and weekends. Although it’s not an animal product, Georgina says, olive oil used to be stored in a vessel made from sheep’s skin and this rule reflects that tradition.
I also wasn’t aware that carob has the nickname ‘the black gold of Cyprus’, and that it was Cyprus’s biggest export for centuries. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never cooked with carob, something I really need to remedy!
I’ve cooked and eaten many of Georgina’s recipes before (including recipes from the delicious. magazine test kitchen during my time as deputy editor there), so I know her recipes are carefully thought out and work well – and that they always pack in plenty of flavour.
I’ve cooked two recipes from the so far (many more are on my must-cook list). Greek-Cypriot sweet and sour leeks, made so with sugar and lemon juice and flavoured with thyme, is slow-cooked simplicity itself.
Batata harra (chilli-dressed potatoes, pictured above), which you can find across the Middle East, really couldn’t be easier – you roast a pan of cubed potatoes until crisp, make a dressing of slow-cooked onion and garlic spiced with pul biber, smoked paprika, turmeric, fresh coriander and lemon juice, and mix the two components together to serve. So simple, but so good.
I’m keeping this book close by in my kitchen and will be cooking from it often, especially as the anticipated fresh homegrown veggies from my allotment start to appear.
Nistisima is published by Bloomsbury and will be hitting the shelves on 31 March. It’s available to pre-order now.