x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Review of Laila Al Khaja's new book With a Pinch of Spice

There are plenty of recipes to get stuck into and if the methods don't read quite as clinically as most cookbooks, perhaps that just adds to its charm.

My first impressions of the book are good. Despite being quite large, I find this works in its favour; unlike so many smaller, more flimsy books, when placed on a work surface this one stays open on the right page, rather than flicking shut.

The overall feel is clean, modern and bright. The food has been prettily styled by Anja Schwerin, the text is easy to decipher and the photographs (shot by Edwina Cottino) are attractive. That said, the pages with more generic images of Dubai (a shawarma stand, a restaurant in a five-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab), interspersed among the recipe pages, do have a stock photo feel to them.

All three recipes that I tried worked well. Deciding that the aforementioned sushi rolls stuffed with potatoes was a dish for another day, I made the mushrooms with pomegranate sauce first and they were great: juicy, tangy and slightly unusual tasting. I served this with courgette moutabel, which was certainly lighter and more refreshing than the traditional version, although I did think that next time I will use fewer courgettes than the 10 advised in the recipe. A large serving of satay rice was popular with my friends and the recipe was easy to follow.

On the downside, while the recipes are listed at the front of the book, it would be helpful if you could search for ingredients via an index at the back, as is the case with most cookbooks. I also found it confusing that the measurements weren't consistent throughout the book; often, the same recipe would call for ingredients to be measured in grams, US cups and large numbers of tablespoons (up to 15 a time). Al Khaja also has a penchant for using food colouring in her desserts which I don't share.

All in all, With a Pinch of Spice is an interesting read. There are plenty of recipes to get stuck into and if the methods don't read quite as clinically as most cookbooks, perhaps that just adds to its charm.

With a Pinch of Spice is available to buy from major bookstores across the UAE and is priced at Dh145