One of Britain’s top food bloggers, Rejina Sabur-Cross, is the author of a new cookbook called Gastrogeek. She is edgy, cheeky and a little rebellious. The layout of her cookbook is funky.The recipes are interspersed with comic style pages.
Rejina is a born and bred Londoner who was brought up in a traditional Bengali Household and worked in Japan for two years. Back in London now she is constantly exposed to many different cultural culinary influences. She combines traditional British and Asian ingredients and cooking styles in very inventive and sometimes unusual ways.
Such an experimental approach can easily turn into a series of culinary disasters but her recipes work. She knows how to cook. Although still young she has already built a reputation as a food writer and has contributed to The Guardian, The Independent and BBC Good Food.
Each chapter in Gastrogeek is written to meet a different kind of challenge or occasion such as aiming to wow, being hard up and hungry, dining meatless, or having the boss to dinner.
I decided to try some of the easier recipes to see if her food would be to my taste.
· Gouda and cumin cheese gougeres are described by Rejina as “ethereal explosions of glory”. These light and savoury little balls were as easy to make as to eat. The cumin seeds added a spicy lift. Great to pass around with drinks before dinner.
· Superfast Kimchee Pickled Melon. Kimchee (fermented Chinese cabbage) is one of Korea’s iconic dishes which takes considerable time to mature. Rejina has fast tracked the recipe by substituting either cantaloupe or honeydew melon. It still has that sweet-savoury flavour but as she says it “by-passes some of the more sulphuric notes of the brassica version.”
It can be enjoyed as an accompaniment to Jasmine rice and a bowl of mixed vegetable miso soup. Or slipped into a cheeseburger for an exciting twist.
I liked this recipe, and actually preferred it to traditional kimchee as it was sweeter and not so pungent. The fact that it didn’t need any time to mature also appealed.
· Roasted aubergine macaroni cheese is her twist on a familiar comfort food. She writes:
“Adding smoked aubergine to the sauce really infuses this with a porcine top note, minus any actual pig”
I thought it was nice for a change but I wasn’t completely bowled over by it. She’d probably think I’m a stick- in- the- mud but it’s hard to improve on the classic kiwi version made with cheddar cheese.
· Cardamom chocolate sauce was divine, a mixture of milk and dark chocolate dissolved in coconut milk and flavoured with cardamom husks. She serves it with home-made deep fried churros but I simply poured it over vanilla ice-cream.
There are quite a few other recipes in Gastrogeek that really appeal such as the Nectarine and Tomato Gazpacho. This would be quick to make but does have to be chilled well in advance. Her toffee and apple crumble ice-cream, a wickedly sweet combination of toffee sauce, apple ice cream and a hot crunchy crumble topping sounds really scrumptious.
Gastrogeek does not always deliver on the promise it makes on the front cover. It says it will show you what to cook when “You’re in a hurry, hungry or hard up”
Quite a few of the recipes have a more than twenty ingredients and would be quite time consuming to make.
And by no means are all of them are cheap. For instance her super deluxe triple cooked chips are deep fried in coconut oil and seasoned with rosemary and smoked salt. They are served with duck eggs fried in truffle oil and a glass of champagne. Hardly the kind of food some-one on a small budget would rustle up.
Rejina’s slightly outrageous enthusiasm makes Gastrogeek a very enjoyable read. And there is some really exciting and clever food in it that will challenge cooks to be brave, to try something completely different and to have fun while doing it.
Gastrogeek by Rejina Sabur-Cross is published by Kyle (RRP $45.00)
This review first appeared on The Breeze ( Auckland Radio Station ) website in March 2013