We Cook: Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe

I’ve had Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe for a year and have yet to cook out of it.

Published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, with 256 pages and over 130 recipes, it came in the same package of books as Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams but didn’t get the same attention as the others in the lot.
There was no good reason to ignore the book, I simply had other books that I kept reaching for. After a year of waiting I think it’s time to use this book. The need to use Purple Citrus is directly tied to the fact that I have a glut of eggplants in the garden and the book has a long list recipes for them.

I’ve never been to the Mediterranean, much less the Eastern Mediterranean, but I am continuously drawn to its food. I think much of it has to do with the area’s amount of negative news coverage. Exposing violence is necessary but culture and beauty always seem to get lost in the avalanche of dark news stories. I want to see the good, the beloved, the comforting. I want to know what quiet moments hold for a person when the focus is on creating something lovely.

I wonder how someone could not want to know more when Rowe writes in her introduction that her recipes combine “the sweet and the sour, the fresh and the dried, honey and cinnamon, saffron and sumac, scented rose and orange flower waters with the most magical of spices.”

Hot dang, I’m ready to cook.

Rowe explains in one of her videos that the “purple citrus” part of the book’s title comes from the qualities of sumac. Sumac is indeed a deep purple spice with a citrusy, floral taste. It can be difficult to source in-person if you’re not in a metropolitan area. The fact that Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume calls for some hard-to-find ingredients is a popular ‘con’ in recent reviews.

Complaints or raves over books are a tiny factor in my buying habits. I am disgustingly frustrated when someone reviews a cookbook without cooking from it. Unfortunately, when you start digging through cookbook reviews this is what you find the most.

Could you imagine someone reviewing a novel the same way? “Well, this paragraph sounded good and there are some nice looking illustrations and photographs, too. What I didn’t like was that there were some big words and I had to get out a dictionary or use surrounding context to figure them out.” Read the book, cook a handful of recipes as written, then make your assessment (YA JACKASS).

While there is no good substitute for sumac, there is a helpful section in Purple Citrus called The Eastern Mediterranean Pantry. It offers substitutes or recipes for many ingredients and information on other common pantry items.

Like sumac, there are a few ingredients used in the book that have no substitutes. Many of them are fresh ingredients like passion fruit, pomegranates, nettles, and purslane. However, I’m not going to cook out of the book every day and I can make the recipes when the ingredients are in season or show up in stores. I don’t live in the Eastern Mediterranean and don’t expect to find everything at my grocery store down the street, especially when I’m cooking from a book that deals exclusively with food from completely different countries.

Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume is divided into several main recipe sections: Mezze (a series of small shared plates); Starters; Boreks (filled pastries), Pilafs and Salads; Meat and Poultry; Fish; Vegetables; and Sweets. Paging through the book, the meat section seems to lean heavily on lamb (unsurprisingly) and the sweets section has several of recipes calling for roses, which is charming to me.

There are a few folktales, poems, and anecdotes throughout the book, breaking up the stream of recipes.

When headnotes are included with a recipe Rowe gives substitution advice, where she got the recipe, or a story setting up the dish’s origins. The headnotes are mostly utilitarian although there are some touching insights here and there.

The book’s photography is by Jonathan Lovekin, the same person who photographed Nigel Slater’s Tender and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, among other titles getting a lot of attention lately. I couldn’t find any information on the food stylist, but the photographs in Purple Citrus have a jewel-like quality.

Perhaps it has to do with all of the pomegranate seeds on plates, jade pistachios, and olive oil.

There is an official Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume flickr stream for a look at more photos.

Like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Sweet Citrus lays flat

making cooking from the book easy.

My edition came with a dust jacket and let me tell you, I’m almost off of the fence about dust jackets on cookbooks.

I’d rather ribbons for place markers and a surface that is easy to wipe off should I lay the book down in a puddle of broth.

The actual book cover is QUITE PINK. It has a glossy surface, making broth puddles a little less threatening if the book is naked.

Along with the presence of a dust jacket, the other niggling thing I can’t shake is that the page numbers are close to the spine instead of on the outside edge of the pages.

To consult the index and then go to the listed page you have to open up the book up all the way to see your page number instead of be able to quickly flip through the edge of the pages.

A small thing, like I said.

Page numbers and dust jackets aside, Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume is an impressive book to pursue but let’s allow the recipes do their thing and see what the book is made of.

I’ve not been compensated or asked to write about this book in any way. I couldn’t find a lot of information about it online so I decided to write about it in depth for others who may be interested in what the book holds.

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