Lesley Blanch’s Round the World in Eighty Dishes is another lovely reissue from Grub Street. Blanch was an exotic, bold, beautiful, adventurous woman, of a type that seems no longer to exist. An artist and designer, a features editor at Vogue, she roamed the world, had many admirers, and was for 15 years the wife of French novelist Romain Gary. She wrote 12 books herself, and lived to the age of 102.
Grub Street's book is what the title says. Blanch introduces the recipes with pen portraits, anecdotes, and evocations. Of Tchaktchouka, one of the various north African dishes that involve a poached egg sitting in a stew of tomatoes, onions and peppers, she writes: “I don’t know how you will like this; but I loved it, as I sat among my Arab friends in the evening twilight, and the huge stars shone in the greenish sky, while the camels tethered to the palms above groaned and snorted for their own dinner – nothing nearly so nice.”
My only complaint is that the book has no index. Having spotted a moussaka recipe, I had trouble finding it again, because it appears in the Middle Eastern section – the recipe is from Syria, Blanch says. It reminded me that the topping for a moussaka can be yoghurt-based, rather than a sort of béchamel soufflé.
Blanch’s topping recipe contains 4 eggs, 3tbsps of flour, a jar of yoghurt, and salt and pepper. How large is a jar of yoghurt? I have no idea. For my version, I used a 170g pot of Total yoghurt, 1tbsp of flour (which stabilises the yoghurt, so that it does not split), and 2 beaten eggs. The mixture is runny, but sets when cooked on a moderate heat (gas mark 3/170C), and has a pleasing sharpness.