Review of "Spain: Recipes and Traditions," a cookbook by Jeff Koehler; plus a Tomato Marmalade Recipe

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I recommend this cookbook to: people who have visited Spain, fallen in love with the food and culture of its various regions, who want a coffee-table picture book, with extremely authentic recipes to help them relive their experience. Also, for anyone who can’t afford to go to Spain, who wants a tour of all its regions vicariously–this is a book for you, if you’re willing to plop down $40.00.

I don’t recommend this for: vegetarians, or anyone squeamish about eating all parts of an animal (there were a few things that almost grossed even totally-non-squeamish me out).

Why I rate this book okay instead of great:

1. Mediocre design job–too many pages of difficult-to-read, small typeface on colored background annoyed me. Also annoying was the silly yellow splotchy ink-bleed (done on purpose) on the white page edges–for decoration! And the ALL-CAPS ingredient lists, in 2-column layout, make the recipes difficult to scan.

2. Too many recipes that aren’t really recipes. Example: Galician boiled potatoes with paprika, for which we’re instructed to scrub and boil potatoes, then peel them, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and paprika. These psuedo-recipes serve to make the book thicker (each filling an entire page of thick, expensive paper), which adds to the cost of the book without providing enough value.

3. Although the authenticity is obviously impeccable, the cultural information presented is simply not compellingly interesting, mostly because it’s been said by everyone else who has written a Spanish cookbook or hosted a Spanish cooking show in the past 20 years (although this may be the first time it’s gathered into one volume?).  Because the author’s tone is journalistic, the writing leans toward dull. The photography is quite good, however, and brings the book back up couple of notches.

Why I liked it anyway: I LOVE cookbooks, and I generally find inspiration in all but the lousiest of them. Plus, the last three chapters (13–Desserts; 14–Drinks; and 15–Homemade Conserves) gave me some new and interesting ideas, which I definitely will add to my kitchen repertoire. The majority of cookbooks I encounter these days fail to show me anything new, so I really appreciated these chapters!

This year when our local farmer’s market was bursting with ripe tomatoes, I’m came up with this riff on Jeff Koehler’s recipes for Tomato Marmalade and Sweet Preserved Tomatoes with Thyme (I rarely follow recipes; I use them as springboards for my own inventions):

Tracy Lee Karner's Kickin' Gingered Tomato Marmalade
My Tomato Marmalade

 Have you ever been to Spain?  Have you ever tasted tomato marmalade? Do cookbooks transport you? 

31 thoughts on “Review of "Spain: Recipes and Traditions," a cookbook by Jeff Koehler; plus a Tomato Marmalade Recipe”

  1. Sadly, I’ve never visited Spain – maybe one day! What a great idea, Tracy, to buy a cookbook that helps you recreate the wonderful experiences of a country you enjoyed visiting!
    Diana xo

  2. No Tracy, airplanes transport me, cookbooks frustrate me! But I do like the sound of your tomato marmalade – and although I have been to Spain, I’ve never seen it there. I might be tempted to have a go – especially as just this past weekend I attempted a lemon and sultana cheesecake (we had guests) and miraculously it turned out OK. Things are on the up in my kitchen at the moment. 🙂

    1. Oh, there are plenty of cookbooks that frustrate me, too. It’s amazing, how many bad recipes are published.
      I think it’s awesome that things are on the up in your kitchen. And, by the way, I’ve borrowed your idea for a bacon & egg & potato salad a couple of times, and everyone loved it. 🙂

  3. I have been to Spain years ago but I was a vegetarian at the time so the only thing I really found to eat (on my budget) was the Spanish omelette – which I did enjoy, but Spanish food isn’t something I’ve had a lot of.

    1. Spain is definitely not very vegetarian-friendly.
      People over here tend to confuse Spanish food with Mexican food, but they are definitely not the same, although they share the same words. A Spanish Tortilla is an omelette with potatoes; a Mexican Tortilla is a flat bread. A Spanish chorizo is stuffed in casing and cured; A Mexican chorizo is uncased and fresh and made with completely different seasonings.
      I’ve never been to Spain, but I’ve cooked so much of the food, that I almost feel I’ve been there!

  4. I made a fancy cheese and pickle after I came home from Spain last month. Quince paste. I would love to cook more Spanish food, especially the seafood, although it is a shame my daughters won’t eat it. It’s a shame this wasn’t a better book, what a wasted opportunity.
    But thanks for bringing us delicious thoughts!

    1. I’m sure for some people, those looking for beautiful pictures and authenticity, this is a fabulous book. I looked at the author’s website–I would say he is primarily a photographer who also writes about the settings and culture surrounding his pictures, who didn’t do enough research about the other Spain-food books out there, so therefore didn’t come up with a fresh slant. Wasted opportunity is a perfect way to put it.

    1. Interesting….
      I’ve decided to do a series on cookbooks (because I voraciously read them!) and for no apparent reason, I posted this one rather than one of many others I’ve already written.
      I love it when what seems random turns into synchronicity. 🙂

      1. Hello, your post on September 11 did not allow me to make a comment. I loved the way you addressed this issue of never forgetting without actually mentioning the events at all. And yet, by doing, that I remembered.

  5. I bought a French cookbook, an Italian cookbook and a Mediterranean cookbook – mostly for the photos. But I have tried a few recipes and they are wonderful. The photos of the Spanish cookbook might be wonderful. If I didn’t already have too many cookbooks, I might check it out. 😉

    1. There is nothing actually wrong with the recipes in the book (unlike some cookbooks, in which the recipes are faulty); they’re just boring.
      The photos, however, are really nice. And I do think that photos can elevate a cookbook.

  6. While I am more than just a little bit squeamish about eating all the parts of any animal, Tracy, your recipe for tomato marmalade look delicious, so you definitely caught my attention.
    My mother-in-law had three basic recipes for evening meals she fixed for her family, according to my husband, her son. But I know from personal experience that even though she didn’t like cooking, she was the ultimate collector of cook books from every country and culture. After she died, all the females in the family including her daughter, daughter-in-law (me), nieces, cousins, friends, granddaughters, and even the four great-granddaughters at the time, were each given 8 cookbooks. And the extras were donated to the local high school cooking class, too.
    So I doubt if I’ll buy this cook book, Tracy, but I thank you for an honest and entertaining review and another excellent post!

    1. I’ve had an extensive cookbook collection, but after moving around frequently, I gave away, sold, or donated many, many cookbooks, keeping only those that I refer to often (about 2 dozen). These days, I get new cookbooks from the library and only invest in a copy if I LOVE LOVE LOVE the book.

  7. I’ve been to Spain several times but it has been way too long since my last visit. I did enjoy the food…it is funny, one of my favorite things were the french fries as they were always cooked in olive oil which gave them such a great flavor.

  8. I really enjoy your honest reviews. The Tomato marmalade sounds delicious, but I haven’t come across that variety of tomato here. What would be a good substitute ‘Romas’? Or would any tomato work?
    Is the sugar necessary to thicken the marmalade or could Splenda be substituted? We have a family member with diobetes so often sub Splenda where possible.

  9. It’s refreshing to see such an honest review. Initially I thought this book would be a good way to experience — however vicariously — a new cuisine, but the thought of all-caps ingredients lists put me right off. A seemingly minor thing, but really, what is the point of that? But ooh, that tomato marmalade! Must try that …

    1. I’m learning to be more honest than I used to be. I like to be “nice,” but I’m starting to believe that honesty really is the best policy, if you value authenticity.
      I figure if I present my honest opinion, people are free to disagree with me. I mean, there must be some people who think ALL CAPS would be graphic-design groovy, right? (But I’m relieved to hear you’re not one of them; we can stay twins!)

      1. I too struggle sometimes with the tension between being ‘nice’ and being ‘honest.’ I think the key is to be balanced, as you were in your review. And to be highly restrained in the use of ALL CAPS!

  10. I’ve never been to Spain but have always wanted to go. It seems everyone I know here has (it was big in the 70’s to go on package holiday tours there and over the decades it became popular for ex-pats to buy property out there) but my sons have both been and always rave about the food. Your tomato marmalade first had me thinking that it was similar to tomato chutney but your recipe sounds fresher, zingier (is that even a word?) and must be a delicious accompaniment to cheese. But I have to ask, what is sriracha? I’m curious…!

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