While I love to travel, I think my introverted nature much prefers to hear all about other people’s travel stories or to get lost in a good cookbook full of faraway places and food to match. True story — when I was little my mom asked me if I wanted to join the Girl Guides. I asked her question after question to see if this seemed like something I wanted to do and, it wasn’t until she started to tell me about the camping trips that I quickly asked, “Are these trips overnight??” to which she replied, “Yes.” Which I responded to almost immediately by saying, “I don’t think this sounds like something I would like.” What I do love is picking up a book like, The Forest Feast Mediterranean by Erin Gleeson, to see all the places and food she experienced with her family over the month they spent travelling throughout Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal.
The Forest Feast Mediterranean is the fourth book from author/illustrator Erin Gleeson. Her others — The Forest Feast, The Forest Feast for Kids, and The Forest Feast Gatherings (click here if you’d like to read my review of this one) — are in the same bright and colourful style as her latest book. And, like the others TFFM is also a vegetarian-focused cookbook. I really appreciate how Gleeson brings her recipes to life using both pictures as well as her beautiful watercolour illustrations. Some of the words (such as titles or names of recipes, etc.) are painted or hand-written while the rest of the text looks like it was typed on an old typewriting creating the most charming effect. Each of Gleeson’s books feels like you may be looking at her journal or personal recipe book. All these details work to show the readers that this relaxed style within the book matches her recipes.
I usually hesitate to use the word “all”, but I’ll say it here: all her recipes can be made on a busy weeknight with time to spare. The recipes are vegetarian based by using eggs and dairy but many of the recipes are vegan or can be made vegan by using the right ingredient substitutions. Each recipe relies on only a handful of ingredients which you can find at any regular grocery store. Even a more time-consuming ingredient to make, such as dough, is store bought (which isn’t to say that you can’t make your own, but you can save time by not making it). I’ve found that her dishes look perfect on a weeknight dinner table, but they can also transition into those special occasions when you have guests over. Somehow Gleeson’s recipes seem a little fancy or a bit extra without requiring more work, specialty ingredients, or kitchen prep.
Some may wonder how “authentic” her Mediterranean recipes are and I think the way in which she describes TFFM in the introduction is the answer: “While not necessarily authentic to each region we visited, the recipes in the pages that follow are inspired by the local dishes and ingredients we saw.” To me, that sounds like what some of us do after we come home from a great trip where we’ve had amazing food experiences — we try to recreate some of that magic felt while on vacation. The Forest Feast Mediterranean is a personal travelogue full of tasty meals!
The recipes are organized into seven chapters: Snacks, Drinks, Salads, Small Plates, Pasta, Vegetable Sides, Sweets — with a couple of extra chapters, Mediterranean Dinner Party and a Travel Guide, full of ideas on hosting your own dinner party using recipes from the book or planning out your own trip to the Mediterranean. I really appreciated the interesting and informative head notes she’s written for each recipe. I think I would have preferred more structure in terms of the recipes themselves — while some recipes had a clear list of ingredients some did not. For the ones that did not (recipes such as the Caponata or the Eggplant Pizzettes) the home cook must carefully read through the instructions to discover the ingredients. In either case, the food was the same: absolutely delicious!
Speaking of delicious food, when I tried her recipe for Rosemary Socca I had this moment upon tasting it where I wondered, “Socca! Where have you been all my life??” It was my first time trying this iconic recipe and for those who haven’t had the pleasure of tasting it, a socca is a savoury pancake made from chickpea flour. Baked in a hot oven on a cast iron skillet the socca is one of the most delicious foods. I can already see so many ways to experiment with its seasoning and what to serve it with. It also has the added benefit of being gluten free for those looking to find a stellar gluten-free recipe!
A recipe my 5-year-old daughter loved to make and eat from the book is the Mini Artichoke Lasagnas. Assembled in ramekins, my daughter was able to do it herself! Scooping the chopped marinated artichokes and sauce, layering the noodles, and topping it off with cheese was a deeply satisfying activity for her! And, since she was so invested in making this dish she heartily ate at dinnertime. Maybe it’s that universal truth that food tastes great when you make it yourself! My husband pointed out the fact that those “fancy little lasagnas” would be just the thing if we had company over, which just goes to illustrate my earlier point about the versatility of Gleeson’s food. Some of the other recipes we really enjoyed were the Eggplant Pizzettes, the Spaghetti with Lentil “Meatballs”, and the Fried Ricotta Gnocchi.
I really appreciate Gleeson’s artistic talent and the unique visual style of her books — by pairing beautiful illustrations with each recipe it’s almost like she’s reinvented the recipe as a new type of infographic. As with all her other books, The Forest Feast Mediterranean, is full of easy to make and delicious to eat vegetarian recipes that the whole family can enjoy together. If you’re curious about what other recipes I’m trying from TFFM then click on my custom Instagram hashtag #aneatworthymediterraneanforestfeast or checkout my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Manda Books and Abrams Books for providing me with a free advanced of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.