This review was prepared by Suzy of Serenely Full.
Levi Roots — creator of Reggae Reggae Sauce, chef, musician, television presenter and food writer — returns with his third cookbook, Levi Roots’ Levi Roots Food for Friends: 100 Simple Dishes for Every Occasion, taking Caribbean cookery out for another spin with a wide array of tasty recipes.
The book is certainly comprehensive: it lists chapters on brunch, lunch, puddings, parties, barbecues, high tea (my own personal favourite) and many more, while winter warming stews snuggle up next to fruit kebabs for a summer afternoon. There’s also a section on Roots’ favourite ingredients, which all feature prominently in the recipes – thyme, coconut, Scotch bonnet chilli, mango, rum and lime to name a few. The flavours of the Caribbean are showcased in inventive ways, including some twists on the classics. You can try Caribbean spiced shepherd’s pie, a special Sunshine Sauce spaghetti Bolognese, or pecan and ginger shortbread for something familiar but a little different.
Getting to grips with the book is not difficult. Levi Roots is a hugely likeable guy and his friendly writing style and the beautiful accompanying photography instantly welcome you in. The recipes are unintimidating, the ingredients are relatively easy to track down, and the instructions are clear and informative. In the end, the biggest difficulty I encountered was trying to decide what to make!
I made a beeline for the Roast Banana Ice Cream. As far as ice creams go, it’s a simple enough recipe as there’s no custard base; you simply roast the bananas in a lovely rum mixture, blend, and mix with whipped cream. According to the recipe, you don’t even need to churn the mixture as it freezes. I do wonder if it might have benefited from periodic churning, however, as it wasn’t as smooth and creamy as other ice creams I’ve made lately. That said, the flavour was beautiful. It’s banana distilled: bright, fruity, and perfect if you want a burst of summer on a cloudy day.
Next up was the Coconut and thyme barbecue chicken. Again, a straightforward recipe to follow, with good advice about how best to cook the marinated chicken on the barbecue. The marinade of coconut cream, sugar, lime, vinegar, garlic, thyme and chilli worked wonderfully well. There was no jostling of flavours; just a mellow meeting of chilli warmth, sweet and sharp, fragrant woody thyme and coconut, encased within a sticky, crispy skin.
I served the Caribbean tamarind chickpeas and the Red, green and gold coconut rice together. Both were a real hit. I’ve long loved coconut rice and this was as good as any I’ve had – creamy, soft, and cut through with sweet pepper. The peppers are a quick and easy way to fancy up a rice dish and it would make a beautiful plateful for any buffet spread. The Caribbean tamarind chickpeas were hearty and another perfect mix of chilli heat, coconut sweet and tamarind sour. One for a winter weeknight, I think. It even satisfied the ‘meat for every meal’ types in the group.
The Passion fruit cake was the overall champion, winning over some very happy campers with its tart filling of passion fruit and lime curd, yoghurt and mascarpone. An excellent alternative for those who find a Victoria sponge slightly too rich. You can sweeten the filling as much or as little as you like, but it’s a cake that benefits from the contrast of sweet, buttery sponge and sharp, fruity filling. The curd is much the same to prepare as other curd recipes I’ve followed and came together very easily. The crunch of the passion fruit seed took a little getting used to, and non-fans could laboriously pick them out, but I think the cake would then lose a lot of its beauty. Leave them in, I say.
Finally, I thought it only right to try the recipe for Sweet potato and Parmesan soufflé; a tricky one, considering that soufflés are notoriously difficult and I had never made one before. The recipe is naturally a little more fiddly than the others and I dirtied a good number of dishes in the process, but if you follow Roots’ guidance then you should end up with a beautifully risen soufflé. The flavours of sweet potato and salty Parmesan were far subtler than I anticipated, but it was meltingly creamy to eat. A success.
Overall, I found this to be an accessible and thoroughly enjoyable book. It’s not an introduction to Caribbean cookery, Roots has already written Caribbean Food Made Easy for that, but it’s a delicious new take on a wide range of recipes with plenty of crowd pleasers that are simple to prepare yet impressive to eat. Often I’ll buy cookery books and leave them 90 per cent unused, but this is a book that I could cook from endlessly. Afternoon teas will never be the same again.