"A Taste of the Highlands" by Ghillie Basan is an absolutely wonderful book. Beautifully produced and presented, it is a joy to handle and to read. As you flick through for the first time, the lovely illustrations leap out at you. Some are of scenes from the Highlands of Scotland, as fairly broadly defined for this book; while others are of completed dishes; or of ingredients ranging from crabs to wood sorrel to bottles of Scotch whisky; or of people the author met while researching the recipes in her book.
Ah, yes, the recipes. We'll come to those in a moment. First, though, here's a taste of what's on offer courtesy of the publisher's blurb: "On this culinary journey through the Highlands of Scotland, award-winning food writer Ghillie Basan meets a host of artisan food producers, farmers, crofters, fishermen and distillers. From the wild glens of the Cairngorms, the bountiful waters of the Moray Firth and the rolling farmland of the Black Isle to the sea lochs, moors and mountains of Sutherland and Argyll, she discovers a huge variety of local produce. Here she shares some of the best of it: lamb and grass-fed beef, wild venison, fresh salmon and juicy langoustines, seasonal fruits and berries, cheeses and charcuterie, butter and breads, as well as whisky, gin and beer – and much else besides. Featuring a hundred recipes gleaned along the way, ranging from the traditional to the contemporary, as well as the stories of the people she meets, this is a magnificent celebration of life and food in one of the world’s most beautiful places."
That is a pretty good description of what you find when you open the cover intent on exploring the contents in a little more detail. I suppose that when someone tells you they've presented you with a hundred recipes that reflect the Highlands of Scotland, you can too easily allow your expectations to fall back on the traditional and, to a degree, the cliched. What I like most about "A Taste of the Highlands" by Ghillie Basan is that the recipes fully live up to the standards of the physical book they reside within. This book is inspirational in the same way that - for me - a really good book about Scotland's mountains is inspirational. It presents ideas that make you want to follow in the author's footsteps: either in a literal sense in the mountains or in a culinary sense here.
The main body of the book is divided into ten chapters, each covering a different aspect of Highland cuisine. From "Breakfast, Breads and Brunch" we move past "Broth and Soups" via "Fish and Shellfish" to "Game', "Fruit Preserves" and so on. If there can be said to be a theme, it would probably be "Scottish with a twist": taking something classically Scottish and coming at it from an unexpected angle. Simply listing all the recipes I found enticing would lead to a long and perhaps not very informative list. But I must offer a few that I find especially appealing. How about "venison carpaccio with wild garlic and wood sorrell"? Or "pork vindaloo with juniper and bog myrtle"? Or "KJ's nettle loaf with poached eggs"? It won't take you long to find your own favourites amongst the outstanding collection on offer.