Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Review: Sonia Cabano's Easy Simple and Delicious

Wow, I can't tell you how excited I was to receive an e-mail from Aletta Lintvelt asking me to write a review on behalf of Kalahari.net and Food24 - I immediately jumped at the opportunity and the cookbook that was selected for me was Sonia Cabano's Easy Simple and Delicious.

Sonia is a former model, which instantly made me think that her views on food would be very similar to mine - being that only the best ingredients should be put into your body in order for you to look and feel your best. I was right!

The book is split into four sections, "Fresh" which aims to dispel the myth that healthy eating entails boredom and deprivation - much like what I am wanting to achieve with my blog. She writes that every mealtime should be a celebration - this is a mantra that I think we would all do well to live by. She also encourages you to lessen your dependency on animal protein and cut back on saturated fats, refined sugars and salt. Rather focusing on the flavours from herbs and spices, olive oil, ginger, chilli and garlic and to add plate appeal by using colours and textures. A few dishes that caught my eye, in this section, were Moroccan spicy lentils; Banana nut curry with pilaf rice and Phyllo pears and honey with dark chocolate chips and slivered almonds

"Fast" encourages you to manage a balanced, nutritious and tasty eating plan with delicious recipes that are quick to prepare. Decent staples are a must when it comes to no fuss meal planning such as canned beans, tomatoes, tuna, dried pasta, rice and condiments - especially Asian ones. The pastas in this sections are mouth-watering, especially the Ragu bolognese and for the sweet-toothed, Brazil nut and raisin rocky road looks delectable.

"Lazy" is all about the celebration of food, friendship and intimacy, which often take the back seat in our fast-paced lives. Classic recipes have been included in this section that will whisk you back to a by-gone age and make you embrace everything those past ideals stood for, most importantly the need to slow down and appreciate life's little pleasures. Some dishes that stand out are Coq au vin with pancetta and onions; Rare roast sirloin with horseradish cream and Yorkshire pudding; and Summer minestrone with rosemary pesto.

For the braai-obsessed, Moroccan char-grilled butterflied lamb is a must try!

The final section is "Staples" - this section is the one that really got me excited as it includes recipes for homemade stocks, which are a necessity when the focus is on additive and preservative free meals that are full of goodness and pure tastes. Also included in this section are recipes for sauces such as barbecue and sweet chilli, curry powders, salad dressings and pesto.

The cookbook itself embraces all of her principles; the pictures are bright and colourful and the recipes are simple and easy to follow. The paper is of good quality and I am sure that it will be able to withstand a good amount of kitchen activity.

In the spirit of Sonia and her cookbook I decided to host a dinner party for a few of my closest friends where I cooked three of her dishes exactly as they were and then later tweaked them for the allergy conscious.

I selected Thai fishcakes with chilli-lime dipping sauce for starters - from the "Fast" section.

Mediterranean fish baked with aubergine, origanum and peppers for main - from "Fresh"

and Coffee Amarula cups for dessert - from "Fast".

For the fishcakes it is essential to use a very good quality Thai red curry paste as the flavour will just get lost during cooking, which is what happened the first time I made them, therefore I would suggest adding an extra teaspoon or two.

The second time, I decided to make my own paste from a recipe of Delia Smith's which improved the flavour immensely. I added in 1tsp fish sauce, 1tsp soya sauce, 1tsp fructose and 1tsp sea salt and used ground cumin instead of cumin seeds as I couldn't find them, I also left out the shallots and garlic and replaced the lime with lemon. The end result was a firey paste with powerful flavours from the lemon grass, coriander and cumin - the perfect combo for the perfect fishcakes.

Thai fishcakes with chilli-lime dipping sauce:
Makes 28-30

1kg hake portions
1 egg
2T (30ml) Thai red curry paste
2t (10ml) sugar
1T (15ml) Thai fish sauce
2T (30ml) finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (no stems)
5 spring onions, white parts only, minced
Oil for frying

1. Chop fish into pieces and blend in a food processor with egg, curry paste, sugar, fish sauce, coriander and spring onions until rough paste forms
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry dessert spoonfuls of the mixture until golden brown on both sides. Drain on absorbent paper and serve hot or at room temperature with chilli-lime dipping sauce

  • Although Sonia encourages you to use less salt, I found the seasoning to be lacking in the original recipe - I added some sea salt to mine the next time I made them.
  • In the allergy version I left out the egg and refrigerated the balls over night - I was worried that they wouldn't go as nice and golden brown, but I was happy when they did
  • And I replaced the sugar with fructose
  • The first time I used fresh hake pieces and the second time I used frozen - there was really no difference
  • Over all, these fishcakes burst with flavour - I really enjoyed them and they looked exactly like the picture, which is a big plus!

Chilli-Lime dipping sauce:
(Makes 1 Cup or 250mls)

2 garlic cloves
1 small green chilli, deseeded and finely minced
1-2T (15-30ml) soft brown sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) Thai fish sauce
1/4 cup (60ml) rice vinegar
2T (30ml) lime juice (bottled is fine)
1/4 cup (60ml) water

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and liquidise for about 30 seconds, or until sugar dissolves. Alternatively, if you don't have a processor, pound the garlic, chilli and sugar to a paste with a pestle and mortar. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth
2. Serve in a pretty bowl as an accompaniment to the fishcakes. In an airtight container, this dip will keep in the refrigerator for a week

  • The fish sauce was too over-powering, I reduced the quantity in the allergy version as the rest of the flavours were fighting to compete with it
  • I used a pestle and mortar to make the sauce and it worked well
  • The next time I made the sauce, I omitted the garlic, used only 1T fish sauce and included 1T soya sauce, 2-3T lemon juice (I couldn't find limes) and left out the vinegar. It tasted brilliant and worked really well with the fishcakes
*Fish sauce does contain yeast, but I find it an integral part of Thai cooking, therefore I chose to leave it in. If you are highly allergic to yeast, I suggest leaving it out

Allergy Version

Mediterranean fish baked with aubergine, origanum and peppers:
(Serves 4)

  • This recipe calls for a firm fish, but I made a big whoopsie and used hake, which just fell apart. When I used kingklip, it worked out extremely well.
  • The second time I didn't toss the fish in flour as I thought it wasn't really necessary, although tapioca flour could be used as a gluten-free replacement.
  • I added in a teaspoon of fructose to counterbalance the tartness of the tomato
  • The flavours in the original dish were lovely - very robust and intense. I loved the inclusion of the lemon zest, it worked beautifully with the tomato and oreganum. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish and so did my guests, even though the fish fell apart; it landed up being more of a fish casserole.
  • For the allergy version, I used Nomu Vegetable Fond instead of the wine, I left out the garlic and I used fresh tomatoes instead of tinned. The result was individually fresh flavours - it turned out to be more of a lighter dish.

Allergy Version

Coffee Amarula cups:
(Serves 4)

  • The portions were very large
  • My guests struggled to finish them, but tried valiantly as they was really delicious, if a bit rich
  • I used Cranberry, Almond and Chocolate Biscotti, from Woolies, for the base - the cranberry added a nice tartness
  • Next time, I would reduce the quantities

The allergy version of Coffee Amarula cups to follow in tomorrow's post.

Allergy Version

Overall, tweaking is necessary for individual tastes and some pre-planning is needed, for a three-course meal, to prevent guests from waiting, especially if making use of the allergy versions.

I would happily be stuck in my kitchen for hours with this cookbook - discovering new taste sensations and different ways to use ordinary ingredients. The thought of Sonia's baked sweet potatoes with honey, ginger and sesame-soy butter has had me drooling for days!


  1. I love those fishcakes, I actually love all home made fishcakes. Looks like a great book for me to invest in. Thanks for the review.

  2. The fishcakes were delish and the book is a must buy :)

  3. Hi Leaine, thank you so much for your very thoughtful and thought-provoking review of my book! I am chuffed that you have taken all this trouble. I would love to stay in touch with you, since my next cookbook, which I will be writing come January 2011 is a vegetarian one, and I tend to veer towards vegan a lot of the time. I do have a vestige of a carnivore left in me, but most of what I feed myself is totally vegan and macrobiotic. My emailaddress is soniacabano2000@gmail.com I'd be so happy if we could strike up a conversation to talk about vegetarian and vegan cooking. I am also on Facebook as Sonia Cabano, would be delighted to share recipes with you.
    Happy cooking!