Variety, as they say, is the spice of life, and there are a huge variety of dishes to be found in The Nutmeg Trail: Recipes and Stories Along the Ancient Spice Routes (Apollo Publishers) by food writer and recipe developer Eleanor Ford. If you are looking for the keys to layering together the complex and exotic flavors of spices from around the world into sumptuous culinary delights, this is the book for you. But it is also so much more than that.

Ford has clearly done her history homework in this volume of spice lore and recipes. In it, she tells the fascinating story of how the spice trade spread not only flavors but ideas and knowledge all along ancient sea and land routes. With a particular focus on Indian Ocean ports of call, Ford outlines how various spices crisscrossed continents to be adopted into local cuisines. She demonstrates that the lineage of some of the most famous national dishes is often an amalgam of ingredients and techniques borrowed from other cultures and adapted to local ingredients and the prevailing tastes of the local population.

“I have worked hungrily as a culinary detective,” Ford writes, “finding clues from recipe names, methods and tastes to trace their stories and ancient links. This book has become a project of gastronomic archaeology.” It is an approach that makes The Nutmeg Trail a treasure trove for fans of ethnic foods from around the world who are curious about the origins of their favorite dishes. Through narrative content, a handy timeline and a compendium of fun and interesting facts, Ford brings culinary history to life, but it is the practical advice on spice use and 80 accompanying recipes that make this book well worth the investment.

PART HISTORICAL NARRATIVE, PART GUIDEBOOK, PART COOKBOOK

Ford goes into detail on the flavor profiles of spices both common and exotic, and provides instruction on sourcing, storage, preparation and use. The recipes are divided into the prevailing spice categories — ginger, peppercorns, chilies, and more — building into more complex concoctions involving spice pastes and blends. The usefulness of these spice combinations goes well beyond the recipes at hand, as you’ll create blends that can be used over and over again in dishes of your own invention. Also reusable is Ford’s advice on when and how to add each spice in the preparation process to achieve specific kinds of results. Again, well worth the price of admission.

The recipes themselves range from traditional to modern and meander across a wide geographic area — dishes from the Indian subcontinent mingle with those from the Middle East, Africa and the Far East, with a few from Europe thrown in for good measure. Ford provides us with a good balance of meat-based and vegetarian entrees, along with soups, sides and beverages, and makes recommendations on pairing these to create full meals.

Like many high-design cookbooks, the layout invites browsing with its gorgeous food photography, easy-to-scan ingredient lists and clear instructions. But you’ll want to do more than browse The Nutmeg Trail. That’s because it’s also an example of fine culinary writing, evocative and poetic in its descriptions of flavors, colors and textures. Each dish comes with fascinating historical tidbits and other background information. This is a cookbook you’ll want to read cover to cover.

It’s little wonder to learn that Ford has garnered much recognition for her food writing, including two Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, an Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award, a Der Deutsche Kochbuchpreis Bronze, and multiple Guild of Food Writers Awards. She’s traveled widely to collect, study and adapt the recipes in this book, making it a unique compendium of world flavors that juxtaposes her unique takes on ethnic restaurant fare you already love with dishes that are rarely prepared outside of their home countries.

Packed with fascinating history, stylish photography, useful guidelines and recipe descriptions as mouthwatering as the dishes themselves, The Nutmeg Trail is an international cookbook you’ll want to savor.

Buy this book!

Eleanor Ford is a food writer and recipe developer who has traveled widely to collect eclectic, evocative recipes. She is the author of the multiple award-winning Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia and coauthor of Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Ford started her career as a recipe developer and editor for the Good Food Channel and was later the local editor for Zagat’s Hong Kong restaurant guide, a Zagat Buzz restaurant blogger in London, and a Time Out restaurant reviewer specializing in Asian and international foods. Her popular Instagram feed can be viewed at @eleanorfordfood. Ford lives in London, England.