I’ve always loved epic fantasy. The genre has been a staple of my reading lists ever since I can remember. The old favorites line the bookshelves, and the new discoveries fill space on the apps on my phone. There’s nothing better for a commute on Boston’s crumbling public transit system than a story that pulls you in so deeply you nearly forget your stop. In the era of indie publishing, my go-to authors for epic fantasy have been Terry Simpson and Melissa McPhail.
I first read McPhail’s work when Cephrael’s Hand was new. Through a post on a Facebook group, I volunteered to help with a blog tour, and aspired to do a review. My timing was off. My then-boyfriend-now-husband was just moving in, and digging into a 600+ page novel wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, the blog tour organizers had premade materials to post in lieu of a review. But for the 150 or so pages I read at the time, the story made an impression.
Fast forward to this year, when my commute became longer after a move, and I had been looking forward to delving into this series anew. What I love about the Pattern of Shadow & Light series is its complexity. Much like George R.R. Martin’s work, you’re introduced to dozens of characters, each with detailed motivations and quests. The worldbuilding is beautifully described, from its geography to the magic the characters wield. With the fourth novel just released, I look forward to continuing with the series.
Early on in Cephrael’s Hand, we meet Trell of the Tides, a man who lives as a guest in an adopted kingdom. His past is unknown to him, and he is encouraged to seek out the truth. In a long journey, he meets a group of sisters who beg to travel with him, and they come to a city called Sakkalah. They stay at the elegant Inn of the Four Faces, and are presented with the following meal: “Roast green peppers were stuffed with beef and pork mixed with spices, raisins, and almonds and smothered in walnut-pomegranate sauce; lamb with potatoes and carrots was served with golden tomatoes, and a baked dish of roasted eggplant with vegetables, dates, and digs amazed them with its rich complexity. They picked from a host of side dishes, and were offered a never-ending supply of warm, toasted flatbread and excellent wine.”
I highlighted the passage and made a note. This is exactly the kind of cooking that sends my imagination flying. One of the aspects of worldbuilding I take the most delight in when writing my own novels is figuring out if I can get the reader to feel as though they’re at the table with the characters. In this case, I was instantly drawn in and not only following the conversation with Trell and his companions, but enjoying the smells coming from the kitchen, and marveling at the platters placed on the table. The culture I was being introduced to was all the more relatable. A list of ingredients formed in my mind.
Taking a bit of creative license with the original passage, I came up with the following—hopefully it will inspire you to seek out the series and join Trell at the Inn of the Four Faces as well!
Stuffed Peppers and Roasted Eggplant with Date Syrup and Spiced Yogurt Topping
3 green peppers
1 lb. beef and pork mixture
1 red onion
1 15 oz. can kidney beans
1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
Penzey’s Turkish seasoning and Aleppo pepper to taste
3 tbl. olive oil
~1 cup broth (vegetarian or beef)
½ to 1 cup pomegranate seeds
Add olive oil and heat skillet. Dice onion and fry until it turns brown. Add beef and pork mixture, stir until brown. Add fire-roasted tomatoes, kidney beans, and seasoning. Meanwhile, cut green peppers in half, remove seeds, but leave steps so the peppers hold their shape in the oven.
Spread pepper halves in large casserole pan. Pour broth no more than half-inch deep into pan as a bath for the peppers. Spoon beef mixture into pepper halves, and cook at 350F for about 30 minutes, or until peppers have softened. When plating, top with fresh pomegranate seeds.
1 large eggplant
1 head cauliflower (I used orange cauliflower for color)
1 large sweet potato
Olive oil to drizzle on vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste
Topping for vegetables
2 tbl. tahini
¼ boiling water
1 clove of garlic, or 1 tbl. crushed garlic scapes
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tbl. pomegranate molasses
¼ cup olive oil
Pinch of Aleppo pepper
Mix tahini and water, add garlic (or scapes), yogurt, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Set aside.
Cut eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Let rest for about 20 minutes to remove bitterness, rinse and chop, place on roasting pan with chopped cauliflower and sweet potato. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Roast at 425F for about 30 minutes or until soft, turning over midway through or as needed.