Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Part I: My Favorite Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Cookbooks

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid 
This twosome was the subject of a great 2008 New Yorker piece by Jane Kramer called The Hungry Travelers. Naomi Duguid was a lawyer in Toronto and Jeffrey Alford was involved in various illicit and possibly dangerous activities when they met on a hotel roof in Tibet in 1985. They have traveled extensively since that momentous meeting and are excellent guides to the food they find in pretty far-flung places.

Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas (1995)
Favorite recipe: Two Reds Salad (See recipe on my September 1, 2009 blog.)
I found Flatbreads & Flavors upon returning from Israel and Jordan where I was amazed by a local bread, called shrak, made over something resembling an up-side-down wok set over a heat source. This book includes a recipe for it, although I have yet to make it. This is one of their first books and has far less color photos but some nicely labeled black and whites. Great food.

Seductions of Rice (1998)
Favorite recipe: Grilled Beef Salad
This cookbook’s focus is on all the cuisines of the world that have rice as the primary staple food: China, Thailand, Japan, India, Central Asia and Persia, the Mediterranean, Senegal, and North and South America. As with Flatbreads & Flavors, they include food to eat along with the many different kinds of rice.

Other cookbooks: Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Tour through South East Asia (2000), Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Sub-continent (2005), Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China (2008)

Sam and Sam Clark 
Casa Moro (2004)
Favorite recipe: Carrot Purée with Caraway and Feta (See recipe below.)
I love that they are Sam and Sam (actually Samantha and Samuel). We’ve eaten at their London restaurant, Moro, which was just great. They are as fascinated as I am by the Moors, believed to be both Arab and Muslim, who crossed the Straits of Ghibraltar from Morocco to Spain in 711 bringing with them all sorts of fruits and vegetables hitherto unavailable: saffron, sugar-cane, rice, figs, grapes, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, bananas, peaches, apricots, eggplant, artichokes, cumin, coriander, and almonds. The food the Clarks offer is a rich combination of both cultures, Morocco and Spain; they are marvelous taste companions.

Other cookbooks: Moro: The Cookbook (2001)

Tessa Kiros 
Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes (2009)
Favorite recipes: Boiled Potato Salad and Red Pepper Soup with Olives, Lemon Zest, and Yogurt (See recipe below.)
This is truly an international cookbook featuring foods from Finland, Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, and Italy. It is much easier to read than Apples for Jam whose recipes were printed in a light gray color in an odd typeface, so hard to read that I didn’t use it much. This one is much improved. Lots and lots of photos, nice print face and color. The recipes are written in paragraph style which I find more difficult to follow than the numbered step-by step method. But she has a great aesthetic and design sense and the dishes are colorful and really good.

Other cookbooks: Apples for Jam (2007)

Greg and Lucy Malouf
Saha: A Chef’s Journey through Lebanon and Syria (2005)
Favorite recipes: Sweet and Sour Eggplant Salad or Braised Swiss Chard with Crisp Fried Onions and Tahini Sauce

Turquoise: A Chef’s Travels in Turkey (2008)
Favorite recipe: Green Olive Walnut and Pomegranate Salad
These are the most gorgeous books. You might think they belong on the coffee table but that would be a serious mistake. They are as fun to cook from as they are to read. Malouf and Malouf hail from Melbourne, Australia where Greg has a restaurant, MoMo. Once married, now separated, they continue to work together on cookbook projects, I am pleased to say, she as the writer, he as the chef.

Other cookbooks: Artichoke to Za’atar: Modern Middle Eastern Food (2008)

Claudia Roden
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon (2005)
Favorite recipe: Eggplant Slices with Pomegranate, Yogurt, and Tahini (See recipe below.)
I acquired Claudia Roden’s first cookbook A Book of Middle Eastern Food in 1974, a comprehensive survey of Middle Eastern food but without photos or much charm in terms of design. I fell in love with the flavors. Thankfully Roden is a very good writer and her explanations and stories were great. Thirty-some years later, cookbook aesthetics have changed. Arabesque has a lot of photos showing the food in all its glory. All the dishes I’ve cooked from it have been wonderful and it is a pleasure to read.

Other cookbooks: A Book of Middle Eastern Food (1972), The New Book of Middle Eastern Food (2000)

Paula Wolfert
Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking (2009)
Favorite recipe: Creamy Bean Soup with Florina Red Peppers (I used Gypsy)
Paula Wolfert wants us to cook food that is as close to authentic as possible and gives detailed recipes on exactly how to attain the best results, whether it’s handmade couscous or duck confit. I truly admire her dedication to keeping ancient cooking traditions alive.
Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking is her most recent book. The clay pots are simply a joy to use. Among other places, you can buy them at Bram in Sonoma or The Spanish Table or on line. The recipes I’ve tried so far are just great. The publisher must have decided to put as little money as possible into the design, printing and photographs. For all the effort and care Paula put into the recipes, the book is not a joy to read. The photos are humdrum and there are some page numbering mistakes. I have taken matters into my own hands by photographing the dishes I’ve cooked and gluing them into my book to give it a little more character and color.

Other cookbooks: Mostly Mediterranean (1988), Mediterranean Cooking (1994), Mediterranean Grains and Greens (1998), Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (2001), The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen (2003), The Cooking of Southwest France (1983) and (2005)

1 comment:

Chris Bucholtz said...

Hey! Thanks for the awesome Christmas gift ideas for a certain cooking-inclined member of my household...