“Recipes from the Middle East and beyond”
by Sabrina Ghayour
I’ve had this book for ages – I went through it when I got it and tabbed all the recipes I thought I might cook. What can I say, I am easily distracted and have far too many cookbooks lying around. It’s a book that gets loads of mentions and positive PR and I’m surprised that curiosity alone didn’t get me between the covers sooner. Anyway, here we are at last. Was it worth waiting for?
Look and feel
Lovely to look at and lovely to hold! Images are plentiful and gorgeous. Despite a lot of the food being what would be called ‘mushy’ (by my family, anyway), Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton have done a great job of visually teasing the tastebuds. The layout is clear with chapters from ‘Mezze & sharing plates’ through ‘Soups, stews & tagines’ to ‘Desserts & sweet treats’. Each recipe is introduced with a little piece on, for example, how it would figure in a meal in the Arab world, or how Sabrina serves the dish, or how the taste elements will work. I had a small quibble with the Mezze chapter – there is an abundance of dips that all look gorgeous, as well as a range of other dishes. But, and maybe this is just me, I would really have loved to have some pointers as to what to put together on a Mezze table. What is it usual to dip into all those dips – bread? Something else? Each recipe serves 4, 6 or 8 people – but what’s the assumption about how many other dishes are on the table. For example, the Hummus recipe says ‘serves 8’ but there are three cans of chickpeas in there – that’s a lot of dip for 8 people, especially if there are loads of other dishes on the table. Anyway, enough about that!
What sort of food is it?
Well, not to state the obvious, ‘Persian’ influences are everywhere, with modern twists (purists look away). Lots of herbs and spices, pomegranates, olives, preserved lemons, aubergines, nuts and much more. I very much like, that despite a lot of crossover ingredients with the Indian recipes I love to cook, the food tastes very different. My absolute favourite was the Lamb Shank, Black Garlic & Tomato Tagine (pg 88). I spent years perfecting the lamb shank recipe that I usually use so was prepared to be a tough audience. Shouldn’t have been – it was fab! I also attempted, among other recipes, the Chicken, Preserved Lemon & Olive Tagine (pg 80) – I loved this but the other half hadn’t encountered preserved lemons before and struggled a bit. There are loads more recipes I have marked up and will try. You could definitely use these recipes for great entertaining – just be sure to pick carefully, there are lots of steps involved in some and you don’t want to be falling asleep over the dessert while your guests are having the time of their lives. Some of the recipes would have benefitted from a ‘total time needed’ pointer as they have 20 minutes here and 30 minutes there and, before you know it, you should have started cooking two hours earlier.
Obscure equipment needed?
Not really – I presume you could have loads of authentic kit to aid the effort, but in this case even the flatbread can be done on a regular baking tray and not a pizza oven (won’t say which book suggested this, as if we all had one in the garden).
Ingredients easily available?
Well, I can’t say yes if I’m honest. If you don’t have specialist shops (or a really good hypermarket) nearby you’ll need to order some stuff online for sure.
Who is it for?
This is for someone who cooks fairly well already and who is ready to expand their repertoire in a new direction. But not if it’s going to be the only cookbook they’ll own, which is true of any cookbook that is about a particular cuisine. As wonderful as it might be, you can get too much of a good thing! There are cookbooks that are good for small cookbook collections and cookbooks that only belong in a broader collection – this is probably the latter.
I know I will go back to this book again and again, it’s a great option when you want to mix it up a bit.
Find it on Amazon here
And from Eason here
Published by: Mitchell Beazley