A lot of cookbooks come across our desks every week. Some are very good, while others don't really stand out from what's already out there. So it's fairly rare that we say this, but the revised version of Tess Mallos' The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook (Hardie Grant Books, $50) is a truly impressive work.
The cuisines of Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and even Greece and Cyprus are all represented in the book — in all, there are 18 countries and more than 500 recipes. Overwhelming? Perhaps. New and exciting? Definitely.
When it comes to a food culture that has evolved over several thousand years, finding a manageable yet thorough way to represent it is indeed a challenge. To this end, Mallos has attempted to acknowledge the common threads that bind many of the dishes in the book. She notes, for example, that dolmas, which most people think of as stuffed grape leaves, have "variations in both name and ingredients stretching from Greece to Afghanistan and south to the Arab Gulf States." But she also knows where to draw the line. "Do not assume that the book is a collection of a group of recipes with countless variations — for the scope of Middle Eastern cooking surprised me as much as it will probably surprise you."
The recipes are organized by country, and the cuisine of each country is given a brief overview at the beginning of each chapter, with discussions of popular dishes, prominent flavors, food customs, and general advice on cooking methods and common ingredients. A section in the beginning of the book goes over basic advice on common prep tasks, such as how to trim artichokes and handle fillo pastry, as well as useful shopping tips for pantry staples. A glossary in the back helps demystify some of the more obscure ingredients.
This book is Mallos' legacy. The original version was published in 1977 and translated into several languages, and when this revised version was completed, Mallos passed away. Her book remains a relevant and authoritative guide to anyone seeking to explore the fascinating world of Middle Eastern cooking.
This is a famous Lebanese fish dish whose name in regional Arabic, samke harrah al-sahara, has just as many spelling variations as there are ways to make it.
An exotic dish of stewed lamb made with dates, dried apricots, prunes, and sultanas hailing from Iraq.
In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund Pevensie is offered a version of this highly addictive treat by the White Witch when he steps through the wardrobe into Narnia for the first time. Ever wondered what it tasted like? Make this at home tonight.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.