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Five Cookbooks for an Authentic Taste of the Middle East

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The Middle East is home to a wonderful array of tastes and cuisines. From the Lebanese or Israeli shores of the Mediterranean, to the far deserts of Saudi Arabia, what is often called "Middle Eastern cuisine" in reality can differ greatly from country to country.

Lebanese cuisine (often hailed as the world's best) can range from a hearty stew of lentils and rice, to a mezze – a fresh spread of meats, vegetables, pastries, and spreads – that is meant to be shared amongst a full table of family and friends. In Egypt, food is laden with butterfat and carbs, and every meal is followed by a glass of fresh mint steeped in black tea. In Jordan, traditional dishes like mansaf, rice piled high with nuts and lamb, are served on oversized sharing plates, and are eaten without utensils. 

Arab chefs can thank the region's terrain and arguably biblical weather patterns for the rich variety of crops and ingredients, and it's easy to see why Middle Eastern cuisine has seen a renaissance in the Western world today. 

While those of us in colder climates cannot possibly hope for watermelon as sweet as that of Egypt's, or crisp cucumbers like those in Lebanon, these cookbooks may help in the attempt to recreate the experience.

Sahtein!

Palestine on a Plate

There has been a huge surge of interest in Middle Eastern food in recent years but very few cookery books that focus on the food of Palestine. While many countries in the Middle East have dishes in common, each country has its own interpretation and style. Palestine on a Plate showcases the wide-ranging, vibrant and truly delicious dishes of this country and introduces the reader to traditional Palestinian methods, cooking style and flavours. Furthermore it presents recipes from the Palestinian home, rather than those traditionally found in restaurants and in most books. Whereas many contemporary Middle Eastern cookery books offer a modern interpretation of ancient recipes, which dilute their authenticity, the recipes in this cookbook are genuine. This practical cookery book will feature colourful, gorgeous photography evoking the vibrancy and romance of the country.

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Jerusalem

At the heart of Yotam and Sami's food is a shared home city: Jerusalem. Both were born there in the same year, Sami on the Arab east side and Yotam in the Jewish west. Nearly 30 years later they met in London, and discovered they shared a language, a history, and a love of great food. Jerusalem sets 100 of Yotam and Sami's inspired, accessible recipes within the cultural and religious melting pot of this diverse city. With culinary influences coming from its Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Christian and Armenian communities and with a Mediterranean climate, the range of ingredients and styles is stunning. Packed with beautiful recipes and with gorgeous photography throughout, Jerusalem showcases sumptuous Ottolenghi dishes in a dazzling setting.

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Authentic Egyptian Cooking

Traditionally, Egyptian cooking has been best practiced and enjoyed at home, where generations of unrecorded family recipes have been the sustaining repertoire for daily meals as well as sumptuous holiday feasts. Abou El Sid, one of Cairo's most famous restaurants, has become well known for its authentic Egyptian dishes, and now presents more than fifty of its most classic recipes in a cookbook for the enjoyment of home cooks all over the world. Egyptians will recognise their favourites, from holiday dishes such as fettah to the arrays of appetizers like aubergine with garlic, special lentils and tahina; those new to Middle Eastern food will find the recipes simple and simply delicious, and enjoy the Egyptian table even if they don't have the heritage of the pharaohs in their family backgrounds.

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The Arabian Nights Cookbook

For untold centuries, the Bedouin of the Arabian Peninsula, in their desert tents, have served their honored guests lavish meals featuring roasted lamb with rice. Bedouin hospitality has not changed over the ages but Arabian cuisine has undergone a remarkable evolution in the last 100 years, making it extremely diverse. This diversity is due, in part, to the explosion of wealth on the Arabian peninsula which has drawn people--along with their foods and cooking methods--from around the world.

The blending of these culinary worlds has produced something remarkable. In The Arabian Nights Cookbook, author Habeeb Salloum has compiled an amazing array of recipes that celebrate this blending of cultures while still making it compatible with the everyday kitchens of the Western world.

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Syria

Syria has always been the marketplace for the most delicious ingredients from East and West, a meeting-point for travellers and traders, where spices and sweetness collide. Nothing unites and inspires Syrians as much as food. Even now, in possibly the country's darkest hour, Syrian families in tiny flats from Beirut to Berlin are searching out the best tomatoes, lemons, pomegranates and parsley to recreate the taste of home. Friends and passionate cooks Itab and Dina met Syrian women in the Middle East and Europe to collect together the very best recipes from one of the world's greatest food cultures. They spent months cooking with them, learning their recipes and listening to stories of home. From hot yoghurt soup with turmeric to cherry meatballs, this is a delicious celebration of the unique taste, culture and food of Syria - and a celebration of everything that food and memory can mean to an individual, to a family and to a nation.

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This least is by no means exhaustive, and I would love to hear any recommendations for what should be added. If you know of any great Middle Eastern cookbooks, please tell me in the comments below!


Image via Red Online.

Egyptian-American food enthusiast born in Chicago, raised in Beirut, and living in Dublin. Regional Ambassador at Bookwitty. Intimately familiar with the term "identity crisis".

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2 Comments

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Amy E. Robertson
I agree, Lebanese cuisine is phenomenal - a good cookbook is Mezze by Barbara Abdeni Massaad or Lebanese Home Cooking by Kamal Mouzawak. Another great Middle Eastern cookbook that I just acquired is The Food of Oman by Felicia Campbell - great photos and backstory as well as recipes.
Kanzi Kamel
Wonderful suggestions! I don't think I'm familiar with Oman cuisine. I'll have to invest in a copy and test it out at my next dinner party. Will let you know how that goes. :)

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