Kamal’s contribution to the book is a special collection of recipes. Each recipe conjures visions of the famed Bagdad court and is infused with poetry. His recipe for stuffed cucumbers (cored and filled with rice, ground meat, cinnamon and pepper), or his baked fish stuffed with ground walnuts, sumac, cumin, thyme, saffron and sprinkled with rose water, are just two examples of simple yet refined dishes. Kamal candidly confessed to me last week that his favorite recipe is the one called fouliya in which fava beans are first sprouted, then cooked with rice, chard and a cilantro and garlic sauce.
Most of all, I loved Kamal Mouzawak’s judicious choice of dishes which meant to convey through the subtle use of spices and flavors (rose water, sumac, coriander, ..) and specific ingredients (eggplant, Seville oranges, pomegranates, walnuts), the atmosphere of this magical period in Arab history.
The book is rich with scholarly pages describing the sophistication of life in Bagdad (Mosul, Basra, Damascus, Aleppo or Cairo) in the tenth century by Malek Chebel. Malek Chebel is a famed psychoanalyst, anthropologist and historian who has distinguished himself with his works on Islam and the Arab culture (coined “Enlightened Islam” L’Islam des Lumières).
Last, but not least, the charming, dreamy graphism of Anne-Lise Boutin. Her work uses a reduced palette of navy, black, reds, pistachio green and ochre which contributes to the fantasy-like images.
In conclusion, this is a book which made me happily escape into the world of One Thousand and One Nights and which I will read again and again; I am also planning to make most of Kamal’s fifty recipes and post them!
The book today is available in French; it has recently been translated into Italian with a most sensitive and scholarly effort by Fulvia De Luca. Hopefully the English translation will be made available in the near future.