I bought this cookbook a few years back, intrigued by the title and the thickness of the book. I have used it many times and have a great appreciation for it. It is written with a lot of care and one feels the love of the author for her subject and Arabic culture in general.
What I like about the book:
- The recipes are detailed and meticulously explained. For instance, the recipe for shredded pastry with cheese or kunafa bel-jibin, a traditional dessert, is explained over 5 pages of text. The author makes an effort to reach out to non-Arab readers who have absolutely no background in Arabic food. She also takes great pain in explaining cultural and religious traditions. For example, she devotes nine full pages of text explaining Ramadan, its religious significance, customs, social greetings during Ramadan, fasting as well as Iftar and Suhur sample menus.
- The recipes are traditional and are mainly from the Levant (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon) with a few sprinkled here and there from the Gulf and North Africa. She also indicates what the variations of a traditional recipe would look like in one region versus another. For example, how milk pudding or muhallabiya would be prepared in the Gulf States as opposed Lebanon or Syria or Morocco.
- The book contains an introduction called The Arab Pantry which details most of the ingredients that are used in cooking Arab food, which is extremely useful for someone new to Arab cuisine.
- A great number of the recipes contains little addendum that offer useful tips or techniques. For instance, her recipe for tahini sauce has an addendum on the best way to peel and mash garlic cloves.
- The book offers a listing of sources for Arabic staples with full addresses and websites throughout the United States.
- The book contains 188 popular recipes including breakfast, salads, soups, main dishes, desserts and drinks.
- The book contains 32 beautiful photos.
- What personally touched me in this book was the enthusiasm of the author. She makes the reader feel like a friend!
What I did not like about the book:
- For a book of this breadth, the photographs are insufficient. For example,although there are nine pages devoted to shredded pastry with cheese or kunafa bel-jeben, there is no photo of the actual dessert. As Arab cuisine is fairly unique and often time-consuming, it is a good idea to show the reader what he or she is aiming at.
- Ms. Bsisu is Palestinian in origin. This fact has influenced her kibbe recipes; in other words, she adds a lot of bulgur to the mix! Whereas in Lebanon, the mix is 1 quantity meat to (at most) 3/4 bulgur, her recipes use the same volume of bulgur to meat and in the case of the chicken kibbe she triples the quantity of bulgur. So the taste will be mostly bulgur. I prefer the Lebanese proportions. Only a matter of taste.
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