Guest Post: Claudia Roden’s The New Middle Eastern Cookbook
Lady Red Specs from Please Pass The Recipe suggested this month’s cookbook for us to explore and I thought it only right that we ask her to do a little write up about it for us to give us a better understanding of the book itself and why it holds such value in her kitchen. So here is why you should consider getting your hands on a copy of this book if you want to learn more about cooking and food from the Middle East:
I have ranted and I have raved about cookbooks on my blog. I’ve dedicated whole posts to those I consider old friends and written others that are critical of mass media created chefs.
Claudia Roden’s “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food”, the Cookbook Guru choice for April has led me to think about what it is for me that elevates a book to the status of a classic.
There are no glossy photos in this Penguin paperback book, a single simple hand drawn motif decorates the beginning of each section. The remainder of the 500+ pages are the written word. Each section of recipes is preceded by a thoroughly researched, or more accurately, keenly observed account putting the prepared dishes into context. Most recipes also have a brief introduction touching on traditional preparation and serving customs. This book is mainly about unpretentious family food, though dishes prepared for special celebrations are also included, like the aniseed flavoured rice pudding made to celebrate the birth of a boy. No special equipment is needed to cook from Roden’s book, no special ingredients that are impossible to substitute, no technical skills beyond the average cook.
Roden has set out to document common everyday food in the Middle East prior to 1985, the food she grew up with, the food of her family and the diaspora that was her community.
What sets this book apart for me is the depth of understanding with which it is written. It is honest demystification of the food of the Middle East, written without ego, but with a genuine intent to educate.
Before I acquired “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food”, my knowledge of food from this region was limited to the simple food served in Lebanese take aways, felafel, tabouli, hummus, kebabs and pita. A dear friend, of Greek/Turkish origin who’d emigrated from Egypt in the late 1960s introduced me to feta and filo, taramasalata and olives, pilaf, halva and baklava.
Armed with the confidence gained from Roden’s erudite work, I began to push my own food cultural boundaries. I made dips rather than buy them, I filled and baked my own filos, I stuffed vegetables, made felafel from scratch and braised lamb with fruit. The very first flourless cake I ever attempted was from this book. Following the simple clear instructions, the results were delicious.
I think any cook who is serious about their craft would benefit from reading this book. Treat it as a social history read if you like, but I guarantee you’ll be so entranced that before you know it there will be rose water, lemons and cinnamon on your shopping list.
If you want to see some of what Lady Red Specs has created, make sure you check out her blog for a beautiful range of Middle Eastern food, much of which has been created prior to us chosing to select this book for our bookclub.