Customer Reviews

48
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
Format: HardcoverChange
Price:$27.49+Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

126 of 138 people found the following review helpful
`Arabesque' by the distinguished Egypto-English culinary journalist, Claudia Roden is a culinary travelogue that, according to the subtitle, gives us `A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon'. Ms. Roden states that the choice of these three cuisines was based on the fact that in each of the three countries, there has been something of a Renaissance of ancient culinary traditions and techniques, backed up by the fact that the culinary traditions of all three centers of Arab culture were outstanding to begin with, going back to the eighth century for Morocco and Lebanon and to the even more distinguished background of the Ottoman Turkish cuisines, both original and borrowed from the earlier Persian traditions.

There is no question that these three geographical centers are tied together by their Moslem heritage; however it may be just a bit of a stretch to consider them all to be based on Arab traditions, as Morocco had a strong native Berber influence, as well as more recent French influences and the Turks were, I believe not really Arab. But I will not quibble, as Arab influences, especially in their traditions of hospitality show up in all three culinary histories.

It is important to take Ms. Roden's subtitle seriously in that this book is more of a taste than it is a `full course meal'. This book is much more like the `culinary travelogue' books `Hot Sour Salty Sweet' and `Mangoes and Curry Leaves' of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid than it is like Roden's earlier works, `The Food of Italy' and `The New Book of Middle Eastern Food'. It is also certainly not like Paula Wolfert's excellent books of culinary anthropology such as `Couscous' and `The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean'.

And, this is not a book for the amateur tourist. I constantly run into obscure words or notions that are not explained, since the author seems to believe that we are revisiting some old haunts. If you have read your Wolfert and the earlier Roden books, you will know that `medina' is an Arab market and that souk is a center for spice dealers. If you are a hiker or camper, you will probably also know that a Primus stove is a light small single burner device which burns white gas. Oddly, I really sort of enjoyed being treated like a fellow insider for whom Ms. Roden didn't have to explain every little detail. Madame C. was much more interested in giving us a personal tour of her recent first hand experiences in Fez, Beirut, and Istanbul.

Consistent with the travelogue theme, the culinary explorations simply do not go very deep. While we are treated to three different methods for making the Moroccan specialty, salt preserved lemons, no time at all is spent on the details of making couscous or warka, the pastry used to make the other Moroccan national dish, bstilla. All recipes are made with pre-cooked couscous or commercially available fillo dough respectively. Ms. Roden doesn't even spend much time on cooking with a tagine. It turns out my suspicion about this cooking device was correct. It is simply too small, typically, to do a dish in a restaurant or for entertaining more than four people at a time. All tagine recipes are simply done as braises in much the same way that the French would do it in a low, broad braising dish or Dutch Oven.

Ms. Roden makes no excuse for the fact that many of the recipes in this book have appeared in her earlier books, and many of the recipes such as hummus, tabbouleh, shish kebabs, and pilafs may seem to be old hat to lovers of Middle Eastern cuisines. But Ms. Roden's new bottle cures much ennui.

If someone needed one strong reason to buy this book, it would be the wealth of recipes for lamb. They far outnumber the poultry and beef recipes, and it should be no surprise that there are no pork recipes to be found, as the Arabs share with the Jews a prohibition against eating pig. What's even better, most of the recipes use the less expensive, but more flavorful shoulder meat rather than the leg of lamb. Here is where a good relationship with your butcher will reward you. As someone who has wrestled with a bone-in lamb shoulder, I assure you that having your butcher fillet the shoulder (after he measures the bone in weight on which the price is computed) is far more satisfying than doing it yourself.

Of the three countries, Morocco gets the largest amount of space and recipes, followed by Turkey and Lebanon. This is fine, since there is far more overlap of ingredients and technique between Turkey and Lebanon than there is with Morocco. You will find no yogurt and little spinach or eggplant in Moroccan dishes. It is not surprising to find olives and olive oil in common between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. What may be surprising is the universality of lemons. If you notion of Mediterranean cooking is heavily flavored by France and Italy, one can easily discount the importance of lemons. But, a quick overview of both Greece and the lands of the Madgreb (North Africa) reveal that this is almost as important as olive oil (I wonder if this is due to the prohibition against wine, and therefore the lesser access to vinegar?).

The book shares with those of Alford and Duguid a distinct charm based on a true love of these lands. Ms. Roden improves on Alford and Duguid in that the volume is less expensive and less ponderous on the gut as you read it late at night.

Needless to say, publisher Knopf has done the usually excellent job in designing the book. This is a great read and introduction to these cuisines.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 14, 2007
One expects the best from Claudia Roden, and this book does not disappoint. Some of us remember how her "Book of Middle Eastern Food" burst like a great white light on the culinary scene, way back in 1968. (There is now an even better second edition, 2000.) The present book recycles some recipes from earlier works, but focuses on three particularly good areas, and has absolutely top-flight recipes from them, sparing you the problem of wading through a vast mass of text.

Just a couple of quick supplemental comments from some experience: First, there is one bad thing about this book: Ms. Roden's tolerance for bouillon cubes. Their metallic, rancid-grease taste ruins Middle Eastern food. Use homemade stock or just omit. Second, Turkish food isn't "Arab," it really does depend heavily on Turkic roots, plus Greek and Persian influences--only a few Arab ones. And the publishers have badly served the Turkish section by using dotted i's for undotted ones. These write different sounds: the dotted i is the "ee" sound, the undotted is approximately the "uh" sound. This could cause confusion if you ask for ingredients or dishes. One more note on Turkey: For Turkish food, especially the salads, you have to use not just extra virgin olive oil, but Turkish extra virgin oil, or something very similar (Lebanese or the finest Kalamata or Italian). Yep, it costs, so much so that one dish is named "The Imam Fainted" because--according to one story--he found out the cost of the oil in the dish (p. 168)!

Finally, Ms. Roden notes that argan oil, a wonderful if obscure oil from southern Morocco, is regarded as "aphrodisiac." Actually, a mixture of argan oil, honey, and ground almonds is called "Moroccan Viagra" in that part of the world. The reality behind this seems to be the combination of sugar for quick energy and protein plus easily digestible, nourishing oil for stamina. It's also used for kids, to make them grow better, and no one thinks it will turn them into sex demons, so we're talking nutrition here, not lust per se. Turkey has an equivalent: lukum candy made from grape juice and walnuts ("Turkish Viagra"--according to Istanbul market men).
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2011
This book is a modern version of the author's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. In other words it contains a lot of amazing pictures and fewer recipes. This is also a book made at the request of the publisher. At the time the author apparently wanted to include Syria and Iran as well, but those were "axis of evil" countries and including them would reduce sales according to the publisher [interview available on the web]. The book is not bad, but I would stick to the author's original any day.

Finally, I really hate when the same author publishes similar books but doesn't tell the potential readers how they differ.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2007
Roden is undeniably an expert on the foods of the Middle East and North Africa. Here she throws three fairly disparate cuisines from the region at us - Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. There's some overlap in ingredients, but for the most part these are very different ways of looking at some of the same foods. That in itself is interesting, although her linkage between the cuisines - that they were all major imperial centers that traded with other cultures - is less interesting than the food itself.

There's some overlap with her other cookbooks, as a lot of the lebanese food was covered in her Middle Eastern tome, and a few other things like her recipes for preserved lemons seem lifted intact from the same book. There're also a few minor lingustic annoyances - no notes on transliterations, much of the Turkish is lacking the proper dotless-i's and circumflexed-g's, cedillas and umlauts (all of which I consider nice for pronunciation reasons). Nonetheless, the food itself is fascinating, as are her notes on the ingredients and preparations. It's particularly fascinating in her sections on Turkey and Morocco, which are areas that have been less covered by her other books (or in fact most cookbooks at all).

It's not a comprehensive book, by any means, but it does provide a very engaging overview of three major and very different world cuisines.
22 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2007
"Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon" shares a delightful collection of recipes, each of which makes you feel as if you are experiencing a vibrant part of another culture. From Talaş Böreği, which takes you into the kitchens of Turkey, to Moroccan Briwat Bi Tamr (Dates Rolls in Honey Syrup), spending time with this book is akin to taking a culinary trip around the Middle East. Each chapter includes an introduction to the cuisine & history of the part of the world it seeks to represent. It is in sections like these that we learn, for example, about Lebanon's history as a feudal state and how interactions between Sunni Muslim, Greek Orthodox and Ottoman culture influenced the cooking we recognize as Lebanese today. Such socio-historical tidbits are sprinkled throughout the book, while chapters are organized into sections about "starters & meze," "main courses," and "desserts." Many recipes are accompanied by mouth-watering color photographs, so that this well-bound, artistically presented book would make a lovely coffee table book when you're not using it in the kitchen. Most of the dishes I tried were truly delicious, opening my eyes to new spice combinations and flavors. It was not until this book, for instance, that I would have thought to add cinnamon, pine nuts and currants to a meat dish (vegetarian meat dish in our kitchen, but the principle is the same), nor would I have thought to add pomegranate molasses and cumin to a salad. On one or two occasions I wasn't thrilled by the final result, but one cannot expect to fall in love with every recipe in a cookbook, especially one that is composed of meals so dissimilar from what you eat on an everyday basis. Recipes do assume that you have a firm grasp of basic cooking principles but at no point is this a hindrance. With internet access just a step away it is an easy thing, after all, to verify what "stiff egg whites" look like (Alton Brown did an entire show about this) or what greek-style yogurt is. Overall this book is a worthy addition to any collection - if you buy it and want my advice, make the Briwat Bi Loz (Almond Pastries in Honey Syrup) first. Not only are they easy to make, but the combination of crispy fillo, crunchy almonds and sweet syrup is hard to resist. Variations with confectioners sugar & orange blossom water are included for even more delightful exploration of this Moroccan dessert.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2007
I loved this even before I tried one of the recipes - it is truly a lovely book and a joy just to page through. This is my first Roden cookbook so perhaps I'm not as disappointed as some who feel some of the material has been presented before. I like to learn more about food than just how to prepare it, so welcomed her stories about the origins and significance of recipes and ingredients.

As a "regular joe" kind of cook, it pleases me that many of the recipes are accessible to me. But those with a higher level of kitchen skill should enjoy it, too.

This would be a wonderful gift book for a friend who loves food and world cultures.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Roden presents Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines with delicious results. The recipes are clear, easy and just plain good. Try the zucchini fritters "kabak mucveri," the roast shoulder of lamb with couscous and date stuffing "dala m'aamra bi keskou wa tmar" or prawns in spicy tomato sauce "kimroun bil tamatem." A glossary would have been a good addition and the book's organization by country is a bit awkward, but the index is thorough and broken down by ingredients. For the cook interested in this food genre, I would also refer them to books by Wolfert and Heiou, as well as Roden's previous writings. A terrific addition to any cook's library.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2011
Beautifully produced cookbook, interesting and entertaining introduction to the food history and culture of the three nations covered (I'm not qualified to comment on how accurate the information is, though.) Useful discussion of some of the more exotic ingredients. Inspirational, but I can't imagine actually trying to follow most of the recipes from it.

If you cook regularly for 8 - 12 people, think two whole chickens is a reasonable portion and don't mind spending several hours in the kitchen for each item on the menu, your mileage may differ. The only recipes I'm likely to come close to attempting are a few of the starters and salads, which I'd probably make a meal out of. The author is fairly explicit about the fact that most recipes are designed for dinner parties, not dinner; several of them include instructions like "pass a bowl of [something] for your guests."

The experienced cook who doesn't feel the need to follow recipes exactly, however, will find plenty of inspiration here. I've adapted a couple of the recipes into meals for two with decent results.

In a few cases it wasn't obvious how the photos matched up with the recipes. Also, I was puzzled and amused by the fact that someone who doesn't shy away from cooking techniques that take hours would use bouillon cubes. If you can't make your own, at least try a good canned stock!
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2007
I am a big fan of Claudia Roden, and have been collecting her cookbooks for years. This one beat all my expectations. It is beautifully photographed and the recipes are great. One thing I love about her books is that she tells you history of the dishes and makes you feel like you are learning about a culture. I really like the format where it is split into seperate sections for each county. This is one book I look forward to using again and again!
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
47 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2007
This is a beautiful book full of gorgeous photos and tasty dishes. However, I bought it expecting to find recipes with directions and techniques and it is lacking in this area. When a dish requires "2 eggplants," please specify: large, small, maybe a weight? There are a lot of different ideas of what the "average" eggplant looks like. Especially when there's no photo of the dish, and I've never cooked or eaten it before. Then there were some rather impractical dishes; I usually don't cook two whole chickens or several pounds of fish at a time, for example. I understand that some recipes are better for entertaining, but I bought this cookbook (as I buy all my cookbooks) as a way to try EVERYDAY recipes for my family, and I feel it failed in that respect. I am by no means a bad or inexperienced cook, and I've eaten some authentic (home-cooked) versions of these foods while traveling in areas mentioned in the book, but I still need more direction. Even after reading through the entire book (all the info about ingredients, history), I still felt lost at times. Say what you will, I am disappointed.
1111 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed
The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden (Hardcover - September 26, 2000)
$25.38

Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi (Hardcover - October 16, 2012)
$18.83

Olives, Lemons & Za'atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking
Olives, Lemons & Za'atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking by Rawia Bishara (Hardcover - February 13, 2014)
$16.11
 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.