In the 1960s Claudia Roden introduced Americans to a new world of tastes in her classic A Book of Middle Eastern Food. Now, in her enchanting new book, Arabesque, she revisits the three countries with the most exciting cuisines today—Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. Interweaving history, stories, and her own observations, she gives us 150 of the most delectable recipes: some of them new discoveries, some reworkings of classic dishes—all of them made even more accessible and delicious for today’s home cook.
From Morocco, the most exquisite and refined cuisine of North Africa: couscous dishes; multilayered pies; delicately flavored tagines; ways of marrying meat, poultry, or fish with fruit to create extraordinary combinations of spicy, savory, and sweet.
From Turkey, a highly sophisticated cuisine that dates back to the Ottoman Empire yet reflects many new influences today: a delicious array of kebabs, fillo pies, eggplant dishes in many guises, bulgur and chickpea salads, stuffed grape leaves and peppers, and sweet puddings.
From Lebanon, a cuisine of great diversity: a wide variety of mezze (those tempting appetizers that can make a meal all on their own); dishes featuring sun-drenched Middle Eastern vegetables and dried legumes; and national specialties such as kibbeh, meatballs with pine nuts, and lamb shanks with yogurt.
Claudia Roden knows this part of the world so intimately that we delight in being in such good hands as she translates the subtle play of flavors and simple cooking techniques to our own home kitchens.
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable or sunflower oil, plus more for frying
1 pound zucchini, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 to 3 sprigs of mint, chopped
2 to 3 sprigs of dill, chopped
7 ounces feta cheese, mashed with a fork
Serves 4Fried onions, feta cheese, and herbs lift what is otherwise a bland vegetable. These little fritters can be served hot or cold. They can be made in advance and reheated.
Fry the onion in 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat until it is soft and lightly colored. Add the zucchini and sauté, stirring, until they, too, are soft.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with the flour until well blended. Add pepper (there is no need of salt because the feta cheese is very salty) and the chopped herbs, and mix well. Fold the mashed feta into the eggs, together with the cooked onions and zucchini.
Film the bottom of a preferably nonstick frying pan with oil and pour in the mixture by the half ladle (or 2 tablespoons) to make a few fritters at a time. Turn each over once, and cook until both sides are browned a little. Drain on paper towels.
Excerpted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden. Copyright © 2006 by Claudia Roden. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Claudia Roden
Claudia Roden was born and raised in Cairo. She completed her formal education in Paris and then moved to London to study art. She travels extensively as a food writer. Her previous books include the James Beard Award–winning The Book of Jewish Food and the seminal A Book of Middle Eastern Food, as well as The Good Food of Italy—Region by Region, Everything Tastes Better Outdoors, and Mediterranean Cookery. In Britain Arabesque has won the Andre Simon Memorial Fund Award for Best Food Book, the Glenfiddich Best Food Book Award, and the Gourmand World Media Special Award of the Jury. Ms. Roden lives in London.
Q: How did you decide to write about the foods of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon in your latest cookbook, ARABESQUE?
A: In my first book I put recipes from the various countries of the Middle East and North Africa together partly because this reflected my world in Egypt, which at the time was a mixed community of people from around those regions. With Arabesque, I wanted to focus on the three great cuisines–Morocco, Syria, and Lebanon–separately so as to be able to tell their particular stories, and so that readers could decide to cook an entire meal from one. Also as people are now more familiar with these cuisines, I felt they would be interested in finding out more and in trying new recipes from the countries I was revisiting.
Q: Where does ARABESQUE come from as a book title?
A: The word arabesque has a cultural and artistic connotation. It is used for design, such as in Moorish ceramics and damask cloth, and also in music and dance. It was the only title I could find that could represent the cultures all three cuisines share.
Q: What are your favorite spices to cook with?
A: I like to use different spices and aromatics for particular dishes. Among them are ginger, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, allspice, pomegranate concentrate, mastic, orange blossom and rosewater.
Q: And your favorite recipe from ARABESQUE?
A: It is impossible for me to give a favorite recipe as I love many.
Q: How did you originally become so involved with the art of cooking?
A: I became involved in cooking when my parents, together with the Jewish community, were forced to leave Egypt as a result of the Suez crisis and the war with Israel. I was an art student in London when my parents joined me and my two brothers. Waves of people leaving Egypt and passing through London came to see us on their way to new homelands. Before this time, there had been no cookery books at all as families had kept their recipes to themselves, but now people were furiously exchanging recipes. I thought that was one part of our cultural heritage that I had to record and preserve.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I am working on the foods of Spain and travelling around that country.