'Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon'
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Aug. 10, 2007
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanonby Claudia Roden
Knopf, 352 pp., $35
Back in 1968, Claudia Roden introduced American readers to the wonders of Arab cuisine with her groundbreaking, Book of Middle Eastern Food (revised in 2000). With Arabesque, she concentrates on three regions: Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. Turkey is especially exciting, since it is a cuisine to which Americans have had little exposure. While Turkey is not technically Arabic, it is Muslim, and all three regions share ingredients from a relatively common palette while producing dishes that are unique and distinctive.
Organized by region, Arabesque contains 150 recipes, many of which are reworked versions of the originals from her previous books, simplified for the Western kitchen. All recipes are made with precooked couscous and frozen phyllo, and tagines are cooked in braising pans. The introductions read much like a travelogue,
transporting the reader into the medina (market) and souk (spice market) alongside Roden in Fez, Beirut, and Istanbul. History and culture are thoroughly addressed as major influences on the cuisines. There are 93 stunning color photographs to seduce the reader and visually reinforce the dishes. Recipes are clearly and logically constructed and produce clean and balanced flavors from simple technique.
For Texas readers, there are many refreshing salads and mezes that are excellent in our sultry weather: a grated cucumber-and-mint salad with orange-blossom water; chilled leeks with egg and lemon sauce; a roasted red pepper, tomato, and apple salad with onion and garlic. There are plenty of nonmeat dishes in this book to make vegans downright giddy.
Lamb, poultry, and seafood are all well-represented, as are sides and desserts. (The pistachio cake with rosewater syrup and the lemon-yogurt cheesecake are both as good as they sound.) Roden has written a book that the home cook can attack by region or blend dishes from with ease. A masterful work, Roden's Arabesque is a winner in every respect.