ARABIAN COOKING - EASY MIDDLE EASTERN RECIPES
Review by Barb & Ron Kroll
Modern Flavors of Arabia - Recipes and memories from my Middle Eastern kitchen
(Appetite by Random House) ISBN 978-0449015612 0449015610
Suzanne Husseini provides family recipes for Arabian dishes that her mother used to make. Illustrated with mouthwatering photos by Petrina Tinslay, they use Middle Eastern ingredients, such as pine nuts, eggplant, sesame seeds, saffron, cinnamon, mint, tahini and pistachios.
Learning how to cook mezze (shared appetizers), Middle Eastern desserts and Arabian meals is easy with her simple recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Each chapter begins with an introduction to Arabian cuisine and culture. In the recipe introductions, Suzanne Husseini translates the name of the dish. For example, she explains that manaqeesh are snacks. Made from flatbreads seasoned with za'atar (a spice mix with dried thyme), they are filled with tomato-and-herb or cheese-and-spinach toppings.
The author of Modern Flavors of Arabia suggests substitutes for hard-to-find ingredients, e.g., using mozzarella as a substitute for akkawi cheese. If you can't find dried pomegranate seeds, she suggests substituting dried cranberries.
You will never want to go back to boxed cereal after trying Middle Eastern breakfasts, such as Husseini's recipe for atayef bil ashta — mango and ricotta-filled crepes with rose syrup.
Some of these Arabian breakfast recipes can be eaten as snacks, such as the halloumi cheese bread rolls, za'atar croissants and foul m'dammas (fava bean dip) served with pita bread.
Middle Eastern cuisine also features eggs for breakfast, but they are prepared with Arabian spices. The author sprinkles sumac on butter-fried eggs and serves them with lamb sausages spiced with mahlab (ground black cherry pits).
Modern Flavors of Arabia also includes recipes for mezze. The second most popular Arabian mezze after hummus is baba ghanouj (mutabbal beitinjan) made with char-grilled eggplant, tahini and garlic. An appetizing photo shows you how to garnish it with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and olive oil.
Suzanne Husseini also includes a recipe for baba ghanouj salad, flavored with fresh mint, toasted walnuts and pomegranate molasses.
Many of her mezze table recipes are modern versions of her mother's dishes, e.g., roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce enhanced with orange juice and zest. Other recipes also include variations, such as adding labneh (thickened yogurt dip) to m'hammara (roasted red pepper dip).
Syrian mezze recipes include kofte (meatballs) with sweet and sour cherry sauce. Recipes for Lebanese mezze include fried kibbeh (stuffed bulgar and lamb meatballs).
The 190-page cookbook also has recipes for vegetarian mezze, such as braised green beans and tomatoes.
To save time, Husseini suggests using ready-made pastry dough, e.g., knafe (kataife), a fine vermicelli-like pastry, to coat citrus and almond prawns. Frozen and thawed filo pastry is used to make spinach-filled filo triangles.
A glossary defines Arabian ingredients such as freekeh (smoke-flavored roasted wheat stalks) and taklia (fried garlic and cilantro). It is the garnish for her stuffed baby zucchini in herb yogurt sauce recipe.
The author also describes how to make homemade labneh and dukkah (a spice mix made from sumac, chile, za'atar, sesame seeds, cumin and nuts).
In addition to traditional falafel and lamb shawarma, Middle Eastern chicken dishes are popular for lunch and dinner. Recipes include lemony garlic chicken with rice and yogurt garlic sauce (fattet d'jaj) and caramelized onion tart with sumac roast chicken.
Pomegranate molasses (pomegranate juice boiled to a thick, tart syrup) is a common ingredient in Arabic foods. You will find it in her recipes for kofte sandwiches, arugula salad with roasted eggplant and baked kibbeh.
Also tasty, are the Arabic fish recipes in Suzanne Husseini's cookbook, such as walnut and herb-stuffed salmon with spicy tahini sauce.
Desserts are usually served on special occasions. Rosewater is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern dessert recipes like nammoura, sweet semolina cake.
For desserts to serve with tea and coffee, it's hard to beat the recipes for chocolate-filled cardamom cookies and baraziq (sesame and pistachio nut cookies). If you love baklawa, you will swoon over the recipe for baked baklawa cheesecake. Its walnut and filo pastry crust is filled with a honey-sweetened cream cheese filling and topped with chopped pistachios and rose syrup.
Arabic Ingredients and Tools
Suzanne Husseini hosts cooking shows and gives presentations about Arabic food.