Want to get close to Iraqi food traditions and culture? This cook book is for you. Lyrical memoirs of Nawal Nasrallah’s childhood in Iraq, and the place that food had in that culture, drift through the pages, pausing for sidebars that offer tidbits like four paragraphs on ancient wives in ancient kitchens.
Or samples from a tenth-century cookbook. Or amusing little line drawings, or a page on an abandoned Jewish delicacy made from cattail reed pollen.
After a scholarly introduction the recipes begin on Chapter One, Bread. It’s studded with proverbs, folk songs, photographs, drawings, and transcriptions of ancient documents relating to food. Can you resist a recipe for a bread called Lover’s Window? Its sweet, sesame-sprinkled bread whose dough is stretched out in the middle to make holes that you can peer through.
And that’s only the first chapter. The second, dealing with dairy products, includes a modern recipe for Geymer, a thick clotted cream, with a folk song comparing a lover’s white cheeks to it. In all, there are 20 chapters that cover vegetables, salads, snacks, sandwiches, side dishes, meat main dishes, stuffed foods (where the emphasis is on kubba), fish, poultry, grains and beans. savory pastries, every kind of sweet, and beverages. One chapter is dedicated to rice alone.
It’s easy to see that the author has tested and cooked every recipe herself. Tips and hints are attached to the recipes, that can only have come from her kitchen experience. The photographs aren’t gorgeous, but more than adequate to express appetizing foods like baked fish stuffed with za’atar and sumac. From simple peasant food like the combination of rice and lentils known as majadra, to a sumptuous, entire lamb stuffed with almonds, rice, raisins, peas and spices, this cookbook will keep the creative cook busy for at least a year, if one chooses to cook everything in it.
The great thing about all this delicious exotic cooking is that almost always, ingredients are easily found. Most are already in your pantry. Some ingredients may have to be especially shopped for, like tamarind concentrate or sumac, but if you enjoy browsing through Middle East markets, that’s just part of the fun.
At the end of the book are sections on menus (including pages on historical table manners and hygiene), an excellent glossary and recipe index, a bibliography, and separate indexes covering ancient, medieval, and Ottoman foods and ingredients, plus a name and subject index. This book is a treasure. It’s just a matter of parking it somewhere in your kitchen where you can flip it open and go on to cook the next mouthwatering recipe.
A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine is the sub-title of this food encyclopedia.
Ms. Nasrallah was a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the universities of Baghdad and Mosul. Her English translation of the 10th-century Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchens and Delights From The Garden of Eden have won Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2007. We reviewed her book Dates here on Green Prophet.
Delights From The Garden of Eden: a cookbook and history of the Iraqi cuisine.
Equinox Publishing Ltd.
You can order Ms. Nasrallah’s books online here.
Recipes from Nawal Nasrallah: