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3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly mistitled, not overly user-friendly, 13 Jan 2013
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
First of all, the title: You might possibly think that you're getting a book of traditional middle eastern (Arab) cookery. Well, only half right. Geographically it covers a much larger area for its inspiration, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Iran etc. In addition, much of the stuff here is the Maloufs' 'take' on middle eastern/mediterranean etc. cookery, with a certain level of arty-farty messing around (sorry, "reinterpreted with a modern twist"), rather than being traditional. There's even 'garlic Yorkshire pudding' to be found here, which is, er, Yorkshire pudding (that well known middle eastern delicacy) with garlic in it.

Secondly, the layout. I can understand food writers wanting to get away from the tired and unoriginal cookbook formula of successive chapters called "appetisers", "fish", "poultry", "meat", "desserts" etc., but if you're going to try to break the mould then you perhaps really need to arrange your chapters by groups of ingredients rather than a single ingredient. (The only successful examples I have seen of doing this that I can recall off the top of my head are in Diana Henry's books, for example Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa. Her books do actually work quite well with this kind of arrangement.) Sorry Greg & Lucy, but having chapters with names like "Cardamom" and "Cumin" really just does not work. How many people will think "Right, I want to cook something with cumin in tonight - flip to the cumin chapter"? It makes it a bit more of a coffee table type book which you would flick through in moments of idleness, perhaps sticking impromptu bookmarks in at particular pages as you go when you find something that you might want to get round to making at some indeterminate point in the future.

You'll also come across an Australian/English language barrier on occasions, with no glossary to help. Know what kaiser fleisch is? No, I didn't either, and even using Google it took me a while to even vaguely find out what it is. (It's some kind of sliced belly pork apparently, so not exactly an authentic middle eastern ingredient.) This is a UK edition, and it's unforgiveable to not tack on such information.

Now don't get me wrong, there are some good recipes to be found here, there's useful additional information on the ingredients themselves as well as the recipes, and there's some good photography (albeit that the photos are grouped together in clusters rather than positioned next to the appropriate recipes - for me good photography next to the recipe is a crucial element for a truly good cookbook). But I think that the book is to some extent trying to be something it isn't, and the arrangement issue is a bit of a problem for useability.
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Arabesque: Modern Middle Eastern Food
Arabesque: Modern Middle Eastern Food by Lucy Malouf (Hardcover - Mar 2002)
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