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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ...or: "What I Did On My Holidays" (with interminable photo album), 30 April 2009
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This review is from: Turquoise (Hardcover)
Doesn't really make it into the heights on the cookbook scale.

The problem with this book is that there is too much space taken up with the Maloufs' travelogue, and no end of those sort of photographs, so beloved by middle class westerners, of those funny little working class 'ethnic' people in the midst of their 'vibrant' communities (i.e. grubby back streets - I would have thought that the editor would at least have cropped that particular photo with a graffito of a big phallus in the background). You know, the sort of photos which are always labelled as 'evocative'. Evocative of what, exactly?

No doubt there are plenty of people who appreciate this sort of thing; normally it's harmless enough but here it's really vastly overdone and seriously detracts from the cookbook aspect, reducing its useability to more of a coffee table book. (Useability is a criticism I have made of a previous book by the Maloufs I have, Arabesque, but for a very different reason in that instance.) I would be surprised if many people use this book on a regular basis to actually cook meals from.

One more relatively minor annoying point - the dimensions of the book. Its page width - you'll note from the image that it's much wider than it is tall - is such that it sticks out of a bookshelf like a sore thumb, unless you turn it through ninety degrees which reduces the aesthetics of one's bookshelf. Yes I know, I'm such a sensitive soul. So it's back to the coffee table again.

'But what of the recipes?' I hear you ask.

I'm actually rather glad to finally see a recipe for acili ezme in a cookbook. This amazingly delicious spicy tomato-based dip is ubiquitous in Istanbul and I've never until now actually seen a cookbook covering Turkish or middle eastern cookery including it (and I have rather a lot of such cookbooks); I'm amazed that so many food writers have ignored it. It's a pity though that it doesn't actually call it 'acili ezme' but, rather pleonastically and somewhat bizarrely, 'Turkish spoon salad'. Yes, I think we could guess that it was going to be Turkish given that it's a book on Turkish cookery. (I'll give credit for them using proper Turkish spelling when they do use Turkish names though, unlike most cookbooks. It's a pity that Amazon's text editor won't let me do the same here...)

Glad also to see manti here, another favourite of mine, a quasi-ravioli containing minced lamb, drizzled in garlicky yoghurt and paprika-and-mint-laced molten butter - relatively simple in composition of ingredients and taste yet very satisfying, but undoubtedly a real undertaking to make all those individual little parcels by hand.

There's also the obligatory Circassian chicken, which is in every cookbook, and which, despite every cookbook raving about it being "the pinnacle of Ottoman cuisine" or some other similar superlative, is not bad but really nothing to write home about.

A proportion of recipes are not entirely authentic and have been tinkered around with for no really good reason (though fortunately it doesn't seem to suffer quite so much from this as Arabesque and Moorish do); some others are 'an attempt to recreate' something the Maloufs ate on their travels - since the purpose of their journeys was to gather information for this book, why didn't they just ask for the recipe?

Other foodstuffs are conspicuous by their complete absence; for example somewhat surprisingly there are no recipes whatsoever using whole levrek (sea bass), again plentiful in Istanbul.

In short it's a bit of a mixed bag recipe wise. There are a handful of decent recipes amongst those in here, but not really enough in my view to make it into a truly good cookbook. The fact that half of the book is a huge photo album and a "What I Did On My Holidays" essay just dilutes it further and turns it into an average cookbook when considered qua cookbook. It's symptomatic of the triumph of style over substance in modern western civilisation. Personally I like my cookbooks to be about, er, cooking.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Mar 2011 16:03:49 GMT
Another spot-on review. God, you even used the phrase I came up with to describe ASrabesque - style over substance. I've just got Soha, and that's the same stupid shap, too. He seems to be the Australian-Lebanese Ottolenghi. However, nothing on ingredients.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2011 17:08:49 GMT
E. L. Wisty says:
Hi BR,

Have you come across Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean: Food of the Eastern Mediterranean yet? This is one of the better releases of recent times. Geographically it seems to be based around Turkish with a bit of Syrian rather than wider Eastern Med; it's a bit "modern" rather than "classic" and incorporates a considerable amount of fusion however, but still retains enough of the "soul" of the region's cuisine.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2011 21:59:09 GMT
Yes, EL. Haven't bought it because it's in our local library. I am a great fan of Silvena (although have never seen her on telly) because of her Bulgarian connection - I have a lot of musical ties with Bulgaria. I totally endorse your review and am also a mad collector of Middle eastern cookery books, starting with Claudia Roden. I would also recommend a new one called Day Of Honey. There are a few recipes at the backk but it is a memoir of food and war in Iraq and Lebanon. Intelligent, astute and passionate.
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