Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine Hardcover – Illustrated, 30 Apr 2013
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-'If you've ever had even a shred of interest in the cuisine from this part of the world, I recommend taking a look at this book. For curious and adventurous cooks, it has enough to inspire our meals for years to come.' Emma Christensen, TheKitchn.com
-‘Offerings from the treasure trove of Babylonian cuisine: From an Iraqi-born comparative literature professor with a love for Middle-Eastern cooking come 'Delights from the Garden of Eden,' a flavor-filled book chock-full of history.’ Vered Guttman, Haaretz
-'This cookbook is more than an introduction to Iraqi cuisine. It is in fact an introduction to Arab cooking in general, researched with the kind of depth not seen before in a cookbook of the Arab world and Middle East.' --CLIFFORD A.WRIGHT, winner of the James Beard/KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year and the James Beard Award for Best Writing on Food for A Mediterranean Feast-'Humorous, insightful and a pleasure to read. Nawal Nasrallah blends recipes, culinary history, folklore, personal stories and art in a lively mix. Her recipes are precise and easy to follow, with tips and observations derived from her long experience with Iraqi cuisine. Highly recommended.' --PAULA WOLFERT, author of the award-winning Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean
-'A monument to energy, knowledge and enthusiasm. It is an account of origins and development as well as of the complex ethnic make-up of present-day Iraq.' --TOM JAINE, Petits Propos Culinaires
-‘A culinary odyssey through 8,000 years of Mesopotamian culture and some of the world s oldest recipes, preserved on 3,700-year old cuneiform tablets.’ --RALPH BLUMENTHAL, New York Times
"A splendid achievement, Delights from the Garden of Eden is obviously a labour of love, and the author has done readers, cooks and noncooks alike, a great service in producing such an impressive book. Each page shows erudition, every recipe a passion for food." Times Literary Supplement, Eamonn Gearon 1 Nov. 2013
From the Author
The book has received the Special Award of the Jury of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for 2007
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
The book consists of 646 pages and is written by an Iraqi university professor who has carefully researched Mesopotamian and medieval cuisine of the region, and who also has a thorough knowledge of the more contemporary regional cuisine. Her love of her native cuisine and culture shines out through the pages, which I felt is what sets this book apart. Each section of the book will have you first salivating and then reaching for your saucepans!
As well as containing easy-to-follow recipes for all the Iraqi dishes that one could think of, there are interesting food-related anecdotes, proverbs and historical excursions, even detailed notes on points of etiquette.
There are 21 sections containing recipes, preceded by an introductory chapter on 'Iraqi Cooking in Perspective', and at the back of the book are: a useful glossary, suggested menus, a bibliography and an index. The sections comprise not just main courses but also appetisers, side dishes, desserts, sweets, drinks, icecream, etc. Moreover, a whole section is deservedly devoted to rice: mastery of rice-cooking is essential for any Middle Eastern cook, and rice cooked the Iraqi way is 'once tasted, never forgotten'! Nasrallah devotes much attention to method in her recipes, so that the reader-cook is never stuck for how to do something.
It is clear that the book has been written with passion, and it is thus much more than just a recipe book (although it serves very well in this regard, too). I have greatly enjoyed reading the book, particularly the detailed historical accounts. These range from medieval culinary techniques to Abbasid cookbooks to Babylonian recipes preserved on cuneiform tablets (in Akkadian) to the history of fish in Iraqi cooking.
There are a few typos in the book and missing cross-references, showing that the book would have benefited from more careful editing. The photos are black and white, and some are a little grainy, which is a shame (and presumably due to budget constraints), since there are many very interesting non-food photographs of, for example, traditional southern village scenes, Sumerian cylinder seals, a traditional lunch box, etc. These (not terribly significant) flaws, however, do not detract from the value of the book or the enjoyment for the reader (or cook).
In sum, I would thoroughly recommend this book. It is certainly the most interesting cookbook that I have, simply because it isn't just a collection of recipes. It would make a fabulous present or an interesting addition to your own bookshelf (and one that will keep you entertained and your family and friends well-fed for many years to come).
This beautiful tome is part textbook, part cookbook and covers Iraqi cuisine from the Mesopotamian diet to early Babylonian recipes, cookbooks of the Abbasid Era, and modern interpretations, lavishly illustrated throughout with a combination of calligraphy, manuscripts, photographs, and sketches and paintings by modern Iraqi artists that illustrate every aspect of Iraqi food and its preparation.
The first 70+ pages are devoted to illuminating the ancient foodways from which modern Iraqi cuisine descends. In each chapter, there are poems, quotes, and street vendor songs reflecting the importance of various staples in everyday life.
Beginning most appropriately with bread, in addition to a basic recipe (and variations) for Iraqi flatbread, you'll find sammoun, Arabic bread (pita), lawash, filled pastries, sweet yeast bread and other delights. There is a whole chapter devoted to vegetarian appetizers and salads, which include familiar staples such as hummus, baba ghannouj, and tabboula alongside Iraqi omelets and flavorful salads (the spicy orange juice salad dressing has become my new standby!), among them a wonderful beet salad dressed with walnuts and yogurt. Many of the recipes are a little lighter and more health-conscious than their original versions (you'll still find plenty of fried recipes if you are so inclined). For the more adventurous, you will find dishes like pacha (head, tripe and trotters), bastirma (stuffed intestines), and beef tongue sandwich.
I loved the baked French beans, which are blanched then cooked in a savory custard topped with cheeses and breadcrumbs. These seemingly simple ingredients blossomed when combined to create a delicious savory side dish (or snack). My only recommendation is to use a larger baking dish than called for; the recipe calls for an 8 x 6 inch dish, but the included photo uses a 9 x 13 casserole (I used my Emile Henry 10-1/2-Inch Oval Au Gratin and it was a perfect fit).
In the rice chapter, the green rice with fresh fava beans and rice with mung beans made wonderful vegetarian main courses. The chapter on stuffed foods yielded delicate dolmas and kubba, while the port city of Basra offers several excellent shrimp recipes (and I can't wait to try the sweet and sour fish simmered in almond prune sauce!).
I was particularly interested in the chapters on savory pastries and desserts, and tried making the olive and cheese bread (pita), apricot balls and lawzeena (almond candy). The olive and cheese bread was a moist, springy dough enriched with yogurt and olive oil and studded with olives, mint, and parsley, making for addictive snacking. The herbs stayed a vibrant green even after being baked into the pita, which makes for a beautiful presentation when sliced into bars as suggested. The apricot balls take only moments to throw together in a food processor, but be sure to use sweetened coconut (snip with kitchen scissors or pulse in the food processor before adding the apricots). My testers said that using unsweetened desiccated coconut, while having the same appearance, resulted in the rosewater being overpowering rather than balancing out the sugar in the coconut.
For the almond candy, I tried using both domestic canned almond paste (Solo Almond Paste 8oz) and imported almond paste in a tube (Odense Almond Paste). I found that even with kneading, the canned almond paste was too dry and brittle and cracked, allowing the filling to leak out. I had much better luck on my second attempt with the almond paste in a tube, although note that it is 7 oz. instead of 8 oz., so you will want to make a smaller rectangle. Also, make sure that your dough for the almond candy is at least ¼" thick; the first time I tried to bake this, I rolled it too thinly and the filling punched through and leaked all over the pan! (and the pistachio - confectioner's sugar- rosewater filling makes an addictive candy on its own rolled into balls and chilled!)
The recipes have been modified somewhat to fit Western home kitchens; ingredients are given in Imperial and metric measurements, and some substitutions (particularly for cheese) have been made. I wrote the author about the choices of cheeses recommended in the recipes (including mozzarella and cheddar), and she kindly wrote back with the following: "Regarding Iraqi cheeses, as I mention in my chapter on dairy products, we have three major cheeses...In my recipes I use feta because it is the closest and most available in the US general stores. However, you might find these days some white Mexican cheeses which might also be used, or if you have access to Middle Eastern stores, you can use Halloom cheese or Akkawi. In my recipes I try to use what's most easily available without compromising authenticity as much as possible."
As with any international cookbook, you will be making or using many different spice blends, including baharat and za'tar. Recipes for the spice blends are given in the glossary. Some recipes also call for noomi Basra (dried lime), amba (pickled mango), and tamarind.
There is a very thorough list of scholarly works cited, and not one but several indices as well as a name and subject index. The book itself is very high quality, with heavy matte paper, beautiful photography, and a teal blue ribbon to hold your place. At well over 500 pages, it is a large volume, but lays flat neatly, making it easy to cook from any section. You'll also find a wide variety of sample menus for various occasions, including seasonal menus (among them an Iftar menu for Ramadan), ladies' tea parties, and mezze.
"Delights from the Garden of Eden" is truly a journey; you'll learn about table manners, dining protocol, how the etymology of Arabic food words can be traced back to their earlier roots, the culinary riches and ingenious recipes of medieval Iraqi cooks, and how ancient Mesopotamian customs can be traced to the present. It is a labor of love that illuminates the deep connections between food and culture, past and present, and above all, shows us how much we have in common. Highly recommended; this should be in every cookbook collection if you are interested in Middle Eastern cuisine! If you already own the original first edition, it is WELL worth purchasing the updated and revised second edition.
(Many thanks to author Nawal Nasrallah for answering my questions and Equinox for the review copy!)
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