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on 29 January 2012
I can't recommend this highly enough. Beautifully-flavoured, hearty, cheap, nutritious dishes from across the Middle East. Virtually no expensive or hard to find ingredients, just lots of fresh vegetables, pulses, and spices. I want to make everything in this book - a rare thing indeed with vegetarian cookbooks, a lot of which tend to focus on pastry and other non-proteinous things. The dishes I have made (Greek-inspired black-eyed bean hotpot, spicy mung bean casserole, uber-garlicky Armenian lentil and walnut stew, proper Persian rice with a golden buttery crust) have been amazing: warming, subtly spiced, full of fresh flavours, and very easy to make. The book is also an absolute pleasure to read. You can feel the love in every word - for home cooking, family, the culture and history of the Middle East. My partner, a committed meat-eater (who, erm, jokes that much of my cooking is 'veggie slop'), said the Armenian stew is the best meal he's had in a long time - so I'd recommend this for non-vegetarians too!
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on 16 January 2012
This book is jam packed with delicious and varied recipes. I have cooked a number of things already and every one has been a success. The Palestinian Upsidedown Cake - an aubergine/vegetable/rice concotion - is an absolute dream. Already a favourite in my kitchen. I would highly recommend this to everyone, vegetarian or not.
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Sally Butcher's debut Persia in Peckham received many rave reviews. Personally I thought it was okay, when measured against other Iranian cookbooks available, and thought the presentation lacking and the writing style a bit irritating at times.

This new book covering the wider Middle East would appear, from the title and strapline, to be targetted at vegetarians. Since meat is still a special occasion food for many in the region, any faithful book on its cuisine should be largely vegetarian anyway. It's only to pander to rich, Western eating habits that so many Middle Eastern cookbooks contain so many meat dishes. This is food too good to be the sole preserve of vegetarians.

The recipes here cover the range from the well known to the less familiar but still authentic, through to many 'Middle Eastern inspired' creations by Ms Butcher herself. There's plenty in here I would love to make, and it's not too often you can say that of the many cookbook offerings saturating the market these days. I particularly like the preserves section, and the 'muraba-e murch-e surkh wa piaz' (onion, chilli and mint jam) will probably be one of the first things here I will produce. It should be noted as a minor caution that there are a number of recipes involving ingredients which would undoubtedly be easy to source if you live down the Edgeware Road (moghrabieh, kashk, quroot, reshteh, pekmez and so on) but not if like me you live in deepest Devon.

This is a better presented work than 'Persia in Peckham', better laid out and with reasonably plentiful photographs of some of the dishes. The mildly irritating, 'jocular' (depending on your point of view) writing style remains. Nevertheless a recommended book.
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on 21 January 2012
The author has a fun and light-hearted writing style and I enjoyed reading the book almost as much as I enjoyed the recipes. Vegetables are central to middle-eastern cuisine and this is a pre-requisite for liking this book. The recipes are authentic and the author displays impressive knowledge. The book is boken down into the following chapters:

bread and pastry (my personal favourite)
herbs and salad
dairy and eggs
legumes and pulses
rice and grains
cooking with fruit
saucing, pickling and preserving
further reading

The recipes cover cuisine from most of the middle east. What might some readers not like? I hope nothing, but some ingredients, from past experience, I know will be perceived as 'exotic'. However, substitutions are always suggested. Many of the recipes could be used (at the risk of blasphemy!)in conjuction with meat and fish. Very good book for anyone who enjoys or is keen to discover middle-eastern food.
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on 8 November 2011
This book is both well-written and lovely to look at. As well as the practical recipes, it's packed with interesting snippets of background information, history, literature, folk tales and cultural info of all kinds, which makes it wonderful to browse through. The best cookery book I've read for an awfully long time, thoroughly enjoyable and insightful.
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on 11 January 2013
I really wanted to like this book as I received it as a present. The cover and pictures are very attractive, but that's as far as it goes. I have made 10 of the recipes in this book and I wouldn't cook any of them again. I consider myself an accomplished vegetarian cook, but my family rated two dishes from this book as "uneatable", 7 were "okay but don't cook it again", and one was rated excellent. The one rated excellent was 'melons with wings' which is a recipe that the author admits was stolen from one of her customers. But it took me so long to make it - 45 mins to cook the aduki beans, 25 mins for the cooker top part, and 30 mins in the oven, that it won't be gracing our table again. The barberry & almond casserole is described by the author in her intro as 'gloriously rich and tart, infused with the pungent flavour of dried limes' but it was so tart and sour that we couldn't eat it. It hit the compost bin and we had cheese on toast instead. A total waste of good ingredients. In mentioning ingredients, I should say that I live in Manchester which has many middle eastern and asian stores selling all range of exotic ingredients. But many of those included in the book were hard to track down - I couldn't find verjuice anywhere. I agree with the reviewer from Shropshire, that finding the ingredients will be difficult for anyone outside a major conurbation.

The author admits that she is a meat-eater, and I think this shows in the recipes. Many seem to be adapted from meat-versions, with little consideration given to nutritional values. For example she recommends that a casserole with a high potato content, should be served with rice. Carbohydrate overload! The best recipes in the book are those which she acknowledges as stolen from others. But in my view there are too few of these good recipes to make this book a worthwhile investment. I'd suggest instead Claudia Roden's middle eastern cookbook, which isn't a vegetarian book, but includes many great vegetarian dishes.
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on 16 May 2012
I couldn't wait to thumb through the pages of this book and dipped into it as soon as I arrived. It more than lived up to my expectations and I thought 'this book deserves to win a prize!' then I turned to the back cover to see it already had! And been Sunday Times cook book of the year. I'm not suprised.

The recipies are wonderful, they're tasty and easy to make. You need a few specialist ingredients but I rang Sally at her shop and she put a few together for me by mail order. The photography is stunning, there are interesting asides in the text that relate to the food which makes it a little like 'Arabian Nights' and really help us understand the culture and add to the mood.

There are also a few articles that explain specific parts of middle east cooking, such as how spices are grouped together etc. It's wonderful to try food which isn't hotly spiced like indian but is very different from mediterranean. It also has a lovely 'voice' throughout it which explains things and adds the odd funny aside, it's like having a knowledgeable, funny middle eastern friend next to you!

The photographs are a treat too, it must have taken a long time and a lot of care to put together, but it was well worth it!

All that remains is to ask the BBC to make a telly programme of it. Imagine the scene, it's a cold, grey day in the UK, you settle on the sofa with a cup of tea and switch the telly on. You see pictures of the middle east, with Sally cooking jewelled rice, treats doused in pomegrante, lush meals of rice, aubergine, figs.... I think that's the perfect tonic and I'm off to email the BBC! Its a love letter to the country really, Sally obviously really loves the land and it's food and loves telling us all about it. Let's have more Sally!
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on 24 November 2011
I bought this for someone who is really interested in vegetarian cooking and food and already has quite a library of vegetarian cookbooks. In other words it gets scrutinized by a discerning reader for whom it gets increasingly difficult to find books that are sufficiently interesting. This book passed the test with flying colours. It is beautifully presented, very nice design, good photos, and seems to be a great introduction to vegetarian food from the region by an enthusiastic author. A lot of thought clearly went into the design and content. This is an easy selection from the menu. Add to basket.
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on 9 November 2011
excellent book - I haven't yet managed to eat my way through all the recipes but so far so good. The authors enthusiasm come through well. I like the idea of sweet and savoury and it works well in practice. Whilst aimed at vegetables a lot of the recipes could be adapted to those who wish meat by the addition of lamb or chicken.
Sorry - have to finish now, feeling a little peckish - Bon appetite
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on 8 November 2013
Had this book in German before (an excellent translation!) but gave it to a (German) friend who couldn't keep her fingers from it :-) Ordered in in English now, which helps me (living in the UK) when shopping.
Love (most of) the recipes, easy to follow and accurate instructions, good background info and lots of interesting facts and stories around vegetarian cooking in the Middle East. Very good book for all veggie-lovers!
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