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Customer Review

on 30 September 2005
This book is a compendium of Iraqi cuisine and a history of cooking in Iraq. The Levant traditionally has the reputation for being the centre of Middle Eastern cuisine, and Iraqi cuisine is often (unjustly) overlooked.
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).
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