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September 2010 Cookbook of the Month: THE NEW BOOK OF MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD & ARABESQUE

The winners of the September 2010 Cookbook of the Month are THE NEW BOOK OF MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD and ARABESQUE: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden

We'll use this space to talk about the books generally until the threads go up at the beginning of the month.

ARABESQUE: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon is a past COTM book [April 2007] and the link to the previous threads can be found here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3870...

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  1. Boy, was that ever a close call! The great thing is that both of these books are indexed on EYB. Now I just have to decide whether I need to own both of these books or just one, and if just one, which one. I guess I'll take them both out of the library for starters, but if anyone who is familiar with both books has any opinions on this, I'd love to hear them.

    Thank you, smtucker.

    ~TDQ

    34 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      For Arabesque, those previous COTM threads were pretty active. It may give you the flavor of that book.

      1. re: beetlebug

        Oh definitely. I've already looked through those threads. Sounds like September is going to be delicious! I was just seeking a comparison of the two books from anyone who is familiar with both. Part of me hopes I don't need to own them both... the other part of me wants them both!

        ~TDQ

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          I own Arabesque, and took TNBoMEF out of the library a few years back (too far to make this truly a fair piece of info); my feeling is that I prefer Arabesque.

          1. re: LulusMom

            I prefer Arabesque too - got the other one for my birthday and haven't cooked from it yet.

            1. re: greedygirl

              LLM and GG, oh, this is terrific feedback. I see Arabesque in my future.

              ~TDQ

      2. re: The Dairy Queen

        I have both and cook from both. TNBoMEF is more comprehensive, but if I could only keep one, it would be Arabesque. If there's a bad recipe in there, I haven't found it. These are traditional recipes that have been tweaked to perfection. This cookbook easily makes my top 10 list.

        1. re: pikawicca

          Sounds like I can't go wrong with Arabesque! Especially if it's in your top 10!

          ~TDQ

          1. re: pikawicca

            I just asked my sister who has cooked extensively from both which one she prefers and she said pretty much the same thing:

            "Arabesque is a Hayes Valley (a chic neighborhood in San Francisco) boutique, the Book of Middle Eastern Food is Macy's. Both are good. I guess I like boutiques better, but I wouldn't want a world without department stores."

            Maybe that helps, though for me it just makes me want to do both, so I probably will.

            1. re: balabanian

              An excellent analogy.

          2. re: The Dairy Queen

            TDQ: I'd go for The New Book instead of Arabesque. Altho Arabesque has some good recipes, I find it lacking...it's more of a hit or miss deal. If the New Book is an update of her old Middle Eastern Food, it'll be great. I have the original and have never seen the new one, but respect her and figure an update would be wonderful.

            I don't think that Arabesque has that many recipes, if I recall it from when we cooked from it before. It struck me as more of a coffee table type book. It's more of a looker than a cooker. Of course there are some wonderful recipes in it, but I like the MIddle Eastern book better if only for its greater scope.

            1. re: oakjoan

              I looked through Arabesque last night and AD HOC to see if I wanted to change my vote from AdHOc (didnt) - I didnt see a lot that I wanted to cook in Arabesque - in all three of its cuisines I think there are better recipes to be found elsewhere (notably wolfert). `Im going to give some of these and New Book a try, however - I used to pore over the original Roden religiously.

              Im getting frustrated with great big heavy books with all the pix and filler (not to mention hard to read typography is some). give me the good recipes!

              1. re: jen kalb

                I, too, am tired of the huge, overproduced cookbooks. I wish that trend would die.

                Which is Wolfert's book on Turkish cuisine?

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  FWIW, I don't think Arabesque is a coffee table, overproduced cookbook. I enjoy a book on an ethnic cuisine that spends time introducing it so you get that moment of traveling -- and a grounding if you are unfamiliar with the cuisine/ingredients. It's a regular size book, has 150 recipes (according to the jacket), and some great reports from the previous thread. Now, of course, I've bought it and not really cooked from it yet, so take it for the little it's worth, but I've bookmarked some things I'm eager to try that look pretty easy and delish. I do think from what I've seen that I'm likely to throw in some additional spice, but I like a good boost of flavor, so that's generally true.

                  1. re: mebby

                    I agree Arabesque is neither huge nor overproduced, and certainly not a coffee-table book. It has some nice photos, is easy enough to use in the kitchen, and each section has a lot of good info on the cuisine in question - traditions, ingredients, etc. I already had TNBoMEF, and I bought Arabesque when I read all the reports after it was COTM.

                    TNBoMEF is pretty thick, as it has lots of recipes, but it is also not oversized. It has a bunch of historical sidebars and some whimsical stories/mythology relating to food in the region, but they are easy to skip if so inclined. I really appreciate the amount of info and recipes packed into it.

                    I think both books have much to offer, and any extras Roden has included are not at the expense of "the good recipes."

                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Several of her books have signficant content from Turkey, including Grains and Greens, Clay Pot Cooking, etc, but particularly the wonderful Food of the Eastern Mediterranean book.

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      I really want to have a look at Grains and Greens. Those are the foods I keep meaning to eat more of.

                      I am really pretty sold on Arabesque, but oakjoan's input makes me tentative. I don't know why I'm being so wishy washy right now. I should just get them both out of the library and make a decision later. I don't really understand my weird self-pressure to decide right now. I just want to have one thing in my life resolved, even something as silly as a cookbook.

                      One seems to be on the shelf at the library. The other (Arabesque) needs to be ordered from another location. Gah.

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Library them both and then see how it shakes out. I suspect from threads that both will yield great stuff. While I love the analogy of the boutique vs. the dept store, Arabesque doesn't feel that precious and hand-selected to me (there are, for example, recipes for very similar dishes across cultures - oh so dept store). But like little black dresses from across cultures, I bet they are all pretty (culinarily) great!

                  3. re: jen kalb

                    Before judging Arabesque, perhaps you might want to cook from it first. Just a zany suggestion. (And it's not a "great big heavy book," BTW.)

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      I does seem a weird criticism, especially when Ad Hoc is bigger, and heavier!

                      1. re: greedygirl

                        I want normal sized cookbooks that fit on my shelf and don't take up an absurd amount of counter space.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          The cookbooks that I use repeatedly [and are paperback] tend to end up in very convenient sections as the binding disappears. But I don't think that is what you mean!

                        2. re: greedygirl

                          I was actually talking more about the extreme size and weight of Ad Hoc in my comment. However the current style of 2 pages per recipe with the recipe facing a pic and the need for glossy paper to do this also results in an inordinately heavy book. Eastern Mediterranean has 215 recipes (I think it says) and is lighter (different paper) and no larger than Arabesque, just to give one example.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            Oh spare me from heavy cookbooks. I have rheumatoid arthritis and these books are killing me. One of the heaviest I have is a Rick Bayless that's also one of the smallest I have! Our current COTM is both Big & Heavy...for me, anyway.

                            (Wasn't there a country music duo named Big & Rich?)

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Exactly what kept me from buying Ad Hoc for so long. And why I didn't have an Alford & Duguid book until someone gave me HSSS as a birthday present. So many of these books come from Artisan, a division of Workman. They've obviously made it work for them. I hate, hate, hate it. My heart drops when someone recommends a really interesting-sounding new book and I go to look it up on Amazon and see that it's published by Artisan. Great books. Gorgeous books. Well edited, well produced. I hate them.

                              1. re: JoanN

                                Completely agree. I wish they'd split them into two sell them as a set: coffee table book+cookbook.

                                ~TDQ

                              2. re: jen kalb

                                I just got Ad Hoc out of the library. What an obnoxious sized book. It's so awkward and there is no way there is anyway I could ever fit that book on my meager bookshelf. It barely fit into my library book bag.

                                It is a pretty book though but why oh why do publishers do this? Do they think that people don't actually cook from their pretty books?

                                I wish that JoanN worked for Artisan books so she can slap some sense into them.

                                1. re: beetlebug

                                  the recipes look good but they could easily fit in a small paperback. I guess that would not be consistent with the size of his rep but it would certainly more convenient for actual cooks.

                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                    At least it's slightly more convenient in size and shape than TFL cookbook is.

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      I was curious so I looked it up. Turns out TFL is .2 inches shorter both across and top to bottom than AHAH, weighs .3 pounds less, and has 32 fewer pages.

                                      I suspected that was probably true. Just knowing how publishers work, it makes financial sense to have many of your oversized books the same size and printed on the same paper. I don't have TFL so I'm curious what there might be about it that makes it seem less convenient to you.

                                      1. re: JoanN

                                        Well, Joan, if I weren't holding the two books in my hands, I would absolutely insist that TFL was shorter but wider. And now that I'm holding them in my hands, I find it impossible to believe they aren't identical. They seem like they are the exact same shape and the exact same weight. HEAVY!

                                        Weird.

                                        I neither is better than the other.

                                        ~TDQ

                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        TFL?

                                        1. re: jen kalb

                                          I assume The French Laundry Cookbook.

                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                            The French Laundry.

                                            But, the more interesting question is, what did I mean by: "I neither is better than the other."

                                            Huh?

                                            ~TDQ

                                2. re: pikawicca

                                  I read the comparison to be with the 70s Roden Book of Middle Eastern Food vs Arabesque. My mom cooked from the original a lot, it's a different era of cookbooks. Arabesque is super flashy/glossy/heavy in comparison, and I can't say it's moved to a Go To status for me.

                          2. Bit of a cliff-hanger that, wasn't it? I'm hoping for some late summer vegetable laden meals.
                            Many thanks, SMT...!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Gio

                              FYI Gio, there is a new Moroccan market (Olives Market) on Pleasant Street in Malden Center. I only had time for a quick look-see but they had beautiful tagines displayed in the window.

                              1. re: gimlis1mum

                                Thank you for that bit of infomation Gimlis1mum...,! I'll have DH check it out as I'm not sure it would be wheelchair accessible. But it's very good to know we have ethnic markets close by.

                            2. I'm really glad Arabesque was selected. The original Book of Middle Eastern Cooking has been the one I've gone to so long, that even though I bought Arabesque a several years ago I have yet to really cook out of it. I've been looking through it and choosing recipes already. Also checking out the previous COTM threads from when it was chosen before.

                              1. Question: does anybody have both the original BoMEF and the new one? I have the old (a late '70s pb), is it worth it to get the new (more/revised recipes, etc)? I haven't seen it in a store so haven't had a chance to decide for myself. Thanks, comrades.

                                32 Replies
                                1. re: buttertart

                                  I havent looked at recipe overlap but the feel of the new one is quite different. The original was written I think in England and ingredient resources were limited and the coverages of the remoter areas in her geography was less extensive.

                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                    Better have a closer look...

                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      I'd like to see the new version in person, too.

                                      From Amazon.com:
                                      Claudia Roden has updated and expanded her popular 1968 cookbook for a more savvy and knowledgeable audience. While still filled with old favorites, the third edition acknowledges food processors and other handy kitchen tools, as well as this generation's preference for lower-fat recipes. Not that every recipe is changed; many are not, but Roden does attempt not to rely too much on butter and oils.

                                      1. re: decolady

                                        Best price I've seen for it is on Jessica's Biscuit at $21.00 vs Amazon $24 something.

                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          $17.30 including shipping on abebooks.com

                                          1. re: roxlet

                                            Soooold...American! (I hope you're old enough to know what the heck I mean.) Didn't see it on there when I checked earlier today.

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              Sadly, I know JUST what you mean!!

                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                Oh well...at least we're on the same wavelength. BTW that cheapie is from 1986, is it the same, I wonder. I also thought Roden was coming out with a memoir? Article in the Times a few months back?

                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                  Oooh! Food-oir. Does she have an interesting background?

                                                  ~TDQ

                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    Big time. Can't find the recent article (it may have been in Vogue, not the Times)but here's a peek at her background:
                                                    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/30/mag...

                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                      That would be a good one (when it is published) for a food book group I have just started running for the Culinary Guild of New England. We have our first meeting later this month (or rather our first meeting since I joined the group) and we're reading Spoon Fed by Kim Severson. Not of course that I am short of Food-oirs as TDQ has named them but Claudia Roden does seem to have an interesting life (and is such an elegant lady). The other food-oir from a writer I really admire but haven't read yet is Madhur Jaffrey's 'Climbing the Mango Tree'.

                                                      1. re: JaneEYB

                                                        That food book group sounds fun, could I be a virtual member? ;-)
                                                        "Climbing the Mango Tree" is well worth reading, but not all that food-y.
                                                        I didn't like the Severson book, I'm sick of addiction recovery narratives (not very nice of me, but I am) and I don't like her writing style.
                                                        Fun books along this line: the Simon Majumdars (the British one is only available in the UK so far), Jay Rayner's "The Man Who Ate the World" (and his novel, "The Apologist"). More will come to mind I'm sure.

                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                          I liked "Memories of a Lost Egypt: A Memoir with Recipes" by Colette Rossant
                                                          (mildly topical; to this thread, via Roden)

                                                          buttertart, I had a similar reaction of Bruni's book (weight obsession as addiction) although I plowed through it . . .

                                                          1. re: pitu

                                                            Me too, boring boring boring. But I finished it.
                                                            I have had the Rossant on my mind for a long time.

                                                        2. re: JaneEYB

                                                          It may be "done" at this point, but I loved Jacques Pepin's memoir, "The Apprentice." Interesting bridge between classical French training and modern American food culture.

                                                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                            That's one of the best. I love him.

                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                              Thanks for all these great suggestions. I'm sure the attendees will have ideas too. I don't usually join book groups, as although I love to read I don't like other people choosing the books I read. But probably with food-oirs (see it's catching on, TDQ) they will always be interesting. I've only just started Spoon Fed so don't have a strong opinion either way yet. Though it doesn't seem as funny as she is in person - she was a co-host at IACP this year and she was very amusing.

                                                        3. re: buttertart

                                                          The New Yorker food issue (two or three years ago) had a nice long article on Roden. I recall it was illustrated with an elegant photo of her with a goat.
                                                          http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20...
                                                          (Might only be available online to subscribers.)

                                                          1. re: pitu

                                                            Thanks for the link to that article. I had not seen it before.

                                                            1. re: pitu

                                                              That's the one I was thinking about, thanks.

                                        2. re: buttertart

                                          I only have the "New Book" but I can tell you I'm delighted with what I've been reading. Her writing is lucid and packed with valuable information about recipe origins, variations, uses, etc. The recipes are clearly written and easy to follow. I think it's thoroughly modern while incorporating the traditions of each region. We've already made several dishes and have been quite pleased with the results. I only wish I thought to make preserved lemons a few weeks ago... although I've recently heard of a super quick method which I might have to rely on.

                                          1. re: Gio

                                            Care to elaborate on the super quick method? Does it involve the microwave? Thanks very much for your thoughts on the matter, I'm leaning toward picking it up.

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              Yesterday I had Ina Garten's Back to Basic show on in the background while I was busy with a project. She was being shown how to make a chicken tagine by Stephen Spielberg's personal chef. When I heard "preserved lemons" I paid closer attention but missed a few details. Anyway...here's the exact recipe:

                                              http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

                                              1. re: Gio

                                                Thanks! I should think you could do this in the MW at 50% power...96 in this area today and until Friday - and oven on for 3 hrs doesn't appeal, even with a/c.

                                            2. re: Gio

                                              Gio and Buttertart: I've used Roden's "quick unorthodox method, which gives delicious results in four days" in Arabesque (link with pics below). It's a good one:
                                              Lemons Boiled in Brine and Preserved in Oil, p. 37
                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3870...

                                              I should add that I love Arabesque, one of my favorite cookbooks. I'm still debating on whether to buy "The New Book", or stick with Arabesque as there are so many other recipes I want to try that I didn't get the chance the first time around. This week I'm planning "New Style Shish Barak" (Lebanon) and "Meat Pies with Raisins and Pine Nuts" (Turkey).

                                              1. re: Rubee

                                                I'm in the same boat - already own and love Arabesque and have a lot of things I still want to try in it. Considered buying the other, but remembered having taken it out of the library and liking, but not loving, it.

                                                1. re: LulusMom

                                                  Thanks LulusMom, good to know. I plan on stocking up tomorrow at a local Middle Eastern market and getting started. I'm excited to try a few desserts for the first time.

                                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                                    I just went ahead and purchased (online) a copy of Arabesque because I think it's going to be too difficult to deal with a library copy given my nutty schedule in Sept and given everyone's glowing comments, and my own particular culinary interests, I am certain I will want my own copy. But I hope to be able to swing by the library and pick up a copy of the other. Many have spoken highly of it, too. Gosh, I fear I will end up wanting copies of both...

                                                    I love that short-cut preserved lemon method, by the way. On my list it goes!

                                                    ~TDQ

                                                  2. re: Rubee

                                                    <"Gio and Buttertart: I've used Roden's "quick unorthodox method, which gives delicious results in four days" in Arabesque (link with pics below). It's a good one:
                                                    Lemons Boiled in Brine and Preserved in Oil, p. 37">

                                                    Thanks for that Rubee. I _think_ I saw a recipe for preserved lemons in the new book also. Gotta check.

                                                    1. re: Gio

                                                      BTW, I should mention that Arabesque also has recipes for more traditional preserved lemons that need at least a month.

                                                    2. re: Rubee

                                                      Has anyone halved that "quick unorthodox method" of making preserved lemons? I only want to make two and not sure whether to cut salt in half. Kind of inclined to use somewhere between half and the full amount, what do you think?

                                                      1. re: Rubee

                                                        Thanks for that tip Rubee. Since this is Claudia month I feel I should be making her quick preserved lemons rather than Ina's - acually not even hers, it's from Gail Arnold who the Food Network cagily disclaims as "A viewer, who may not be a professional cook, provided this recipe. The Food Network Kitchens chefs have not tested this recipe and therefore we cannot make representation as to the results".
                                                        Now to start planning my recipes from Claudia and go shopping.