Exotic cuisine book makes a good gift

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Claudia Roden is perhaps the leading authority on Jewish, Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. In addition to providing her readers with straightforward recipes, Roden gives food and cultural history, family stories, and most importantly, tips and techniques for successful cooking and entertaining. In her latest book, “Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon” (Knopf, $35), Roden offers intriguing descriptions of regional specialties and street food that expand readers’ understanding of these national traditions while enticing them into the kitchen.

Roden’s “The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York,” published in 1997, is my most used and favorite Jewish cooking reference book. Its 800 recipes and more than 700 pages of history about Jewish communities all over the world, as well as her personal stories of growing up in Cairo, make this a must for anyone interested in our cuisine.

Roden became involved in cooking when her parents, along with most of the Jewish community, were forced to leave Egypt during the 1956 Suez Crisis. As a student in London, she met many people leaving Egypt and on their way to new homelands. There had never been cookbooks before, as families had kept their recipes to themselves, but now people were furiously exchanging recipes. Roden wanted to record and preserve that part of her cultural heritage.

“Arabesque” is beautifully laid out, with extensive information on the cuisines and cultures of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon. The photographs range from highly styled dishes to open-air market scenes. “Arabesque” would make a perfect Chanukah gift for anyone interested in food, photography or learning about other cultures.

Pistachio Cake (Turkey) | Serves 10-12

For the syrup:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. rose water
For the cake:
5 eggs, separated
1 cup superfine sugar
11/2 cups pistachios, ground finely
1/3 cup pistachios, chopped very coarsely
3/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
Make the syrup by bringing the sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, then stir in the rose water. Let the syrup cool, then chill it in the refrigerator.
To make the cake, beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale cream, then add the ground pistachios and mix very well. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them in gently. Pour into a greased and floured nonstick cake pan 9″ to 10″ in diameter and sprinkle the coarsely chopped pistachios on top. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Turn the cake out into a deep serving dish. Make little holes over the top with a fork and pour over the syrup. The holes will let it soak in quickly.
Serve with heavy cream if desired.

Potatoes with Celery and Fennel (Morocco) | Serves 4

4 to 5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
14 oz. new potatoes, peeled or not
3 stalks celery
2 fennel bulbs
2 garlic cloves, crushed
salt and black pepper
4 sprigs mint, chopped coarsely
4 sprigs basil, chopped coarsely
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
In a large pan, put 2 Tbs. olive oil and the potatoes. If large, cut the potatoes in half or in quarters. Cut the celery into 3/4-inch pieces and quarter the fennel bulbs and cut each quarter in half. Place the celery and fennel on top of the potatoes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and enough water to almost cover the green vegetables. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.
Stir in the chopped mint and basil and cook, uncovered to reduce the liquid, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.
Serve sprinkled with lemon juice and the remaining olive oil.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at www.GoRebecca.com. She can be reached at [email protected].