We’ve gone out to eat at Lebanese restaurants in Jacksonville so often recently and enjoyed it so much that I ordered several cookbooks in an attempt to replicate the experience. I love the history of all of the civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean, and their food is a living history of sorts. It has also been a great excuse to order a litany of new spices.
As far as cookbooks go, however, these are especially wonderful. They have very thorough discussions of the history and culture of the region – and in many cases, they take the time to explain the origin of particular dishes, spices, and techniques. Much like the Caribbean, the Mediterranean is an on-going collision of people from wildly different backgrounds, so dishes can have very interesting origins and fusions.
This is my favorite of all of the cookbooks I found. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi have written a sort of love letter to the city of Jerusalem. The book is filled with pictures of people from all different backgrounds going about their daily life there. It includes recipes from across the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. I plan to work my way through most of the recipes in this book.
Another great cookbook is Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food: The Classic Cookbook, Expanded and Updated, with New Recipes and Contemporary Variations on Old Themes. This book also contains a lot of history, but has fewer pictures.
I have also enjoyed this book, Taste of Beirut, from which I learned how to make many of the mezzes we love to eat when we are up in Jacksonville.
This is not a true Middle Eastern cookbook, but Bobby Flay’s cookbook Fit also has a lot of great recipes inspired by the region. He uses a lot of Middle Eastern flavors to make western food taste a lot more interesting.
One of my next projects is going to be to start making preserved lemons. It seems a little funny to do this when one lives in a place where citrus is so abundant, but it really does seem to create an irreplaceable flavor. I’m also not sure how we’ve lived so long without knowing about pomegranate molasses.
Lastly, if you love Middle Eastern cooking, I would highly recommend a couple blogs for you. The first is my pal, A Jeanne in the Kitchen, who posts a wide variety of absolutely amazing recipes (including a lot of Middle Eastern food). The second is Orange Blossoms and Rose Water.