Middle Eastern Cookery by Arto der Haroutunian: cookbook review

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Middle Eastern Cookery by Arto der Haroutunian

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

Middle Eastern Cookery by Arto der Haroutunian is one of the classics of Middle Eastern cooking. It is a thoroughly researched, clearly written classic that is worth returning to again and again whenever you feel inspired to cook any of the great dishes of this region.
The author is an interesting character. He was born in Aleppo in Syria and therefore was lucky enough to be initially raised in one of the great food centres of the world, in fact the home of the famous Muhammarah walnut and pomegranate sauce among many other fabulous dishes.
His family then moved to the United Kingdom and he eventually opened a successful Armenian restaurant in Manchester. In addition to running a restaurant, he was also an accomplished artist and musician as well as a prolific author.
His Middle Eastern Cookery book was first published by Century Publishing in 1982 and was republished by Grub Street in 2008.
The book is arranged by style of dish. So there are chapters for Mezzeh (snacks), Churba (soups), Kibbeh and Kuftas, Ganachi (cooked vegetables), Pilavs, Firin Kebabs and Khoreshts, Torshi (pickles) and so on.
The introduction explains a little about the geography of the region covered by the book which sweeps from Pakistan through Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and down to Egypt.
He also details some of the ethnic minorities whose cuisines have been influential in the area such as the Copts in Egypt, the Kurds, the Armenians and the Turkomans. He then goes on to write about the history of food and its social and religious influences from a Middle Eastern perspective.
As mentioned previously, it is not surprising that the very first recipe is for Muhammarah the famous recipe from his birthplace. This dish is constructed from crushed walnuts, breadcrumbs and spices softened with olive oil and pomegranate juice.
As you read through this impressive tome it soon becomes obvious that there are some commonly available staples that you need for these recipes. - walnuts are a must, tahini paste, dried broad beans (dried fava beans), fresh Middle Eastern spices such as cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, sesame and also burghul.
It is interesting to note the chapter on pickles which are now so wildly popular due to the efforts of mega-chefs such as David Chang at Momofuku Ko. Haroutunian talks of visits to shops in Beirut that sell nothing else but pickles. Vegetables of all sorts including cauliflower, turnips and cucumber are pickled. Unlike Chang who uses lots of sugar, these recipes only use salt and vinegar but the harshness of these ingredients are offset with liberal use of herbs and spices in the pickling mix.
Another great chapter is the one on kibbeh and kufta. We have fond memories oof days in the sun making kibbeh for hundreds of people at food festivals as we helped our Lebanese friends make these intricate orbs that were devoured with pleasure by Australians looking for different flavours and textures. Whether it be the recipe for Kibbeh Naye the raw lamb and burghul dish that is so beloved throughout Lebanon or the Armenian recipe for marble-sized Ttoo Kufta served in a stew of lamb, chickpeas and mint, the recipes are intriguing and easy to follow.
This a a great book with a wonderful panoply of recipes.
It is a necessary addition to every food lovers collection.

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