Artichoke to Za'atar: Modern Middle Eastern Food.

AuthorSutherland, Matt
PositionBook review

Work Title: Artichoke to Za'atar: Modern Middle Eastern Food

Work Author(s): Greg and Lucy Malouf

University of California Press

47 color photos, 352 pages, Hardcover $29.95

Food

ISBN: 9780520254138

Reviewer: Matt Sutherland

For reasons unknown, Middle Eastern cooking never quite achieves the moniker of "next new thing" in Western culinary circles. Might it be the dressed-down approach taken by hummus- and tabbouleh-serving earth mothers in their natural food delis that serves to undermine the efforts of contemporary Arab-minded chefs? Or maybe it's the sheer exoticism of certain dishes, spices, and techniques? Hard to figure because the ingredients needed to prepare most Asian dishes are far more difficult to source. In fact, the goods in a Middle Eastern cupboard wouldn't intimidate any modestly skilled Western home cook. Staple items like almonds, artichokes, chickpeas, couscous, dates, eggplants, lentils, pistachios, saffron, and vine leaves are all but commonplace in the States. And while many traditional dishes are labor intensive, a handful of Western-trained chefs (with Middle Eastern backgrounds) are successfully experimenting with Middle Eastern cooking to make the cuisine more approachable.

The ever-present danger to such experimentation is change for novelty's sake; a creativity-at-all-costs game played by too many maverick chefs with little understanding of the inherent (cornerstone) traditions known to any native cuisine. The best scenario is when a homegrown chef accepts the challenge, as is the case with Greg Malouf, co-author of...

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