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A taste of Baghdad

22 November 2011

Try out these simple recipes from the Near East, says Joe Jenkins

Flavours of Babylon: A family cookbook
Linda Dangoor

Waterpoint Press £16
Church Times Bookshop £14.40

FLAVOURS OF BABYLON is surely the most evocative title of any cookery book published this year, conjuring up images of desert feasts, exotic meats, and palate-tingling spices. Linda Dan­goor’s book does not disappoint.

When she was eight, her family left their home among the Jewish commun­ity in Baghdad to move abroad, leaving behind a kitchen in which dishes were prepared under the supervision of her grandmother. Drawing on these Iraqi recipes, and extending her reach across the region, she presents simple recipes that work, not least because the com­binations of ingredients are grounded in hundreds, if not thou­sands, of years of tradition.

Even if you have any of Claudia Roden’s books of Middle Eastern recipes, or the excellent cookbooks by the owners of the Moro restaur­ant in London, you will still be cer­tain to find something fresh to tackle in these pages.

The book is divided between starters, main courses, desserts, and “other recipes” from beyond Iraq, preceded by explanatory chapters on spices, bread, and a little auto­biographical detail.

I have failed as a reviewer by not yet trying the slow-cooked brown eggs, which spend up to four hours in the oven, and, at least ac­cording to a photograph, look a little like something that has spent 1000 years buried in the ground before being dug up by an adven­turous Chinese diner.

I ate both her shefta, or little spiced kebabs, however, as well as chicken stew with preserved lemons and olives (an excellent version of a classic Moroccan dish) twice over a weekend.

I am also deter­mined to cook the favourite dish of all Baghdadis — masgouf (barbecued fish with a piquant sauce), using not shabbut, which is fished from the Tigris, but sea bass, as Dangoor suggests, as an alternative.

Beautiful photographs, and straightforward recipes that put the emphasis on ingredients over tech­nique, help to make this a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any modern British kitchen.

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