The Arabian Nights Cookbook: From Lamb Kebabs to Baba Ghanouj, Delicious Homestyle Middle Eastern Cooking, features recipes from home cooks and chefs during Habeeb Salloum’s travels through the Arab Gulf countries. A few highlights include Khawa (Omani-Style Coffee), Has’a Al-Jareesh (Hearty Meat and Bulgur Soup), Dajaj Murraq (Lemony Chicken Stew), Yakhnat Samak (Fish Fillets in an Aromatic Red Sauce), and much more. I will also be sharing his recipe for Aysh Abu Laham (Mini Saudi Pizzas) following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Habeeb Salloum is a food and travel writer from Toronto, Ontario, Canada with a focus on the Middle East and Mediterranean region.
He has been featured in hundreds of articles, including the Food Section of The Toronto Star, Saveur Magazine, and The Vegetarian Journal.
He is also the author of From the Lands of Figs and Olives, Classic Vegetarian Cooking From the Middle East and North Africa, and more, plus co-author of Scheherazade’s Feasts: Foods of the Medieval Arab World and Sweet Delights from a Thousand and One Nights with his daughters.
The Arabian Nights Cookbook
Habeeb begins The Arabian Nights Cookbook by introducing to the Arab Gulf countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) with background information, geography, culture, and cuisine.
If you are new to Middle Eastern cooking, the helpful tools section and ingredient guide will be particularly valuable.
Some of the more difficult to find ingredients are listed with photos, descriptions, where to find them, how to use them, and substitutions when available. There is also a resource guide for locating these ingredients and useful techniques throughout the pages such as how to make ghee (clarified butter); work with okra, barley, fava beans, and grape leaves; and prepare garlic paste.
Chapters are divided based on course: Basic Recipes; Appetizers and Snacks; Salads; Soups; Chicken Dishes; Meat Dishes; Seafood and Fish Dishes; Vegetarian Dishes; Breads, Rice and Side Dishes; Desserts; and Drinks.
The photography is provided by Suan I. Lim with styling by Chow Chui Lin. Many of the recipes include a half-page photo, generally of the finished product.
The difficult to assemble recipes (Stuffed Grape Leaves, Golden Meat Turnovers, Stuffed Lamb or Veal, Delicious Stuffed Zucchini, Irresistible Baklava, Filo Wrapped Nut Rolls) also have step-by-step photos to accompany the more intricate instructions.
Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric with the name in English and Arabic. Every recipe has a headnote with background information, tips, substitutions, and how to serve.
Aysh Abu Laham (Mini Saudi Pizzas)
Aysh Abu Laham (عيش باللحم) is a Saudi Arabian flatbread topped with meat with variations throughout nearby countries.
Salloum adapted a traditional recipe to make individual servings instead of the larger pies.
After bringing together a yeast-based dough and allowing it to rest until doubled (about 2 hours), it is formed into rounds about 1/8 inch (3 millimeters) thick.
Each circle is topped with a ground meat mixture seasoned with onion, tomato, tahini, lemon juice, and a sprinkling of poppy seeds, then baked in a 350˚F (180˚C) oven until golden.
A Few Tips
If the dough is too crumbly to come together, add a little more lukewarm water. Add a little more flour only if too sticky to handle, but be careful not to add too much or it can cause the bread to become tough.
Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size. This should take around 2 hours in a room temperature kitchen.
I used ground beef, but ground lamb is also an option.
Tahini is a sesame seed paste created from ground toasted or raw sesame seeds. It is becoming more readily available in the international or health food section of most larger American grocery stores and markets with Middle Eastern ingredients.
If you are unable to find it, you can also make your own homemade tahini.
Make sure you stir the tahini well before using, especially down to the bottom of the container.
I also made Salatat Summaq (Fresh Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Sumac), Shawrabat Dajaj (Chicken Noodle Soup), Balaleet (Sweetened Vermicelli Omelet), and Lahooh bil Lawz (Saudi-Style Crepes filled with Sweetened Almonds).
Salatat Summaq was introduced to the Arab Gulf countries from Iraq. Sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions are tossed together with a sumac olive oil dressing. It is refreshing and perfect alongside meat dishes.
Shawrabat Dajaj (Chicken Noodle Soup) comes from the United Arab Emirates. It is wonderfully seasoned with cilantro, cardamom, and lemon. Habeeb notes that lime juice can also be used in place of the lemon.
Balaleet is one of my new favorite breakfast dishes. It comes from the United Arab Emirates and can also be found in the surrounding areas. Small pieces of thin noodles are cooked, then seasoned with butter, sugar, rose water, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. It is topped simply with an egg omelet before serving for the perfect combination of sweet and savory. During Eid festivities, Balaleet is often served with boiled chickpeas and black-eyed peas.
Lahooh bil Lawz are lightly stuffed crepes from Saudi Arabia. They are often served with tea or coffee as an afternoon snack. The texture of the crepes reminded me of the North African Baghrir with the spongy texture. They filled with sweetened almonds with cardamom, rolled up, and paired with honey for dipping.
The Arabian Nights Cookbook is a great book for those new to Middle Eastern cuisine or wanting to focus on the Arab Gulf region. Habeeb has adapted the recipes for the home cook while still maintaining their authenticity. The recipes range from easy, weeknight-worthy meals to the more complex with delicate folding or long resting times.
Many of the recipes can be prepared with ingredients easy found in the average American grocery store, but there are still a few that may require finding a market with a Middle Eastern focus or sourcing online: rose and orange blossom water, saffron, filo, Syrian truffles, pomegranate syrup, dried mung beans, preserved grape leaves, sumac, and more.
Aysh Abu Laham (Mini Saudi Pizzas) Recipe
Adapted from The Arabian Nights Cookbook
Aysh Abu Laham (Mini Saudi Pizzas)
- 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) lukewarm water 105-115˚F, 40-46˚C
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 ounce (7 grams/1 envelope) active dry yeast
- 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour plus more if needed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground caraway
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 1/4 cup (65 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil plus extra for brushing crust
- 1/4 cup (65 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound (500 grams) ground beef or lamb
- 2 onions minced
- 2 cloves garlic crushed into a paste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 bunch green onions scallions, about 1/4 pound (125 grams), trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 tomatoes finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons tahini sesame paste
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup (65 milliliters) water
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds for garnish
To make the dough:
- In a small bowl, mix together the water and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and stir to combine. Let sit until frothy, 5-10 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, cumin, and caraway.
- Make a well in the center and add the water mixture with frothy yeast, eggs, and olive oil.
- Mix until combined and knead until smooth, but firm. Add more water if too crumbly or more flour if too sticky to handle.
- Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with a tea towel, and allow to rest at room temperature until doubled, about 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350˚F (175˚C). Grease two large baking sheets with oil or line with parchment.
- In a large skillet, drizzle olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the ground meat and cook, stirring often and breaking up the lumps, until browned.
- Mix in the onion, garlic, black pepper, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened, about 8 minutes.
- Mix in the spring onions and tomato, then remove from heat.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, and water. Stir into the meat topping.
- Divide the meat topping into 6 equal piles.
- On a very lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.
- Form one piece into a ball, then roll into a circle about 1/8 inch (3 millimeters) thick. Pinch up the edges of the circle to for a raised, fluted edge. Place on prepared baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
- Cover each circle of dough with the topping, up to the raised edges. Sprinkle the tops with poppy seeds and brush the edges of the crust with olive oil.
- Bake in preheated oven until golden, about 30 minutes.
- Serve immediately.