The Arabian Nights Cookbook: From Lamb Kebabs to Baba Ghanouj, Delicious Homestyle Middle Eastern Cooking, features the recipes from home cooks and chefs during Habeeb Salloum’s travels through the Arab Gulf countries. He takes you on a tour of the region with Khawa (Omani-Style Coffee), Has’a Al-Jareesh (Hearty Meat and Bulgur Soup) from Saudi Arabia, Dajaj Murraq (Lemony Chicken Stew) from the United Arab Emirates, Yakhnat Samak (Fish Fillets in an Aromatic Red Sauce) from Kuwait, Kusa Mahshi (Delicious Stuffed Zucchini) from Qatar, and much more from throughout the Arabian Peninsula. This book was awarded the 2011 Best Arab Cuisine Book in the U.S. by the Gourmand World Cookbook Award. It is available in hardcover and paperback (I have the paperback version for review).
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 Christian Science Monitor, 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, Bison Delights: Middle Eastern Cuisine Western Style, Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes and Recollections, , and Asian Cooking Made Simple: A culinary Journey along the Silk Road and Beyond, plus co-author of Scheherazade’s Feasts: Foods of the Medieval Arab World and Sweet Delights from a Thousand and One Nights: The Story of Traditional Arab Sweets with his daughters.
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.
Salloum provides an introduction to the Arab Gulf countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) with background information, geography, culture, and cuisine. This region of the world lived off of a meat and animal product-based diet served in nomadic Bedouin tents with fish included where available for a long period in history. Vegetables and grains were difficult to come across before the blending of cuisines over time with influences from the northern Middle Eastern countries, India, Pakistan, and other outside influences.
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. There are even 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.
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.
This is a great book for those new to Middle Eastern cuisine or wanting to focus on the Arab Gulf region. Salloum has adapted the recipes for the Western kitchen while still maintaining their authenticity. Many of the recipes can be prepared with common ingredients, but there are still a few that may require finding an International 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. The recipes range from easy, weeknight-worthy meals to the more complex with delicate folding or long resting times. While Arab cuisine has long focused on meat and seafood-based dishes, there is still a variety of vegetables, appetizers, beverages, and sweet treats.
Aysh Abu Laham is the Arabian version of a pizza. It is similar to the Turkish/Armenian Lahmacun, but with a thicker, more chewy crust. Salloum adapted a traditional recipe to make individual pizzas instead of the larger pies. The leavened dough (2 hour resting time) is seasoned with ground caraway and cumin, then topped with a ground meat mixture with spring onions (traditionally kurrath), tomatoes, a tahini sauce, and poppy seeds. I used ground beef, but ground lamb is also popular. I also topped each baked pizza with a few thin tomato slices for garnish.
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 supermarkets. It is also available on Amazon: Baron’s Kosher 100% Pure Ground Sesame Tahini 16-ounce Jars (Pack of 2) and Achva Organic Tahini, 17.6 Ounce. If you are unable to find it, you can also make your own. I have seen multiple recipes, but have not tried any myself yet. 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. Salloum 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, it is often served with boiled chickpeas and black-eyed peas. It is also popular with tea, dates, and Khubz Mohala (Sweet Holiday Biscuits).
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.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
‘Aysh Abu Laham (Mini Saudi Pizzas)
Adapted from The Arabian Nights Cookbook
1/2 cup (125 milliliters) lukewarm water, 105-115 degrees F
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
1/2 cup (125 milliliters) water, plus more if needed
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 a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, cumin, and caraway. Make a well in the center and mix in the eggs, olive oil, and water until dough is well-combined. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel or plastic, and allow to rest until doubled, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C). Grease a large baking sheet 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 mm) 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. If desired, decorate the top with extra tomato slices.