A Mideast revolution in cookbooks

 I've said it before and I'll say it again--the most exciting subject area in cookbook publishing these days is the Middle East (followed perhaps by Southeast Asia).  It seems like every week brings a gorgeous new book full of chickpeas and sesame and pomegranates and dates. 

Right now it seems to be all about the Fertile Crescent.  Yotam Ottolenghi wowed readers last year with Plenty, his Mediterranean ode to vegetables.  This year brings us Jerusalem (authored with Sami Tamimi), which celebrates the multiethnic cuisine of that city in colorful, nearly-omnivorous fashion.

The Lebanese Kitchen is the latest beautiful production from Phaidon Press. Full-bleed matte color photographs, scalloped edges, hundreds of recipes--it promises to bring the smells and tastes of the whole country to your kitchen.  We shall see if it delivers.

 When I lived in Little India in Manhattan, I was always struck by the fact that many restaurants advertised themselves as serving "Indo-Pak" food, and were frequented by cab drivers of both nations.  Everybody got along just fine, as if the tensions between those two countries half a world away just didn't matter anymore.  

So it is with the countries of the Middle East in cookbooks.  They're constantly being thrown together into one delicious multicultural mix, their specificity celebrated even while their flavors intermingle.  To my eye it seems like half of the Middle Eastern cookbooks I see belong not to one country but many, and arrive out of the publisher's warehouse to a warm reception and a spirit of curiosity in the West.

If only people, ideas, and religions could cross borders as freely as food.

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