author of The Oxford Companion to Food, in Petits Propos Culinaires, April, 2000
Recipes And Remembrances From An Eastern Mediterranean Kitchenby Sonia Uvezian
Located in the very heart of the eastern Mediterranean, the area comprising Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan has provided the world with what is considered by many to be Arab food at its best. In this landmark, one-of-a-kind volume Sonia Uvezian gives this time-honored cuisine the kind of presentation it truly deserves. "Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen" is a revelatory work rich in personal reminiscences; insightful quotations, anecdotes, and proverbs; valuable information on ingredients, utensils, daily meals, and traditions; and evocative period illustrations.
Sonia Uvezian's many memories and associations establish a sense of place and emotional pull rarely encountered in Middle Eastern culinary literature. The "eastern Mediterranean Kitchen" in the title is actually that of her family's summer home in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon's fertile agricultural and winemaking region, as well as the one in their Beirut apartment. It is where the Uvezians prepared the food they grew themselves or bought from nearby farms, orchards, and markets.
Written by an expert in the field and over two decades in the making, "Recipes and Remembrances" is a fascinating and highly original book imbued with a keen historical perspective and a deep respect for the region's cultural heritage. Few cookbook authors have approached their subjects with the thorough, painstaking research reflected in this work. A profound understanding of eastern Mediterranean food shines through in its hundreds of superb, clearly written recipes, which are often preceded by illuminating introductory remarks. From the definitive section on pomegranates and pomegranate molasses through the fabulous chapters on desserts and beverages, this book provides indispensable reading for anyone interested in the cookery and culture of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Like the author's groundbreaking classics, "The Cuisine of Armenia" and "Cooking from the Caucasus," which were among the first to bring Middle Eastern and Caucasian cooking to America, it is long on such traditional dishes as tabbuleh and baklava but also includes innovations, among them Damascus-Style Cheese Dip with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Nigella and Grilled Quail with Sour Cherry Sauce.
Timeless and timely, "Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen" is a welcome blend of outstanding scholarship and entertaining reading. A genuine contribution to culinary literature, it has achieved the status of a classic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sonia Uvezian was born and brought up in Beirut, Lebanon. A leading authority on Middle Eastern and Caucasian cooking and the winner of a James Beard Award, she is the author of six other highly acclaimed cookbooks, including "The Cuisine of Armenia," "Cooking from the Caucasus," and "The Book of Yogurt." Several of her books have been selections of Book-of-the-Month Club and published internationally. Ms. Uvezian has also contributed articles and recipes to Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Vogue, and numerous other publications.
author of The Oxford Companion to Food, in Petits Propos Culinaires, April, 2000
The Times Literary Supplement (London), March 16, 2001
The Portland Oregonian, December 11, 2001
- The Siamanto Press
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Read an Excerpt
From the essay on grapes:
Grapes have historically been the choicest fruit of Greater Syria. In former times, as now, the best grapes were grown in the Damascus area and on the sunny slopes of Mount Lebanon....Each variety of grape is best adapted to a special use. Some are simply eaten fresh out of hand, while others are turned into wine, arak (italicize), or vinegar. Certain types are prized for making raisins, and still others are utilized to make a kind of molasses called dibs inab (italicize), which has served as a sweetening agent for pastries and confections for thousands of years....
...Many families, including mine, used to make grape dibs outdoors in September. I remember Shtora and other villages in the Bekaa being suffused with the sweet, irresistible scent of grape juice seething in huge copper caldrons. The annual preparation of the dibs was something of a social occasion and would extend far into the night. Sitting under an indigo sky dimaonded with close-hanging stars, I would feel as if I were witnessing some mysterious ancient rite, so engrossed were the grown-ups in stoking the fires and stirring the boiling grape in the caldrons, their figures silhouetted against the flames. Two other confections that we made with grape juice during the vintage were bastegh and sharots, both Armenian specialties.
Of the several varieties of grapes in our garden, my favorite was the aristocratic aynub shami("Damascus grape"), which was large, green, and extra-crisp, with a distinctive tangy-sweet flavor. I was also fond of the smaller greenish-yellow, thin-skinned round grapes that grew on a trellis outside our kitchen, which in late summer would be permeated with their exquisite flowery perfume. It was great fun to be able to pluck the juicy, honey-sweet fruit by merely stretching out my arm from our kitchen window. A vine trellis is a traditional feature of many dwellings, shading porches, terraces, and roofs from the daytime heat as well as providing freshly picked fruit for eating and leaves for making mahshi.
In addition to those found in our garden, we grew many other kinds of grapes in our vineyard, which was located about a mile away from our house. Several times a week we would make the trip at dawn and return with baskets full of a tempting assortment of greem yellow, pink, purple, and blue-black bunches for breakfast. The path from our house wound between magnificent orchards of apple, peach, pear, and plum trees, all heavily laden with luxuriant fruit. Dotted among the orchards and set alongside glinting streams were villas and cottages, their yards filled with flowers. As the path led out from Shtora, orchards gave way to acres and acres of beautifully maintained vineyards. Our own property, which was quite extensive, was skirted at its outer edge by the tracks of a narrow-gauge railroad. Sometimes we would delay our trip to the vineyard until late afternoon to coincide with the arrival of the little train coming from Beirut, which would seen be heard winding its way among the vineyards, having triumphantly descended into the Bekaa after chugging over the high Lebanon. We would wave gleefully to the engineer as the train passed by and then watch entranced as it gradually made a sweeping curve before disappearing in the direction of the nearby Ksara vineyards on its way to Damascus. These vineyards, which covered a considerable area, belonged to the Jesuits, who operated (as they still do) the largest winery in the Middle East, producing good, well-known wines.
Lebanon's "toy train," which gave us so much delight, is now only a cherished memory. It is no longer in service, and when I learned of this recently I could not help feeling a pang of regret. (In this essay Uvezian also includes a detailed description of the traditional method of making grape molasses.) From the essay on water: Arabs appreciate water as the French do wine....Lebanon is a nation of water connoisseurs. Spring water is especially preferred, not only for drinking but also for cooking and baking, and it is not uncommon for people to travel a considerable distance to a particular spring noted for its excellent water in order to obtain their supply. Names such as "Spring of Miolk" and "Spring of Honey" attest to the high regard in which such springs are held. A village blessed with a source of good water is justifiably proud of the fact, and one of the greatest compliments a visitor can pay its mukhtar (italicize) is to tell him how delicious "his" water tastes....
...Cold water is always served with meals, no matter what other beverages are present. It is traditionally stored in unglazed earthenware jars, which, being porous, keep the water pleasantly cool by evaporation even in the hottest weather. Water, especially in rural areas, is often drunk from an ibriq, an earthenware jug with a handle and a small spout....The ibriq is held in an upraised position, and the water flows directly into the mouth without the lips touching the spout. This method of drinking requires some practice to master, and I remember how proud I was as a small child when I first succeeded in this maneuver without subjecting myself to an unintentional shower. Watching foreigners' first attempts at drinking from an ibriq provides a source of amusement for longtime residents, who find it as reliable a method as any for identifying newcomers.
Bottled mineral water, both local and imported, is quite popular, and there is stiff competition among the various brands. One importer, concerned about losing market share, mounted a whisper campaign to spread the fame of his product's alleged aprodisiac qualities. Sales soared!
He carries water in a basket.
(Meaning: He is a fool.)
Dibs Rumman or Rubb al-Rumman
This is the concentrated (boiled-down) juice of sour or sweet-sour (or a combination of sweet and sour) pomegranates. In former times it was an important preserve that households put up for the coming year. Frederic Arthur Neale, a nineteenth-century British consul serving in the Levant, lists it as one of the provisions stored by villagers in northern Syria during the Ottoman era (see nahr bekmaze, page 294). When this molasses is made with the juice of sour pomegranates, it lends a tart note to meat, vegetable, and egg dishes, sauces, salad dressings, marinades, and stuffings. Made with the juice of sweet-sour fruit, it can be used to flavor some savory dishes and makes an excellent sauce for pork, poultry, and game birds.
Pomegranate molasses is made in various thicknesses. Although thick molasses is sometimes referred to as "rubb," the two terms, "dibs" and "rubb," are often used interchangeably. A thicker molasses will obviously be stronger, and you will therefore need less of it in a recipe than if you use a thinner molasses. Similarly, when diluting pomegranate molasses with water to substitute for fresh juice when the latter is unavailable (page 56), a thick molasses will require more water than a thin one. For this reason it is not possible to specify the exact amount of water needed. Keep in mind that the amount of pomegranate molasses and the quantity of water needed to dilute it will depend on how concentrated your pomegranate molasses is. This applies to both the homemade and commercial products; the latter can vary not only from brand to brand but from batch to batch within the same brand.
Lebanon is famous for its pomegranate molasses. A good commercial Lebanese brand, available in this country, is Cortas, which makes an acceptable substitute for the homemade product. Since bottled pomegranate molasses will not keep indefinitely, be sure to taste it before using. It should have a clean, fruity flavor.
Looking through al-Warraq's tenth-century culinary manual, I was thrilled to discover a recipe entitled "Rubb al-rumman" for this exotic ingredient of Middle Eastern and Caucasian cookery that is identical with one that my family used in Lebanon. It is important not to confuse pomegranate molasses (also known as pomegranate syrup), which is made without sugar and is traditionally used to impart a degree of tartness to savory dishes, with the pomegranate syrup (sharab al-rumman) on page 384, which contains sugar and is diluted with water to make a refreshing, time-honored beverage.
As far as I know, my Cuisine of Armenia (1974) and Best Foods of Russia (1976) were the first publications in the West to include recipes for a Middle Eastern-style pomegranate syrup, which is not the same thing as grenadine. Following the advice of a well-meaning but misguided cook who had lived in the former Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and who had assured me that the Caucasian version of this molasses was made with sugar, I reluctantly included some in those recipes. Further research, however, has convinced me beyond any doubt that the traditional Caucasian (Armenian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani) recipe for pomegranate molasses is in fact identical with that found in al-Warraq's manual and contains no sugar. I have therefore omitted the sugar from the recipe as it appears in the 1996 edition of The Cuisine of Armenia.
Unfortunately, in the years following the publication of my first two books, recipes for pomegranate molasses or syrup containing sugar have turned up in numerous works published both here and abroad featuring Russian, Georgian, Middle Eastern, eastern Mediterranean, and international cooking, with the result that I have had to live with not only my mistake but the ones found in these books as well. I must confess, however, that since none of these volumes include any of my books in their bibliographies, I feel less upset that I otherwise would about the error that has been so widely perpetuated!
(In this essay Uvezian also includes a recipe for pomegranate molasses as well as directions for removing the seeds from pomegranates and extracting their juice.)
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I am familiar with many books on eastern Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cooking, but I have seen nothing like this revelatory and loving volume in which the author brings to life a cuisine and a culture in a way only one who was born and reared in the region could. 'Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen' recreates a time and place inaccessible not only to most Americans, but even to most eastern Mediterraneans. It evokes the world of Uvezian's Lebanese childhood and is a rich portrayal of how people lived once upon a time, a happy time, not so long ago. A masterpiece of culinary instruction as valuable for its authentic and inspired recipes as for its exceptionally informative text, this groundbreaking work is an essential guide for anyone who enjoys cooking and reading about eastern Mediterranean food. Uvezian's engaging narrative is threaded throughout with handsome period illustrations of ingredients, markets, traditional utensils, scenes of daily life, views of mountain villages and the sea, ancient temples, mosques, and monasteries. I found the content of these illustrations at least as impressive as their inherent beauty. Anyone can make the dishes described by following the author's clearly written recipes, which are based on readily available ingredients. Some of the best cooking I have ever done has resulted from this truly wonderful book.
I can't believe I found the perfect cookbook. I'm someone who used to be totally hopeless in the kitchen -- i used to live on pasta with tomotoe sauce, (can) tuna and mashed rice because that's all i knew. The author's methods are detailed and easy to follow. I have already cooked four dishes and each one tasted delicious. My family and friends were amazed. Thanks to this book I can now cook a decent meal. I also enjoyed reading the history, hospitality, food of the Middle-east. This book is worth every penny and you cherish it forever.