The Portland Oregonian, December 11, 2001
Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen: A Culinary Journey through Syria, Lebanon, and Jordanby 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.
The Portland Oregonian, December 11, 2001
author of The Oxford Companion to Food, in Petits Propos Culinaires, April, 2000
The Times Literary Supplement (London), March 16, 2001
- University of Texas Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 7.29(w) x 10.40(h) x 1.41(d)
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.)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I would purchase any book by Sonia Uvezian sight unseen! As it turns out, 'Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen' is one of the most remarkable ethnic cookbooks I have ever come across. Not only is it the best volume by far on the cookery of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, it may well be the most important and valuable Middle Eastern cookbook on the market. This extraordinary work brims with originality, from the epigraph to the last proverb. It is the author's finest and most personal book yet, filled with the spirit of the land and its people as well as with hundreds of magnificent recipes, many of them not found elsewhere (wait till you try her Meat Soup with Pumpkin, Quince, Apricots, and Prunes and her Potato Kibbeh with Pistachio Nuts and Pomegranate Molasses!). The unparalleled ingredient information alone makes 'Recipes and Remembrances' an essential purchase. Uvezian's passion for authenticity, her extremely clear instructions, her creativity, and her sense of humor are all impressive. Her understanding of Middle Eastern cooking is profound, and she has the ability to write about it brilliantly. One cannot help but love this book. Every recipe is a winner. This is Middle Eastern food at its very best!
My parents, both of whom hail from the eastern Mediterranean, instilled in me a deep appreciation of the virtually inexhaustible culinary riches of the region. I always wanted to capture the essence of their table and to document their recipes. Now that won't be necessary, for Uvezian has given us this superb guide, which combines an insider's knowledge of the area's cooking and culture with a wealth of exceptional, easy-to-follow recipes that make use of widely available ingredients. A scrupulously researched volume that is as readable as it is usable, 'Recipes and Remembrances' has become my kitchen bible almost to the exclusion of my hundred-plus other cookbooks. I have given copies of it as gifts to numerous friends, who have thanked me profusely. The previous reviewer praised this book as 'truly a masterpiece.' I couldn't agree more! Bravo a million times!!
I decided to take a chance and purchase this book after I read a review that described it as a masterpiece and the first and last word on eastern Mediterranean cooking. I have been using it almost daily ever since and am thrilled with the results. 'Recipes and Remembrances' is unquestionably the single indispensable volume on the region's cuisine. In addition to hundreds of magnificent recipes and vibrant personal memories, it offers unparalleled cultural and culinary background material. The five-page essay on pomegranates and pomegranate molasses, packed with information not to be found elsewhere, is reason enough to buy this extraordinary cookbook, which will stimulate your imagination as well as your palate. Very highly recommended!
Uvezian's timeless classics, The Cuisine of Armenia, Cooking from the Caucasus, and The Book of Yogurt, turned me into a passionate cook. But as wonderful as those three volumes are, this one is even better. In fact, Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen is surely one of the greatest cookbooks ever written. I could go on singing its praises, but to appreciate how extraordinary this book really is, you must read its illuminating text, see its fascinating period illustrations, and try its magnificent recipes, which, in addition to those from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, include some superb Armenian ones not found in the author's previous works. I can't recommend this masterful volume highly enough!
This is by far the best book I have ever seen on the cooking of the eastern Mediterranean or Middle East. I bought a copy as soon as it came out and have fallen in love with it. I also gave a copy as a gift to a family friend who spent the first two decades of her life in Syria and Lebanon. She wrote to tell me how much the book had meant to her. I quote from part of her letter: 'No other cookbook has brought back the sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and emotions of my eastern Mediterranean childhood as this one. I swear I could smell the citrus groves of Sidon and hear the resonant cry of the ka'k seller in Damascus. Uvezian's recipes are completely authentic. As I read her evocative narrative and savored her delectable dishes, thirty or forty years rolled back and a flood of vivid memories that had been locked away suddenly became accessible. Your gift is not just a cookbook. It is a slice of paradise for readers like me who grew up in the region. It made me deeply homesick.' But Uvezian's recipes and remembrances are just part of the appeal of this extraordinary volume. The book also features illuminating essays and is generously studded with relevant quotations, delightful anecdotes and proverbs, and stunning period illustrations. In addition, it provides outstanding culinary history, intriguing cultural details, and impressive material on foodstuffs, utensils, and meals and menus. In fact, the ingredient information alone makes this book an essential purchase. All in all, Sonia Uvezian has written a detailed, in-depth guide that is as valuable for its fascinating and highly informative text as it is for its exceptional recipes. A one-of-a-kind treasure, Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen will outlive other books on the subject.
Because this book is being sold in stores enclosed in shrink wrap and without a word about its contents on the back cover (which the publisher has used entirely to advertise its other cookbooks), I almost didn't bother to ask the clerk to open it for me. The only reason I took a chance was because I have been so pleased with several of Uvezian's other books, which I treasure. Am I glad I bought this one! Not only is it her best to date, it is an absolute masterpiece. Don't make the mistake I almost made! Buy this book!
Bitter experience has taught me not to put much faith in rave reviews of cookbooks. I must admit, however, that both of the previous customer reviews of this book are absolutely on target. Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen is one of the greatest cookbooks I have ever used and is unquestionably the best in its subject area. Fascinating text and fabulous recipes make this inspired volume a must for anyone interested in Middle Eastern cooking. The author gives such clear and easy-to-follow directions that I have not had a failure yet. Recently I gave a dinner party using recipes from this book, and it was a huge success. People are still raving about Uvezian's Hummus with Red Pepper Paste, Damascus-Style Cheese Dip with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Nigella, Tabbuleh, Fried Stuffed Kibbeh, Baklava, Aleppan Wedding Cookies, and, last but not least, her Mulled Pomegranate Wine Punch. Some other favorites of mine from this book include Hummus with Mixed Spices, Toasted Nuts, and Mint (battle-weary hummus gets a new lease on life); Yogurt Cheese Dip with Red Pepper Paste (Muhammara Labna) (Uvezian's own version is in a class by itself); Orange, Lemon, and Onion Salad with Black Olives and Mint (full of beguiling contrasts); Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard and Potatoes (earthy and deeply satisfying); Baked Fish with Tomato Sauce Garnished with Sautéed Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Onions (seduces both eye and palate); Chicken, Pepper, and Tomato Kebabs (Shish Tawuq) (a popular restaurant dish that is simple to prepare at home); Musakhan (this easily made version beats all others I've tried); Quail or Cornish Hens with Sour Cherry Sauce (I'll spare you a stream of inadequate adjectives!); Crown Roast of Lamb Served with Saffron Rice with Ground Meat and Toasted Nuts (perfect for a special occasion); Grilled Skewered Pork with Sour Plum Sauce (as splendid as it is simple); Potato Kibbeh (delightfully different); Apricots Stuffed with Meat (unusual and exquisite); Grilled Eggplant with Walnut Sauce (now I know why those Georgian recipes in other books that call for 'vinegar or pomegranate juice' did not work when I tried them); Mixed Vegetable Casserole with Garlic and Herbs (excellent as a light vegetarian entrée or as an accompaniment to poultry or meat); Stuffed Prunes with Pomegranate Sauce (wonderful with poultry or game); Pita Bread (absolutely first rate! the best recipe I've found); Filo Pastry Triangles with Cheese Filling (I could eat these every day of my life!); Knafi with Nut or Cheese Filling (a stellar dessert, fully the equal of baklava); Ma`mul (these stuffed cookies deserve their popularity); Gh'rayba (butter cookies with a difference); Sesame Cookies (Barazik) (altogether addictive!); Orange Cake with Pomegranate Syrup (a brilliant combination); Quince Compote (unforgettable!); Pomegranate Ice (ravishing!); and Sweetened Yogurt Cream (Uvezian's own creation and a godsend for calorie counters). Since acquiring Recipes and Remembrances I have purchased Uvezian's wonderful yogurt book and was fortunate to find a copy of her fantastic appetizer book, which is, sadly, out of print. How I wish that I had discovered the works of this talented food writer many years ago!