Lamees Ibrahim‘s The Iraqi Cookbook (Interlink 2009) is a serious book about Iraqi cuisine. It is large and handsome and clear, but it has a serious aim of bringing authentic Iraqi recipes to Iraqis who have grown up outside their country – generations who no longer can read Arabic cookbooks or who have not grown up learning to cook with their mothers and grandmothers.The book opens with a two page spread of a photograph of an Iraqi family at a meal. Lamees is cutting Stuffed Whole Lamb (p. 131), while the rest of the family is laughing and smiling. The photo underscores her aim, since she is serving a child.
For the rest of us non-Iraqis, The Iraqi Cookbook opens up a rich world of Arab regional cuisine that will be somewhat familiar to those who know Turkish, Lebanese and Syrian food. Lamees’ book will also help humanize and illuminate a culture and country that has been wrapped up in war, deprivation, and fanaticism.
What better way to a nation’s heart then through its taste buds?
One of the most important dishes in Iraq, and most of the Arab world, is Kubba, which takes up a whole chapter in The Iraqi Cookbook:
Kubba is a shell made mainly of either rice flour, boiled rice, mashed potato, or cracked wheat (burghul). It is then stuffed with ground meat and mixed with one or more of the following: chopped onion, chopped parsley, flaked almonds, pine nuts\ and spices. (p. 75)
Lamees includes recipes for Kubbat Mosul (p.76) flat, thin sheets of stuffed kubba and Kubbat Halab (p. 90) a kind of football shaped kubba with a rice shell. There are also sauced versions like Kubba Labaniah (p. 93) stewed in a yogurt mint sauce, and Kubbat Hamidh (p. 94) stewed in a tomato sauce. The recipes include the name in Arabic as well as its transliteration in English and the English name.
Throughout the book there are imaginative recipes using eggplant from Kubbat Bathhinjan (p. 86) in which the kubba is stacked on a fried eggplant slice like a burger bun, and topped with a slice of tomato. Eggplant Turnover (Maqloobat Bathinjan) (p. 164) is a marvelous turnover dish in which the rice is layer on top of meat, peppers and onions with eggplant at the bottom of the pot. After cooking, it is turned over for serving. Margat Bathinjan or Eggplant Stew (p. 199) is a mixture of lamb, tomatoes, eggplant and spices served over rice.
There are chapters on Iraqi pickles, cakes and pastries, sweets, nuts, jams, and drinks. Each chapter starts with a short essay on ingredients, such as a review of the rice available in Iraq:
During the 1980s political turbulence in Iraq had a devastating effect on the marshes and the rice farming in the south, at which point demand for long-grain rice multiplied. (p. 153)
It is aromatic amber rice of the south that most Iraqis will be thinking about. It is too bad that there are no recipe head notes full of Lamees’ more personal memories.
Anyone fascinated by Middle Eastern food will enjoy The Iraqi Cookbook. It illuminates a proud and interesting people.
[Cookbook Reviews – complete]
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Dear Juliette Rossant,
I am an Iraqi food writer (for more about my work, please visit http://www.iraqicookbook.com).
I thank you for the kind words regarding the Iraqi people. That was very nice of you.
I agree with you that such books are needed, but promoting The Iraqi Cookbook like this is somewhat misleading. True, the book is professionally produced, the pictures are beautiful, but the recipes do not work! The instructions are very scant, and conversion of measurements is way off. Frankly, it is quite confusing. I think potential buyers should be made aware of this. I would wait for the second edition with due corrections to write something positive about it.
Many thanks for your comment. I reply in part to that and in part to share our subsequent correspondence for the benefit of other readers.
First, however, Super Chef does not “promote” but reviews cookbooks.
Second, our reviews focus on the philosophy and presentation (content and form) of cookbooks, rather than issues such as “correctness” or viability of recipes.
Your concerns about measurement conversions are valid and noteworthy. Lamees does state the she seeks “authentic Iraqi dishes” (The Iraqi Cookbook, p. xv). She also says, “The recipes are versatile enough for variations in ingredients and cooking methods” (p. xv) — which puts her cookbook (and, really, all ethnic cookbooks) in the area of Cuisine Grandmere, thus free of the rigid recipes of Haute Cuisine. In such light, we would welcome further reply from you — perhaps correcting one or more recipes, along with the basis of your corrections
Instructions are perhaps one of the least standard aspects of cookbook-writing. Our reviews look for the level of cooking proficiency that an author expects or intends. Some cookbooks even state whether the cookbook is for beginners or more proficient levels. In this case, Lamees intended her cookbook for diaspora Iraqis who know how to cook — just not their native cuisine.
An interesting cookbook to consider is M. R. Ghanoonparvar’s Persian Cuisine (Mazda 1982). It is a simple affair with handsome drawings, a clutch of color photos — and extremely short instructions. Most recipes take an average of one page in total. Since the cookbook intends to teach diaspora Iranians both Farsi and Persian cuisine at once, its one-pagers prove extremely handy: once opened, it presents readers with both English and Farsi simultaneously. The recipes are purposefully minimal. The ingredients are purposefully unfaithful to the original–carefully substituting American supermarket ingredients (e.g., cranberry jelly for pomegranate syrup) for the book’s US marketplace. The results are extraordinary. I have found Iranians literally in tears after eating fesenjan that I have prepared — wailing (happily) “I haven’t eaten such good fesenjan since I last visited my mother in Iran…!” I give no credit to myself for this: all credit goes to Dr. Ghanoonparvar and his cookbook.
I hope this reply assuages some of your concerns — and encourages you to contribute further.
— Juliette Rossant, Editor
Regarding ‘promote,’ perhaps that was not a happy choice on my part. However, quite often than not, I find that my decision to purchase a book is swayed more or less by a reviewer whose judgment I trust.
The book we are talking about is a cookbook, and recipes are an integral part of content, and it is to be expected that readers might want to try them. So, viability of recipes is an issue here. It would have been another story if I am reading “Language of Baklava,” for instance or “Like Water for Chocolate.” There are recipes in both, but they do not pose as cooking guides to teach how cook a particular cuisine. That’s the difference.
Accuracy of instructions and measurements is required in any modern cookbook. You would not have been able to cook authentic fesenjan were it not for a recipe that delivers well. A good recipe might be short indeed, but it provides the reader with the key information.
I know how to cook very well, but when I want to prepare an authentic Japanese dish, I need a good recipe, with balanced amounts. The recipe might be brief but still adequate. In this Iraqi cookbook, adequacy is often lacking. On page 28 for instance, a main meat dish for 4 to 5 people uses only one pound of lamb on the bone. On page 76, to prepare kubba shell, ‘mix the burghul, jireesh, and beef together, add a dash of salt and black pepper. This must be kneaded very well; ideally use an electric mixer or a dough maker.’ To whoever hopes to make the shell following these instructions, I say good luck!
This is not charming romantic Cuisine Grandmere, this is annoying cuisine. If I want to try the Carrot Cake for instance, p. 229, at the top of ingredients list are: 1 LB /2 cups flour and 1 LB / 2 cups sugar. Two cups of flour are not equal to 2 cups of sugar by weight, and this confusion in measurements is repeated at many places in the book.
This is not causal cuisine, this is lack of experience on the part of the writer augmented by lack of professional editing on the part of the commercial publisher.
Thanks for your patience.