Book Review: The Iraqi Cookbook by Lamees Ibrahim
When we talk of ‘Arabic cuisine’, it is easy to think immediately about Lebanese cuisine, and just the regular mezze dishes such as hoummos, tabbouleh and vine leaves at that. However, there is much more to Arabic food than these staples, and Lamees Ibrahim’s cookbook shows us what culinary diversity there is in just one corner of the Arab world.
The Iraqi Cookbook is a sumptuous hardback book that takes the reader on a tour of over 200 authentic recipes from Iraq. Recipes cover all manner of foods that could grace an Iraqi dinner table, from soups, salads and stews to breads, pickles and desserts. Just to give an impression of the diversity of recipes included in the book, The Iraqi Cookbook offers 19 different ways of making rice, and 15 different kubba (Arabic dumpling) dishes. Dishes range from the very simple, such as Okra Stew, to the very grand, such as Qoozi (stuffed whole lamb). Foods of different communities in Iraq are also highlighted, with a number of Jewish, Christian or Mandean recipes included.
Lamees Ibrahim brings much anecdote and cultural information into the book, highlighting the origins of certain dishes or the occasions/festivals at which a dish is usually served. For example, we discover that the popular dish of Chicken in Pomegranate and Walnut Sauce probably came from Persia via the pilgrimage route to Najaf and Karbala, and is popularised in a children’s nursery rhyme. Although inconsequential to the recipe itself, anecdotes such as these bring an extra dimension to the cookbook and reveal little snippets of Iraqi culture that would be difficult for non-Iraqis to glean otherwise.
One small criticism would be that while most dishes are accompanied by a colour photo and/or extensive descriptions, a few recipes are hastily covered without an accompanying picture, and for some of the more complicated dishes it can be difficult to know what the end result should look like or taste like. However, this is more than compensated by the fact that the book brings to the fore excellent but little known dishes that show just how diverse Arabic cuisine can be.
All in all, The Iraqi Cookbook is equally at home on the kitchen shelf or the coffee table, it is both an excellent guide to making the finest dishes in Iraqi cuisine as well as a readable book one can leaf through at leisure.
The Iraqi Cookbook by Lamees Ibrahim, published by Stacey International
Global Arab Network