Bethany Kehdy, Pomegranates and Pine Nuts (Duncan Baird, 2013)
full disclosure: a review copy was (temporarily) provided to me free of charge via Netgalley. Short answer: I’m going to end up buying one.
Now, I know what you may be thinking to yourself. “Ho hum, another Middle Eastern cookbook.” We can put that to rest right quick. Sure, there are the usual recipes for labneh and hummus b tahini and foole mudammas, but… scotch eggs wrapped in kefte. Chili cigars. Mussels in arak. (Come to think of it, pretty much anything in arak. Bethany Kehdy is, thankfully, not a teetotaler.) Wild orchid ice cream.
Let me say that again. WILD ORCHID ICE CREAM. While I admit that this is a dish that would be about a thousand times better were it being spoon-fed to one by Carré Otis, come on, it’s still WILD ORCHID ICE CREAM. Your argument is invalid.
When it comes to reviewing cookbooks, well, what can you say? As long as it’s not the same old recipes that you’ve got in three out of four of your grandmothers’ cookbooks and the “author” didn’t just go around scarfing recipes from cooks.com and allrecipes, there’s probably going to be something of value for everyone. After that, it’s all a matter of personal taste. If your palate does not run to tahini, za’atar, and kibbe nayeh, (a) I pity you, ’cause I can eat that stuff for days, and (b) this is probably not the cookbook for you. If you’re a bit more adventurous and/or you grew up around this stuff (or in my case married into a part-Lebanese family), as I intimated above, you’ll find a selection of the stuff that you’ve seen Americanized versions of on every streetcorner, though in a number of cases they won’t look much like you’re used to, even down to things as simple as Arabic Bread and Chelow Rice. And on the other hand, you might find a few things in this book you’ve never even heard of before, unless you’ve got some real traditionalists in the family, or you drop by Palestine once a year and take a restaurant tour. Even then, Bethany Kehdy is probably going to throw you some curveballs. (Okay, let’s not wear out wild orchid ice cream’s welcome here. And really, she does put everything in arak, to the point where she finally mentions in the intro to one recipe that one just doesn’t normally do this sort of thing. Which is, of course, an excellent reason to try it. Oh, and if you’re unfamiliar with arak, it’s basically middle-eastern Pernod.) There’s even a “how to get at those pesky pomegranate seeds” section that, if you didn’t come up with that idea yourself, will leave you shaking your head and wondering why. It’s simple, logical, and pretty close to perfect.
I’ve only had the chance to try a couple of the recipes from this book, and before time runs out on my DRMed review copy, I will probably only get a chance to try a few more. But that’s not a problem; once it finds its way over to this side of the pond (Duncan Baird is based in London), I have very little doubt that a copy of Pomegranates and Pine Nuts will be finding its way onto my exploding cookbook shelf. There’s a lot of fun stuff in here to try (I can’t wait to scarf down a few of those kefte-snugged scotch eggs), and I am certain that some of these recipes are going to become standards at Goat Central. Thanks to the vertical-market-ness inherent in the cuisine and the provincialism of some American palates, it’s probably not for everyone, but if you even suspect it may be for you, it’s worth checking out. *** ½