by Sabrina Ghayour
Mitchell Beazley, 2014
This is a cookbook that the world needed and how often can I say that? Not a lot, to be honest.
Sabrina Ghayour grew up in a Persian family (with Turkish, Armenian, Arab and Afghani influences) in London. She is a self-taught cook who understands how daunting many Middle Eastern dishes sound (sometimes even just the name seems to imply “hard-to-cook”).
As a supper club host she has not only introduced hundreds of people to the dishes of this part of the world, she has also celebrated “just how successfully a table of food can bring people together. Guests arrive as complete strangers and leave the table as friends – and this is exactly what food is for us. It provides a convivial experience, during which all else is put aside and food and enjoyment become the focus. In the Middle East food is not just about sustenance. There is a sense of occasion, a sense of unity that goes with it…”
A dish of broad beans with garlic, dill and eggs (bagala ghatogh) could not be easier to make and is an almost sacramental experience if, like us, you have the beans straight from the garden and the eggs are today’s from the neighbours’ hens. (This northern Iranian dish is much more than the sum of its parts, by the way).
Sabrina Ghayour’s recipes for Middle Eastern staples like lamb kefta and the glorious bread-based salad known as fattoush will be broadly familiar they breathe authenticity from the page and come occasionally with unexpected twists.
But it’s the dishes of which one has never heard (well, speaking for myself) that get the pulse racing. Things like Za’atar cod with relish, tray-baked rose petal lamb chops with chilli and herbs, and chicken, walnut and pomegranate stew (or khoresh-e-fesenjan, as we don’t call it at home). All have become favourites and all have been remarkably easy to cook.
This book is a gem. Inspiring, instructive and – best of all – a real encouragement to discover the fabulous flavours of the Middle East. I keep my copy in the kitchen.