TO WIN A COPY OF NILE STYLE–KEEP READING!
There are many ways to understand a culture–learn its language, listen to its music, observe its art, or cook its food. Food–its production, preparation, and the rituals that surround it–can be small, clear windows into culture and history. Amy Riolo offers an excellent entry into Egypt–its past and present–via the kitchen in her latest book.
Before reading and cooking from Nile Style, I lumped Egyptian food into general Middle East cooking–pilafs, grilled meats, eggplant, phyllo. And some of those techniques and ingredients are here, but Riolo’s wide and intelligent survey shows that there is a great deal more. She puts every dish in its cultural context and illuminates Egypt’s long history and varied communities for her readers.
She sorts the recipes by occasion, beginning with a chapter on Ancient Festivals, which records the dishes served for seasonal celebrations that are universal, but in Egypt reflect the local environment. The Nile Festival, celebrated in July, marks the new year by when the delta begins to flood, depositing the rich soil that made Egypt the bread basket of the ancient world, and is reflected in the varied breads served with every meal.
Along with shared celebrations, each community has its traditions. Nubians are among the oldest settlers in Egypt and Riolo describes a henna party, where the bride is primped and painted for her wedding while guests feast on Hibiscus Punch, buttery Egyptian Rice, perch pulled from the Nile and fried with garlic, and a Shepherd’s Salad made with gathered greens and goat cheese.
Riolo records a Sephardic Passover dish Mayeena, stewed chicken and spinach layered between sheets of matzo. From the Coptic Christians she takes Fasoulea bi Limoon, a lenten dish of green beans and lemon.
But all Egyptians enjoy Koushari, which Riolo calls “Cairo in a cup,” and which is a carbo-loader’s dream. This dish of lentils, rice, pasta, and chickpeas is stick to your ribs street food, topped with savory browned onions, and as Riolo points out, a cousin of Indian Kitcheree.
I love cross-cultural food connections like that and Riolo provides them throughout the book. Her knowledge of Egyptian food, based on her research and experience with Egyptian cooks and chefs, is authentic. So authentic in fact, that now, when she visits Egypt, friends and family ask her to cook and share her expertise.
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