Cairo Kitchen

Cairo Kitchen by Suzanne Zeidy, Hardie Grant 2015, $35.00 hardback, 288 pages

Cairo Kitchen by Suzanne Zeidy, Hardie Grant 2015, $35.00 hardback, 288 pages

Sadder than destitution, sadder than a beggar is the man who eats alone in public.  

–Jean Baudrillard

You may think you know Egyptian food–perhaps you’ve had a fattoush bread salad, or made tabbouleh part of your regular routine. but until you cook from Cairo Kitchen you have not idea of the freshness and sophistication of this cuisine.

The sophistication comes not from complicated techniques or napping sauces, but from the expertise of a honed knife and sharpen senses for color, scent, and texture and taste. After all, this is simple street food cooking.

Zeidy’s recipes are those she developed for her small chain of Cairo Kitchen restaurants and are inspired by fundamental and ancient Egyptian dishes–fuul, the creamy stew of lava beans, taameya, what we call felafel, and koshary, a carbo-loader’s dream of pasta, lentils, and chickpeas.

Ancient flavors, extraordinary fresh ingredients, family memories, and a little bit of MBA know-how combine here to create authentic flavors. Start with a breakfast of Alexandrian-style full–every Egyptian city has it’s own full seasonings–peasant food at its best. Or start the day with the contemporary elegance of breakfast couscous, topped with almonds, raisins, a pinch of cinnamon and a few drops of rosewater.

After breakfast, the chapters continue with small mezze dishes, soups, greens and grains, street food, family style meals, pickles and preserves, desires, and drinks. And to convey the life of the street, Zeidy includes essays on traditional foods in each chapter–the ancient traditions of shamsi bread or the perfume of the crushed Dukka spices.

Some recipes can’t be reproduced. Zeidy’s description of rolled, folded, stacked and stuffed feteer breads will have you sadly salivating. But turn the page for Beet and Purslane Salad, a platter of Lamb Fattah, homey bowls of Rice Kofta, or a slice of Almond Semolina Cake.

While the ingredients seem to repeat from recipe to recipe, a careful racing will show subtle differences in the combination of lemon, tomato, chick peas, eggplant, and grains. The authentic flavors will come from your careful choice of ingredients and Zeidy’s recipes for sauces and spice mixes. You may have heard of Dukka, a mix of spice and sesame, but Zeidy share Koshary Dakka Sauce–spices infused with garlic into lemon and white vinegar that can spark the dullest dish. For a final fillip of authenticity, serve with Zeidy’s traditional drinks–hibiscus tea, Mint Rosewater with Fruit, or Sobya, a traditional Ramadan drink of milk, rice, and coconut.

These are dishes of comfort and mystery–a lifetime’s cooking.

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read, cook, eat, repeat
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