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Feast from the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible    by Faye Levy order for
Feast from the Mideast
by Faye Levy
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mideast feasts conjure up for me images of hummus and tabbouleh pitah party dips, mouthwatering kabobs and succulent couscous platters. I looked forward to new recipes in Feast from the Mideast, whose author lived in and married into 'the lands of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and of the Koran.'

The author opens with an introduction to the region's distinctive cooking styles, mentioning its 'liberal use of robust ingredients', including my favorites - garlic, onions, olive oil and fresh herbs. She compares this cuisine with Metiterranean; Mideast menus have 'more vegetables, legumes, and grains and less meat', share a liking for yogurt and flatbreads, use less cheese, and value tart flavors. Ingredients are listed for a 'Mideast Pantry', including herb combinations, cheeses and prepared foods. Regional differences within the area are discussed, as well as influences of mideast cooking around the world, and its benefits for health and weight control.

On to the menus, beginning with appetizers or meze. I love the idea of making a 'meal out of meze', yumm! Learn to make variations of 'tahini' (a cholesterol free mayonnaise) and hummus. I plan to try some of these for the holidays, including 'Red Pepper Walnut Dip' and 'Cilantro-Garlic Eggplant on Pita Crisps with Roasted Peppers'. Salads are next and 'Mideast-California Diced Salad' appeals, with cucumber and tomatoes, peppers, pine nuts, and avocado - delicious. Ever wondered what to do with leftover, crunchy pita? Levy tells us to add it to salads, instead of croutons. How about 'Persian Peach Pilaf Salad with Toasted Almonds'? Hearty soups fit the bill as the days get chilly - try 'Spiced Lamb and Spinach Soup with Rice' or 'Lebanese Fish Soup with Linguine'.

Next comes a handy section for 'Menus in Minutes' with egg and vegetable combinations, and sandwich suggestions like an 'Avocado Vegetable Wrap with Feta'. Then on to Seafood dishes. Don't know about you but I'm always looking for something spicy to do with fish. 'Foil-baked Trout with Red Pepper and Garlic' makes me salivate, as does 'Saffron Shrimp and Pine Nut Pilaf'. Chicken is often on the menu at my table, and there are plenty of ideas here. 'Chicken in Persian Pomegranate Walnut Sauce' sounds sublime, and a recipe with couscous, peppers and green beans would hit the spot for everyday meals.

The meat section has a middle Eastern Osso Bucco and lots to do with lamb as well as beef. There are even (spicy) burger and meat loaf recipes, as well as the expected Kabobs and Moussaka. One I must try is 'Crunchy Lamb Kibbe with Cinnamon and Cloves'. Legumes are next with recipes ranging from Falafel to those incorporating Lentils and Beans. How about 'Black-eyed Peas with Braised Eggplant, Rosemary, and Chili-Garlic Paste'? Vegetable dishes cover the range from Leeks to Summer Squash, including several 'Borani' dishes - blends of yogurt and cooked vegetables - cooling in hot weather. Grain recipes use rice and barley. Must try 'Holiday Rice Stuffing with Toasted Nuts and Spiced Lamb'! There are even pasta dishes - anyone for 'Pasta with Pumpkin and Cranberries'?

Finally come sections on sauces ('Garlic Sauce' for me), on Breads, Pizzas and Phyllo concoctions, and on Cakes, Cookies and Desserts ... from Baklava varieties to 'Queen of Sheba Chocolate Cake' or 'Date-Nut Halvah Balls'. The cookbook ends with 'Basics' explaining things like how to toast nuts and seeds, seed tomatoes and pomegranates, cook dried legumes and stocks, and handle phyllo dough. Get the idea that this cookbook appeals to me? You're right. Though it has no photos, it's easy to imagine how these dishes look and taste. Now if I could just rub a magic lamp and conjure up a succulent Mideast Feast from these pages ...

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