Ways with roots, luscious Middle Eastern dishes

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Three-Layer Parsnip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting from Roots by Diane Moran. Photo: Antonis Achilleos

Two recently published cookbooks would make more than wonderful gifts to give this holiday season. Ken Eastman, antiquarian book buyer at Moe’s Books, reviews them for NOSH.

RootsRoots : The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books, 2012, $40.)

So you find yourself with a few pounds of turnips, say, and they aren’t on your list of favorite vegetables. How about whipping up Kashmiri-Turnips with Greens, prepared with hot green chile, ginger, cardamom, and fennel seeds, finished with a little cream?

Or pull a couple of recipes from your South Asian repertoire (a pilaf, a yogurt sauce, a simple curry, some Indian pickles or chutney) and you’ve got a delightful dinner on a theme that perhaps doesn’t appear on your table every other week.

Roots, by cookbook author and culinary instructor Diane Morgan, is a concise encyclopedia of root vegetables, from the common (carrots) to the exotic (Burdock Root, Galangal, Taro, Water Chestnut….), and  the recipes are selected from the Far East (China, Japan, Korea) to Southeast Asia (Thailand), South Asia (India), the Middle East, Morocco, Eastern Europe, France, Austria, Mexico… you get the idea, virtually everywhere.

Each root is introduced with information on its history, botanical names, regional varieties, storage, basic preparations, followed by a selection of clearly written and inspiring recipes.

Eat burdock root frequently? The Shredded Burdock in Tangy Sesame Sauce can steer you to a Japanese spread. Burdock (jap. gobo) can be a bit tricky, but here the preparation is straightforward. You can turn to the wasabi section for the Salmon Hand Rolls with Fresh Wasabi recipe for the centerpiece of the meal, or perhaps the Lotus Root, Shrimp, and Vegetable Tempura would do as well, or as an addition. How about Grandma Rose’s Latkes. Just grab some apple sauce and sour cream, and forget anything more. Yum.

There is great variety in this collection of recipes, from salads, soups, main courses, sides, and desserts. You can expect to place your copy in the encyclopedic section of your food library and find it well consulted and well worn in no time.

Jerusalem the cookbookJerusalem : A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, 2012, $35.)

If the authors of this book are unknown to you, a wonderful introduction to them was recently published in the New Yorker, in its December 3rd Food issue. This is a crazy luscious cookbook. It is beautiful. It is seductive. It is stimulating… stop me before fall off a cliff of hyperbole.

My staid idea of a Middle Eastern meal is defined by hummus, bhaba ganoush, roasted peppers in olive oil, olives, some lamb thingy, some yogurt sauce, maybe a salad with feta, and lavash bread. Don’t forget to pick up some baklava for dessert with the coffee.

Well, we all may find ourselves in this rut on occasion, but after perusing this book I cannot imagine heading down that familiar path again. Beautiful food emanates from every page.

Mejadra. I’ve never heard of mejadra, a dish of lentils, onions, rice and spices that the authors declare is their undisputed comfort food. Fava bean kuku, check, never heard of it, though I now promise to try within the next week.

Za’atar: “If there is one smell to match the emblematic image of the old City of Jerusalem, one odor that encapsulates the soul of this ancient city nestling in the Judean Mountains, it is the smell of za’atar. It is hard to describe the flavor of za’atar. It hovers in the general area where herbs like oregano, marjoram, sage, or thyme reside but is quite unique. Za’atar is sharp, warm, and slightly pungent, almost at one with the smell of goats’ dung, smoke from a far-off fire, soil baked in the sun, and — dare we say it — sweat. Like most of the local plants, it is full of fragrant etheric oils that are released when the hardy, dry bushes are trampled underfoot.”

The writing in this book is just as lovely throughout.

Moe's Books logoThis review is part of  a series of Cook the Books columns by Moe’s Books which has been selling new, used and collectable books in Berkeley since 1959. One of Moe’s specialties is cookery books and the bookstore puts on regular cookbook-related events. Visit Moe’s Books at 2476 Telegraph Avenue and online.

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