Desserts & Sweets From The Modern Middle East

By Greg & Lucy Malouf

It’s hard to believe that it’s over fifty years since Claudia Roden’s book: A Book of Middle Eastern Cuisine, was first published. For many Australians it was their first introduction to food from the region and the book remains culturally (and culinarily) relevant today. In recent times the increasing popularity of Middle Eastern food generally has led to a tidal wave of books as home cooks continue to find not only the vast array of flavours an intoxicating seduction but, I suspect, more generally the ease with which entertaining manifests with a Middle Eastern inspired menu. Large, plentiful salads piled high and placed, buffet style, on the table is a much easier affair to manage than intricate, individually served dishes with stock reductions and fussy garnishes. Up until recently, bookstores had carried many options for the curious by the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi, Michael Rantissi & Kristy Frawley and Haya Molcho, but desserts all too often were given the last few pages, the after thought, leaving home cooks with the task of trying to find a sweet that would logically flow and complement the main dishes served. 

A reasonable explanation for this omission in many of the books available is suggested by none other than Greg Malouf, the other of this months cookbook: SUQAR – Desserts & Sweets From The Modern Middle East (by Greg & Lucy Malouf). In the introduction to the book, while reflecting on his childhood, he remarks that:
“When my brothers and I asked for pudding, she (his mother) would push over the fruit bowl – and this is still the way that most Middle Eastern families will end a meal” 
The book is set out in themed chapters such as ‘Fritters and Pancakes‘, ‘Cakes and Puddings‘ and, unsurprisingly, ‘Fruit‘. The climate of course lends itself to fruit and the authors also request for some of the fruit dishes (Citrus Date Salad with Cinnamon Dust for example) to be served chilled, the temperature and tart/sweet combination of fruit offering the desired dessert effect while gifting respite from the warm weather the food would have originally been served in.  

Baking also has a long tradition within the region (the Sicilian specialty, Cannoli, were first made by Arabs who brought it to the tiny island off the cost of Italy when they ruled the area during the 9th and 10th centuries) however the book, as the title suggests, has many modern touches. The Tahini Choc-Chip cookies are a good example of tradition merged with new ways of thinking. The cookies have a desirable uniqueness while avoiding faddish territory like so many ingredients that suddenly become popular (Matcha being a good example) and suddenly added to everything without real thought.

The book is lovely to look through with plenty of photos to inspire and while some recipes will seem a surprising addition given it’s a Middle Eastern cookbook (Chestnut Crepes with Maple Bananas), when the food tastes this good, no guest will question the authenticity. A nice addition is a small introduction which offers some insight into the inspiration and connection to the Middle East (the Candied Pumpkin Cheescake is an excellent example of this). Cooks can feel safe in the hands of Greg and Lucy Malouf with concise instructions and a clear, easy-to-understand layout and while the Honeyed Yoghurt Sorbet took considerably longer than the 1 hour suggested to freeze, this was an anomaly in an otherwise excellent book for lovers of all things sweet, Middle Eastern or both.