Book review: FLAVOURS OF BABYLON by Linda Dangoor

I was sent this lovely cookery book last week which Claudia Roden describes as ‘a precious and important record of the cooking of the Babylonian Jews of Iraq’. It’s a very personal cookery book; the kind I like as there is a nice story to go with it, in this case Dangoor’s birth in Baghdad and moving to Beirut at the age of 10 before finally settling in UK with her family in the 1960s. It’s beautifully illustrated, not just with photos of the recipes but also of Dangoor’s family before they moved away from their home country. Iraqi food, Dangoor tells us, is ‘aromatic, robust and spicy – but it is not hot’. Herbs and spices like parsley, mint, cumin, coriander, saffron and paprika are used a lot, but not chillies. It was in Beirut, she tells us, that her taste buds were ‘truly awakened’ with the discovery of mezze and slightly different foods.

The book has arisen from Dangoor’s desire to keep alive the food and flavours of Iraq and wanting to pass on the traditional recipes of her ancestors to her two nephews. She has handwritten recipes passed down from her mother which are the basis of many dishes but, naturally, Dangoor’s cooking has also evolved into something more personal with influences from her days in Lebanon and her travels in the Middle East.

I love Middle Eastern food and while many of these recipes are familiar – tabbouleh, humous, kebabs – there are some new twists on them and ideas like ‘Sweet and Sour Pumpkin Stew’ and ‘Meatballs and Okra Stew’. Some recipes, like ‘Green Egg Tortilla’ (the ‘green’ is lots of green vegetables), ‘Stormy Cheese Omelette’ and ‘Haloumi and Shallot Sandwich’ can be quickly made up for a snack (ideal for the busy single gourmet!).

I’ve not tried Iraqi cooking before – but this is a brilliant book to introduce you to the cuisine.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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