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North African Cookery – Book Review

10 July 2009
North African Cookery – Book Review

North African Cookery
Arto der Haroutunian
Grub Street £18.99
ISBN 978-1-906502-34-8

North African cooking is an intriguing mish-mash of surrounding Mediterranean cuisines, not done justice by the crummy street vendors or eateries geared to tourists that now dominate many of the cities, explains Arto der Haroutunian in this re-released cookbook. In its true form, however, the vast ranging cuisine pads around a core of native dishes such as fruit and vegetable stews, tajines, the oft-associated cous-cous, Spanish influences of olive oil, spices and herbs, Italian touches with pasta, tomato purée and rice, the meat- and nut-stuffed vegetables of Middle Eastern cuisine, and the all-pervading French influence.

It's been 22 years since der Haroutunian passed away and second-hand copies of his books often fetch high prices on online auction sites. First printed in 1985, the author crams a lot in the 300 pages of North African Cookery, at a rate of about a recipe a page. This, admittedly, is at the expense of any pictorial reference, and some dishes are hard to imagine beyond the layman's stock tajine image.

However, the vast scope of the cuisine is captured well by der Haroutunian, from the French-inspired snails with thyme, the more Italian dishes like rabbit with tomato sauce, through to countless tajines and kebab recipes, and even the niche - and best ignored - grilled locusts.

der Haroutunian does well to contextualise the cuisine in 2,000 years of undulating demographics of North Africa, with quotes from proverbs, poems and adages littered thematically among the vast collection of recipes.

It's hard to imagine the book having too wide an appeal, which is a shame. The recent Vefa's Kitchen, a study of Greek cuisine characterised with lively photography and a user-friendly feel, has shown that lesser-known cuisines, published well, can appeal to a large audience. It's a shame that a level of collaboration between these recipes and a fresh design couldn't elevate this book. der Haroutunian obviously knew his stuff and this book will appeal to dedicated fans of North African cooking. Whether it can convince others to try their hand at the cuisine is doubtful.

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