Why I'm Excited about Medieval Cuisine
Sometimes it's nice when history repeats itself. I've just gotten an advance copy of a beautiful new culinary history book that's due out in October, Lilia Zaouali's Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World (originally published in Italian as L'Islam a Tavola). The University of California Press is releasing this gorgeous English-language edition just in time to provide some truly pleasurable stories from a region that could use some good news. The book focuses on the cuisine of Baghdad in the 10th century, when the city was a cultural capital and a leader in a new phenomenon called recipes, codifying dishes in books that made their way to other Islamic capitals like Aleppo and Cairo. Zaouali quotes fabulous passages describing sultans' meals that were so fragrant that the scents filled whole castles. She doesn't think they exaggerate: She explains how aroma was almost more important than flavor to medieval Islamic chefs. The book includes 174 recipes, most of them medieval, some modern. My favorite so far: the recipe for Middle Eastern meatballs that eerily resembles the delicious-sounding kofta recipe that only just arrived in my e-mail inbox, from a Lebanese trend forecaster (and setter) who's hosting a fabulous party we'll report on in our December issue. Now that's a rerun I'm excited about.