The Sweets of Araby: Enchanting Recipes from the Tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights

I was eager to open the cover of the book as soon as I received it. The Sweets of Araby (Muna Salloum and Leila Salloum Elias, Countryman Press, 2011, ISBN: 9780881509298) is a beautifully illustrated pastry book interwoven with 25 tales of Scheherazade followed by a dessert. All the illustrations are done by Linda Dalal Sawaya, a Lebanese-American artist, and are richly colored providing the perfect backdrop for the Arabian sweet recipes.

Seductive Tales and Pastry Recipes

The Sweets of Araby is cleverly divided not by chapter, but by 25 nights of tales Scheherazade spun for her beloved, Shahryar, the caliph of the land. Each night includes a short story (some are humorous and some are fable-like) and each have a recipe to accompany it. Most recipes are derived from or contain one of three basic recipes which are featured at the beginning of the book: Qatr, a fragrant sugar syrup; Asal, a warm honey and butter syrup; and Qashtah, a thickened, cheeselike milk that is flavored with rosewater and orange blossom.

Historical Relevance and Research of the Recipes

Both authors are scholars of Middle East and Islamic studies and are of Syrian descent. Leila Salloum Elias teaches at Penn State University and Northampton CC and Muna Salloum works at the University of Toronto. During both sisters' journey in pursuing their Master's degrees and reading six medieval manuscripts, they discovered many culinary recipes. The story of how the book came to be, according to the authors' introduction, was from a lighthearted argument between friends of different cultures, of where the best desserts originated. Interesting notes from the authors: cannoli most likely originated from an Arabian tubular fritter called 'qananit', and baklava was most likely derived from 'kunafah', paper-thin sheets of dough that is shredded (probably similar to kadaife in this case).

Each recipe in the cookbook is adapted for modern kitchens. Because I enjoy collecting historical cookbooks and recreating recipes myself, it was significant and interesting that the authors listed the sources for all recipes, and included the original, translated text.

Arabian Desserts

True to form of traditional Arabic pastry, the desserts contain a heady and sweet mixture of all or some of these ingredients: nuts, honey, rosewater, butter, orange blossom water, spices, or sesame oil. The authors have included for most recipes notes after the stories describing what changes they have made to modernize the older recipes, rich descriptions of the finished product, or best ways to present and serve the desserts.

This book has a little something for everyone. Those who are interested in Arabic pastry-making will find the original recipes fun to try. Those who are interested in the 1001 Arabian Nights will find the tales interwoven with a dessert a treat. And still, those who have an interest in obtaining a beautiful and totally functional art or coffee-table cookbook will be intrigued by all the colorful illustrations by Linda Dalal Sawaya. Either way, this cookbook/storybook/art book will please anyone who picks it up. Highly recommended. And the recipes are good, too.

Book Information:
  • The Sweets of Araby: Enchanting Recipes from The Tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights; by Leila Salloum Elias and Muna Salloum; Illustrated by Linda Dalal Sawaya
  • The Countryman Press; 2011
  • ISBN13: 9780881609298
  • Hardcover, dust jacket; 126 pages

The Sweets of Araby: Enchanting Recipes from the Tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights is available through Amazon.

Disclosure: This book was provided to the author by publisher. Any opinions are the author's own.

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