Bibliobites in February: Culinary Crossroads

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This month we explored the cuisine of Armenia (tying in with our One Book title, The Sandcastle Girls), and by extension, the Middle East.    This was unfamiliar turf for most of us, and we were introduced to new spices, flavor combinations, and cooking techniques.  Our Armenian cooking focused on kufta, which are as delicious as they are ubiquitous in the area around the eastern Mediterranean.  Kufta are basically meatballs, but they can be meat-based or vegetarian, grilled or poached, stuffed with a filling or not— you get the idea!   The combinations are as limitless as they are delicious.  Two members made Izmir kufta, one of the simpler recipes.  These kufta are made with ground lamb and can be served with a quick tomato sauce.  We learned that bulgur is a very important grain in Armenian cuisine; in fact there are four distinct grinds, from fine to extra-coarse.  Each of these is used in specific ways for specific reasons.  The Armenian Table was further enhanced by the author’s family stories and photographs, though there were few pictures of the recipes themselves.

Jerusalem, unsurprisingly, focuses on the food of that city, a varied and flavorful stew of Arab, Israeli, African, European, and Middle Eastern influences.  In addition to recipes, this book provides information about the city’s long history, with beautiful photographs of Jerusalem, its citizens, and the foods that have become associated with it.  We were introduced to some spices frequently used: za’atar, sumac, Aleppo pepper.  We learned that hummus doesn’t only come in a tub from the supermarket; a few group members took the trouble to make it from scratch with the book’s recipe– and were impressed with the results!  Many of the vegetable dishes were tried; among the ones that members enjoyed were the roasted butternut squash with tahini and za’atar, roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad, and spicy beet, leek, and walnut salad.  One person raved about the kufta-like turkey and zucchini burgers with green onion and cumin.  Another well-liked main dish was the chicken with caramelized onions and cardamom rice.  All of these foods were a great way to warm up a cold, snowy winter: full of flavor with a healthy dose of spice!

A few group members brought in some treats for us to try: Armenian cracker bread (that would go well with the aforementioned hummus), chocolate krantz cake (an impressive braided sweet bread similar to a babka), and clementine and almond cake.

Places to buy spices featured in these books:

  • Penzey’s, 1293 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington
  • Indian Basket, 12 Wood St., Lowell
  • Sofra Bakery, 1 Belmont St., Cambridge MA