Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cairo Kitchen: Recipes from the Middle East, Inspired by the Street Food of Cairo

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cairo Kitchen: Recipes from the Middle East, Inspired by the Street Food of Cairo

Article excerpt

Cairo Kitchen: Recipes From the Middle East, Inspired by the Street Food of Cairo By Suzanne Zeidy, Hardie Grant Books, 2014, 288 pp. List: $35; MEB: $26

Reviewed by Kevin A. Davis

Born in Cairo, Suzanne Zeidy came to New York to earn her M.A. in culinary school and remained after graduation, working in a number of upscale New York restaurants. After a few successful years, she decided to return to her native Egypt and open a restaurant.

She called her restaurant La Bodega, an upscale French bistro in Cairo's posh Zamalek neighborhood. The restaurant was a success, and her next project became Cilantro, a small independent coffee chain that quickly opened a number of locations around Cairo.

Not content with her popular restaurant and expanding coffee chain, Zeidy decided on the concept of Cairo Kitchen, a family-style Egyptian restaurant in Egypt. The idea was to bring many of the home-cooked traditions of Egyptian cooking to an accessible public place.

The signature dish of both the restaurant and the book is koshary, the classic Egyptian hodge-podge of pasta, lentils and rice. Yet Cairo Kitchen is also known for other dishes, like molokheya, served only on Fridays.

While Cairo Kitchen showcases traditional home-cooked food, Zeidy is open about her willingness to experiment and explore fresh twists to classic ideas. She can put "freekeh in a soup rather than stuffed into a pigeon," is how she explains it.

Cairo Kitchen is not simply an invaluable tome of Egypt's rich and diverse culinary traditions; it is also filled with practical recipes that span the range of food options, from meat entrees to light breakfast dishes to drinks and desserts.

Zeidy supplements her recipes with Egypt's cultural background and beautiful pictures of select dishes, her restaurant, and other images of life in Cairo that add an aesthetic value to the book.

In honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, I am providing just one example of a multiple course meal that I created for a small group of friends with this wonderful guide. Whether prepared for iftar or just a regular dinner at home, it illustrates the versatility of Cairo Kitchen.

In the tradition of the Prophet, we broke our fast with a few dates before moving to the first dish from Cairo Kitchen. It is common to start an iftar with something sweet, and I chose tamer hindi, a sweet Egyptian drink made by boiling tamarind and adding lots of sugar.

Our first course consisted of courgettes (zucchini) stuffed with cheese and a pearl barley salad. The latter is a great example of Zeidy's willingness to experiment, in this case taking pearl barley, which Egyptians usually eat as an ingredient in sweets, and making it into a savory salad. …

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