Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine, Second Edition

Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine, Second Edition

Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine, by Dr. Nawal Nasrallah -- a former professor of English at the Universitiy of Baghdad and the University of Mosul -- is a fine introduction to the history and diversity of Iraqi cuisine. Lavishly illustrated, supremely informative, and deeply personal, Narallah’s publication is far more than an average cookbook or culinary history; instead, it’s an adventurous exploration of Iraq’s colorful past through food history. This title is unique in not only its breadth – Nasrallah covers everything from exotic ancient desserts to refreshing medieval beverages – but also the way in which recipes are presented in tandem with a sociocultural and historical context.

Divided into 20 thematic chapters, Delights from the Garden of Eden emphasizes the range of Iraqi cuisine, from soups and spiced salads, to breads and bean dishes. Nasrallah frames each recipe in the publication with extensive historical, cultural, and personal narration. Quite often, Nasrallah directly quotes ancient and medieval texts, offering her own assessments and opinions as to the origins of particular dishes. (It should also be noted that throughout Delights from the Garden of Eden, the author periodically mentions other cookbooks, which is most useful to the specialist.) Intimate anecdotes and curious snippets of historical fact do not detract from the reading experience; on the contrary, they augment it, making this title a pleasure to read. Recipe instructions are easy to follow even for the novice; additionally, in almost all the recipes, weights and measurements are provided in both imperial and metric forms. Ingredients are listed first, followed by cooking instructions. Thankfully, photographs accompany many recipes, so the reader has a good idea of what the final result ought to look like.

As we read through Delights from the Garden of Eden, we were surprised by how accessible Iraqi cuisine is to the average individual by virtue of ingredients and the relative ease of preparation. Many readers may be surprised by the degree to which modern Iraqi cuisine has retained its ancient Mesopotamian roots; from delicious breads to tasty stews, sweet layered cakes and to grilled kebabs, Nasrallah proves with the authority of a chef and academic that the culinary history of Iraq reflects the palates of successive ancient civilizations. Delights from the Garden of Eden is interspersed with original illustrations by modern artists, pictures of ancient artifacts, medieval miniatures, and photographs of 100 dishes. In truth, we have not encountered a more visually attractive cookbook.

Other features in the publication include the following: a preface; a three part introduction to ancient, medieval, and modern Iraqi cuisine; a very informative section on menus and manners in Iraqi history; an invaluable glossary of terms; illustration credits; a work cited section with references to ancient, medieval and modern works in Arabic and English; and detailed indexes of food and ingredients from ancient, medieval, and Ottoman times. There is additionally a name and subject index for ease of reference.

Our Site recommends Delights from the Garden of Eden to anyone interested in Iraq, food history, ancient history, medieval history, Islamic history, and Arab culture. This volume has been published in English through Equinox Publishing in the United States, and it is currently available


Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine by Nawal Nasrallah

Fully revised edition of the definitive source on Iraqi cuisine and its history. SAVEUR magazine (issue 161, December 2013, p. 24) chose it as one of top 10 cookbooks for the year 2013. First edition awarded the Gourmand World Cookbook Special Jury Award 2007.

Originally self-published by the author in 2003, Delights from the Garden became an underground bestseller and award-winner. Now fully revised and updated, this new edition, luxuriously illustrated throughout with colour photos, paintings, medieval miniatures and sketches, displays the diversity of the region’s traditional culinary practices, delicious and enduring. The book contains more than 400 recipes, all tested and easy to follow, and covers all food categories with ample choice for both vegetarians and meat lovers, and many that will satisfy a sweet tooth. Ingredients and cooking techniques indigenous to the region are fully explained.

Unlike the majority of cookbooks, the book uniquely traces the genesis and development of the Iraqi cuisine over the centuries, starting with the ancient Mesopotamians, through medieval times and leading to the present, aided throughout by the author’s intimate native knowledge of cookery. Of particular interest are the book’s numerous food-related folkloric stories, reminiscences, anecdotes, songs, poems, excerpts from narratives written by foreign visitors to the region, and cultural explications of customs, all interwoven with the recipes. The book is supplemented with detailed menus and an extended glossary to familiarize the reader with the indigenous ingredients used in creating authentic Iraqi meals.

The book is a valuable addition to the shelves of specialized and general libraries and a must-have for food lovers everywhere.


First edition awarded the Gourmand World Cookbook Special Jury Award 2007
This edition awarded Best Book on Arab Cuisine in the UK, Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, January 2014

Visit Nawal Nasrallah’s website and her blog for posts on Iraqi cuisine and culture.

Originally self-published by the author in 2003, Delights from the Garden of Eden became an underground bestseller and award-winner. Now fully revised and updated, this new edition, luxuriously illustrated throughout with colour photos, paintings, medieval miniatures and sketches, displays the diversity of the region’s traditional culinary practices, delicious and enduring. The book contains more than 400 recipes, all tested and easy to follow, and covers all food categories with ample choice for both vegetarians and meat lovers, and many that will satisfy a sweet tooth. Ingredients and cooking techniques indigenous to the region are fully explained.

Unlike the majority of cookbooks, the book uniquely traces the genesis and development of the Iraqi cuisine over the centuries, starting with the ancient Mesopotamians, through medieval times and leading to the present, aided throughout by the author’s intimate native knowledge of cookery. Of particular interest are the book’s numerous food-related folkloric stories, reminiscences, anecdotes, songs, poems, excerpts from narratives written by foreign visitors to the region, and cultural explications of customs, all interwoven with the recipes. The book is supplemented with detailed menus and an extended glossary to familiarize the reader with the indigenous ingredients used in creating authentic Iraqi meals.

The book is a valuable addition to the shelves of specialized and general libraries and a must-have for food lovers everywhere.

TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK. An iBook is available

View Delights SAMPLE Material

Table of Contents

Introduction - Iraqi Food in Perspective

Part I - Back to the Roots

Part 2 Medieval Baghdadi Cooking

Part 3 The Post-medieval Era

Chapter 3 Vegetarian Appetizers and Salads

Chapter 5 Snacks, Sandwiches and Side Dishes (with Meat)

Chapter 6 Snacks, Sandwiches and Side Dishes (Vegetarian)

Chapter 9 Other Grains and Beans

Chapter 10 Lamb and Beef and Ground Meat Dishes

Chapter 14 Savory Pastries

Chapter 15 Desserts: Puddings and Ice Creams

Chapter 16 Desserts with Syrup

Chapter 17 Cakes and Confections

Chapter 18 Cookies and Sweet Pastries

Chapter 19 Jams and Pickles

Reviews

Reviews

a fine introduction to the history and diversity of Iraqi cuisine. Lavishly illustrated, supremely informative, and deeply personal, Nasrallah’s publication is far more than an average cookbook or culinary history instead, it’s an adventurous exploration of Iraq’s colorful past through food history. This title is unique in not only its breadth – Nasrallah covers everything from exotic ancient desserts to refreshing medieval beverages – but also the way in which recipes are presented in tandem with a sociocultural and historical context.
Ancient History Encyclopedia, online review published Oct. 15 2014

The book, its illustrations, photographs and design, is generous and thoughtful and guides your historical journey through Ms. Nasrallah's personal lens. Huffington Post review by Rozanne Gold

interview, National Public Radio: All Things Considered aired on the 24th of January 2014

o Canada. com review by Laura Brehaut including three recipes

. the introduction offers an excellent history of food in the Middle East. . At the other end, the book's extensive glossary and references make this a useful resource. . An additional note to please cooks is tht the book sits flat on every page. .A splendid achievement, Delights from the Garden of Eden is obviously a labour of love, and the author has done readers, cooks and noncooks alike, a great service n producing such an impressive book. Each page shows erudition every recipe a passion for food.
Eamonn Gearon, Times Literary Supplement, Nov 1 2013

Already respected among food historians for her translation of the 10th-century Baghdadi cookbook Annals of the Caliph's Kitchen, Nasrallah is sure to gain more acclaim with this significant contribution to the culinary history of the Middle East.
Tom Verde, Aramco, 2013

If you've ever had even a shred of interest in the cuisine from this part of the world, I recommend taking a look at this book. For curious and adventurous cooks, it has enough to inspire our meals for years to come.
Emma Christensen, TheKitchn.com

Fascinating, thorough and delicious.
Vered Guttman, Haaretz.com

She has brought together scholarship, personal motivation through tragedy, and a love of cooking to produce this unsurpassable volume.
Margaret Obank, Banipal 48 (2013)

This book is a treasure. Its just a matter of parking it somewhere in your kitchen where you can flip it open and go on to cook the next mouthwatering receipe. Miriam Kresch, GreenProphet: Sustainable News for the Middle East

Ms. Nasrallah has done for Iraqi cuisine what Julia Childs did for French cooking, but to the nth degree. There are over 400 recipes to be explored, hundreds of beautiful images, and text so meticulous and thoughtful, it could have only been written by someone with incredible knowledge and passion. Immerse yourself with endless plates full of delicious food and stories of a land and its people so rich with history it will astound you. A delight indeed.
The Kitchen Journals


Nov. 7, 2016: Ancient Cooking with Havard Students (for Professor Gojko Barjamovic's course "Societies of the World: Ancient Lives"):

"At the Harvard Cooking Lab and under the guidance of author and food historian Prof. Nawal Nasrallah, students cooked and ate dishes that were prepared according to ancient Mesopotamian recipes. The main dish was a beet and lamb stew served with steamed bulgur and tannour bread. Mersu or date candy was served for dessert." (more here ) Photos here.

October 2016:

Teaching a Course on the Iraqi cuisine for the Masters program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.

I n October 2016, I had the pleasure of teaching a crash course on the Iraqi cuisine, ancient, medieval, and contemporay for the Master of Gastronomy: Food in the World at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, located in beautiful Pollenzo in Italy.

Demonstrating Medieval Baghdadi appetizers to students of Boston University Gastronomy Program, Fall 2012:

(Photo by Elizabeth Mindreau)

Here is a link to my talk at Sulffolk University, Boston. Fall 2012

An evening of cooking and talk with Harvard students and Professor Barjamovic for his course: 


Barley bread (Khubuz il-shi'eer) (page 91)

From Delights from the Garden of Eden, Second Edition: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden, Second Edition by Nawal Nasrallah

Are you sure you want to delete this recipe from your Bookshelf. Doing so will remove all the Bookmarks you have created for this recipe.

  • Categories: Bread & rolls, savory Iraqi Vegan
  • Ingredients: active dry yeast barley flour bread flour sesame seeds

Delights From The Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah – Our Book Review

Want to get close to Iraqi food traditions and culture? This cook book is for you. Lyrical memoirs of Nawal Nasrallah’s childhood in Iraq, and the place that food had in that culture, drift through the pages, pausing for sidebars that offer tidbits like four paragraphs on ancient wives in ancient kitchens.

Or samples from a tenth-century cookbook. Or amusing little line drawings, or a page on an abandoned Jewish delicacy made from cattail reed pollen.

After a scholarly introduction the recipes begin on Chapter One, Bread. It’s studded with proverbs, folk songs, photographs, drawings, and transcriptions of ancient documents relating to food. Can you resist a recipe for a bread called Lover’s Window? Its sweet, sesame-sprinkled bread whose dough is stretched out in the middle to make holes that you can peer through.

And that’s only the first chapter. The second, dealing with dairy products, includes a modern recipe for Geymer, a thick clotted cream, with a folk song comparing a lover’s white cheeks to it. In all, there are 20 chapters that cover vegetables, salads, snacks, sandwiches, side dishes, meat main dishes, stuffed foods (where the emphasis is on kubba), fish, poultry, grains and beans. savory pastries, every kind of sweet, and beverages. One chapter is dedicated to rice alone.

It’s easy to see that the author has tested and cooked every recipe herself. Tips and hints are attached to the recipes, that can only have come from her kitchen experience. The photographs aren’t gorgeous, but more than adequate to express appetizing foods like baked fish stuffed with za’atar and sumac. From simple peasant food like the combination of rice and lentils known as majadra, to a sumptuous, entire lamb stuffed with almonds, rice, raisins, peas and spices, this cookbook will keep the creative cook busy for at least a year, if one chooses to cook everything in it.

The great thing about all this delicious exotic cooking is that almost always, ingredients are easily found. Most are already in your pantry. Some ingredients may have to be especially shopped for, like tamarind concentrate or sumac, but if you enjoy browsing through Middle East markets, that’s just part of the fun.

At the end of the book are sections on menus (including pages on historical table manners and hygiene), an excellent glossary and recipe index, a bibliography, and separate indexes covering ancient, medieval, and Ottoman foods and ingredients, plus a name and subject index. This book is a treasure. It’s just a matter of parking it somewhere in your kitchen where you can flip it open and go on to cook the next mouthwatering recipe.

A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine is the sub-title of this food encyclopedia.

Ms. Nasrallah was a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the universities of Baghdad and Mosul. Her English translation of the 10th-century Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchens and Delights From The Garden of Eden have won Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2007. We reviewed her book Dates here on Green Prophet.

Delights From The Garden of Eden: a cookbook and history of the Iraqi cuisine.
Equinox Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 978-1-84553-457-8.
574 pages.


Nawal Nasrallah

Published by Equinox Publishing Ltd, United Kingdom, 2019

New - Softcover
Condition: New

Paperback. Condition: New. 2nd Abridged edition. Language: English. Brand new Book. This is a concise version of the award-winning and highly acclaimed second edition published in 2013. It is luxuriously illustrated throughout with colour photos, paintings, medieval miniatures and sketches and displays the diversity of the region's traditional culinary practices, delicious and enduring. This edition book contains 300 of the original 400 recipes, all tested and easy to follow, and covers all food categories with ample choice for both vegetarians and meat lovers, and many that will satisfy a sweet tooth. Ingredients and cooking techniques indigenous to the region are fully explained.Unlike the majority of cookbooks, the book uniquely traces the genesis and development of the Iraqi cuisine over the centuries, starting with the ancient Mesopotamians, through medieval times and leading to the present, aided throughout by the author's intimate native knowledge of cookery. Of particular interest are the book's numerous food-related folkloric stories, reminiscences, anecdotes, songs, poems, excerpts from narratives written by foreign visitors to the region, and cultural explications of customs, all interwoven with the recipes. The book is supplemented with detailed menus and an extended glossary to familiarize the reader with the indigenous ingredients used in creating authentic Iraqi meals.The book is a valuable addition to the shelves of specialized and general libraries and a must-have for food lovers everywhere.


Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine, Second Edit EBOOK


Get Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine, Second Edit EBOOK

Product Details Sales Rank: #394937 in Books Published on: 2013-04-30 Original language: English Number of items: 1 Dimensions: 1.50" h x 7.50" w x 9.80" l, 3.92 pounds Binding: Hardcover 574 pages
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful. Fantastic By AA Very well written. Full of interesting stories and tales. Much more than a usual recipe book. And most important very veggie frien

Product Description Fully revised edition of the definitive source on Iraqi cuisine and its history. SAVEUR magazine (issue 161, December 2013, p. 24) chose it as one of top 10 cookbooks for the year 2013. First edition awarded the Gourmand World Cookbook Special Jury Award 2007 Originally self-published by the author in 2003, Delights from the Garden became an underground bestseller and award-winner. Now fully revised and updated, this new edition, luxuriously illustrated throughout with co .


Cookbook Of The Day

Delights from the Garden of Eden is an Iraqi cookbook. There are not a lot of Iraqi cookbooks around. This cookbook is filled with history and stories that make you want to embrace this cuisine.

There is always a consideration with unfamiliar cuisines. In any cookbook, I find the best way to get started is to find a recipe that you have made before and see how the author prepares the dish. Another way to garner accessibility into a cuisine you are unfamiliar with is to find a recipe that has an ingredient you are familiar with and examine the way the author cooks that ingredient.

Being a Southerner, I have cooked thousands of pounds of black-eyed peas. There are few things more Southern than black-eyed peas but I had never thought of them as being Iraqi! Nasrallah and I have opposite parents, his mother was light on the chilies while his father was, “a devout lover of hot food.” In my family, it was my mother who loved hot food. Nasrallah said his father’s black-eyed peas were memorable and so hot that smoke came out the ears. So be forewarned.

1/2 pound (1 1/4 cup dried black-eyed peas, washed, soaked overnight, and drained. Alternatively frozen (you’ll need one pound) or canned variety (you’ll need two 15 ounce cans, drained) can be used
5 to 6 cloves of garlic, unskinned

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 whole aniseed
2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes or powder, or to taste
1 teaspoon prepared noomi Basrah*

1. In a medium pot, cover beans and garlic with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a quick boil, then lower heat to low, and let simmer, covered, until tender to the touch, about 40 minutes. If canned variety is used skip this step.
2. While beans are simmering, heat oil in a medium skillet, and sauté onion until it is softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in turmeric, aniseeds and flour until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup hot water, and mix well, set aside.
3. When the beans are cooked (if canned beans are used add them in this step with 1 cup hot water), add onion mixture, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, bay leaf, thyme, chili, and noomi Basrah. Mix well, and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to low, and let pot simmer gently for about 15 minutes, or until sauce is nicely thickened and beans are very tender, stirring occasionally to prevent ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

* noomi Basrah is a dried lime. You can substitute a teaspoon of lime juice and some lime zest.


Tasty Ancient Recipes from Mesopotamia

Cover for “Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine.” (Photo, courtesy of Nawal Nasrallah.)

Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning “between two rivers”) was an ancient region in the Near East, which corresponds roughly to present-day Iraq. Widely regarded as the “cradle of civilization,” Mesopotamia should be more properly understood as a region that produced multiple empires and civilizations rather than any single civilization. Iraqi cuisine, like its art and culture, is the sum of its varied and rich past. Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine, by independent scholar Nawal Nasrallah, offers more than 400 recipes from the distant past in addition to fascinating perspectives on the origins of Iraqi cuisine.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Nawal Nasrallah about the research behind her unique, encyclopedic cookbook, the origins of Iraqi cuisine, and her passion for cooking ancient recipes.

JW: Ms. Nawal Nasrallah, I bid you the warmest welcome to Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE)! Ahlan wa sahlan!

Nawal, I am very curious to know what motivated you to write this title, and what prompted your interest in ancient and medieval Iraqi cuisine? Before relocating to the United States in 1990, you were a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the Universities of Baghdad and Mosul. Have you always been interested in “food history” as a tangent to your other academic interests?

Reverse of the Cuneiform tablet of Babylonian stew recipes, c. 1700 BCE. (Yale Babylonian Collection, Tablet 4644.)

NN: First of all I would like to thank you for giving me the chance to talk about Iraqi cuisine, unjustifiably little known and rarely acknowledged in the general discussion of culinary history. Now to your question as you mention, my career in Iraq was that of a university professor. My interests back then were totally focused on research in English literature, but I loved cooking and reading the few English cookbooks I could lay my hands on. But never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that within years of my arrival to the US in 1990, I would be calling myself a “food writer” with several food-related books under my belt. My previous training in research was indeed quite helpful in this respect. While in the US, Iraq was so much in the news, and I was often asked if I knew of any Iraqi cookbooks in English.

There were none that I knew of, and I personally felt that a cookbook on Iraq should be given a place among the international cuisine books on shelves of libraries and bookstores. It did not occur to me though, at the time, that I would be the one to do it. In 1996, after I suddenly lost my son at the age of 13, it was extremely painful for me to handle food it was just loaded with memories, too painful to remember. To get around this, I gave myself a mission: Write a cookbook about the food we shared and loved, dedicating it to his memory.

JW: Something that I think will surprise many AHE readers is the fact that modern Iraqi cuisine has retained much in the way of its ancient Mesopotamian roots from delicious breads to tasty stews, sweet layered cakes and to grilled kebabs, the culinary history of Iraq reflects the palates of successive ancient civilizations. One should mention too that ancient Mesopotamian cuisine shaped the cuisine of the ancient Persians, medieval Arabs, and Ottoman Turks.

What specific challenges did you face in writing this book, and was it difficult to uncover the true provenance of the many dishes presented in Delights from the Garden of Eden?

A general map of Mesopotamia, covering the period from 2000-1600 BCE. (©PL Kessler/The History Files. Republished with the author’s permission. Original image by P L Kessler, 2012.)

NN: The challenge was writing a huge book like mine and spending about six long years working on it, hoping that at least when done and finished, I would succeed in convincing a publisher of its novelty and worthiness. This did not happen. I had to self-publish the first edition that came out in 2003, and boy, am I glad I followed my instinct and did it! After several years, it attracted the attention of a British publisher, Equinox Publishing, and I am thrilled that Delights from the Garden of Eden is now available in its second edition.

I cannot really say that the process of uncovering the roots of many of the dishes in Delights was a hassle — it was not. I was fortunate to have at my disposal sources from ancient Mesopotamia and medieval Baghdad, which were instrumental in tracing not only sources of dishes, but also in deflating the commonly recycled notion that Iraqi cooking has no character or roots of its own or that it is derivative, being heavily influenced by Persian, or Turkish, or Ottoman cuisine.

With the evidence we have today of ancient Mesopotamian cuisine, we can say with confidence that ancient Persian culinary culture had a lot to learn from the indigenous Mesopotamians whom they politically ruled. In fact, according to modern historical studies, the date when the Persians took over the region (539 BCE) was significant politically only because they “left most local traditions intact,” and employed native officials for most tasks, as Dr. Daniel Snell writes in his Life in the Ancient Near East 3100-332 BCE. He further adds that “although taxes flowed to the capital in what is now Iran, little in the way of cultural influence flowed the other way.” (pp. 99, 102.)

Folios of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq’s tenth century CE cookbook. (Fols 7v-8r. The National Library of Finland, signum Coll. 504.14 [Arb rf].) Besides, it was in medieval Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate (756-1258 CE) that Arab cuisine developed and flourished. It partly drew on the Arabs’ native heritage but also on Iraq’s indigenous stock collectively called Nabat al-‘Iraq (“Nabateans of Iraq”), and indirectly on the Persians who inherited this tradition and refined it during their several centuries of dominance.

The impact of the Baghdadi Abbasid cuisine on the affluent Ottoman kitchens of Istanbul can no longer be downplayed given what we know today. Suffice it to say that the first Ottoman cookbook, Kitabu’t-Tabeeh, written in the 15th-century CE, was in fact mostly a translation of al-Baghdadi’s popular cookbook, Kitab al-Tabeekh. The Ottoman version was executed by Muhammed ibn Mahmud Şirvani (also Romanized as “Mehmet bin Mamoud Shirvani,” c. 1375-1450 CE), who was the court physician to Sultan Murad II (r. 1421-1444, 1446-1451 CE). In the centuries to follow, the Ottoman kitchen undoubtedly developed and refined such inherited traditions but from what I see of our cooking today, I doubt that it had a significant impact on Iraqi mainstream cooking. Names of dishes are not always dependable criteria.

Cover image of al-Baghdadi’s cookbook from the 13th-century CE: “Kitab al-Tabeekh.” (1934 edited Arabic edition.)

JW: Nawal, you used rare Babylonian tablets, medieval Baghdadi cookbooks, and other primary source documents in order to research Delights from the Garden of Eden.

Do you have a favorite source? If so, which one, and what makes it your favorite? How large are these surviving sources?

NN: Of the primary sources I used in my research for Delights, three were pivotal: the ancient Babylonian recipes written on three cuneiform tablets, the tenth century CE Baghdadi cookbook by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, and the 13th-century CE cookbook by Ibn al-Kareem al-Baghdadi. (Both of these cookbooks are titled Kitab al-Tabeekh or “Cookery Book” in English.) These were the sources that made me see a pattern of continuity in culinary practices of Iraqi cooks across millennia — a unique insight not to be encountered in other world cuisines — largely due perhaps to lack of evidence.

With these sources I found myself in an enviable position, which enabled me to see how Iraqi cuisine evolved and developed from ancient times, through the Middle Ages, to what I grew up on eating and cooking. Until I discovered these sources while researching for Delights, it never occurred to me that a staple like today’s marga (stew) has been a staple since ancient times. The Babylonian stew recipes — 25 of them — are an amazing testimony to its ancient roots similarly, stew recipes loomed large in the two extant cookbooks from medieval Iraq .

Delicious okra stew. (Photo, courtesy of Nawal Nasrallah.)

Without dispute, my favorite is al-Warraq’s cookbook. It is the earliest medieval cookbook, worldwide, to have survived. With its hugely extensive scope — consisting of 132 chapters with around 600 recipes — it is an unrivaled culinary treasure, and it was my privilege to be able to translate it into English and share its joys with non-Arabic readers.

JW: For those of us who have very little aptitude in the kitchen, how difficult would you say it is to master the art of Iraqi cooking? In terms of the key ingredients found in ancient and medieval Iraqi recipes, Iraqi cuisine seems to be far less demanding than I had initially thought.

NN: Quite right. Most of the ingredients required to create Iraqi dishes may easily be obtained from mainstream supermarkets, with few exceptions such as our special spice-mix of baharat, noomi Basra (dried lime), and the favorite Iraqi spicy condiment of amba (pickled mango).

For more information on these uniquely Iraqi ingredients, I would ask readers to visit this link concerning ingredients via my website.

It is the cooking techniques that make the difference, and they vary from the basic to the complex. I should expect cooks with basic cooking experience to easily master the Iraqi staple dishes of marga wa timman (stew served with a side of rice), the many side dishes offered (both with meat and vegetarian), salads, some desserts. But some of the stuffed dishes — which distinguish Iraqi cuisine — can indeed be somewhat challenging, but I am sure with enough practice even these can be done with great success.

Nawal Nasrallah’s “Pregnant Chicken” dish. (Photo, courtesy of Nawal Nasrallah.)

JW: In the 11 years since its first publication, Delights from the Garden of Eden has become an underground bestseller. During this time, you have written two more books: Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens (2007) and Dates: A Global History (2011).

May I inquire as to the projects you are currently undertaking? Can we expect more cookbooks or culinary histories in the near future?

NN: Well, right now I am working on a book about history of Arab food and an English translation of a 14th-century CE anonymous Egyptian cookbook entitled Kanz al-Fawa’id fi Tanwi’ al-Mawa’id, which I translate as Infinite Benefits of Variety at the Table. This is an important culinary document because it is the only one that came down to us from medieval Egypt. So as you see, I have my hands full right now. It is my ambition, though, to translate into English the rest of the medieval Arabic cookbooks and pamphlets — five to six volumes — which will fill a wide gap in our knowledge of the world material culture in which the impressive Arab contribution remains unknown. Once published, I am sure Western researchers in this most vital and interesting aspect of material culture will have at their fingertips the much-needed tools to explore the field with more solid and dependable results, giving credit where credit is due.

The favorite Iraqi spicy condiment of amba (pickled mango). (Photo, courtesy of Nawal Nasrallah.)

Hopefully, I will have the time and energy to follow up on these as soon as I am done with what I am working on now. It would definitely have been helpful to have had luck in securing a research grant for this kind of colossal task. I have been trying, but no luck as of yet.

JW: I purposefully arranged our interview to coincide with the US Thanksgiving holiday and upcoming seasonal festivities in the Americas and Europe. To conclude our interview, could you share or recommend a suitable dish for the holiday season?

NN: I would recommend the “Pregnant Chicken.” While I was still living in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, I was once invited to dinner, and a delightful huge bird roasted to beautiful crispness attracted my attention. At first, I thought it was a large duck, but it turned out to be just a regular chicken stuffed in the cavity as well as underneath the skin with an aromatic spicy mixture of cooked rice and diced vegetables, raisins, and almonds. It looked splendidly huge and puffed up, so my kids nicknamed it the “Pregnant Chicken.” It has been a staple for our festive occasions ever since it’s really the perfect dish for Thanksgiving. It is really scrumptious and definitely worth trying!

JW: Nawal, I thank you so much for your time and consideration. On behalf of everyone at AHE, I wish you many adventures in research and a happy holiday season.

NN: You are most welcome, James. It was a pleasure to speak with you. I wish you all a happy holiday season, and hopefully this interview will encourage your readers to try some of the wonderful dishes of Iraq!

Please read our book review of Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine.

Ms. Nawal Nasrallah is an independent Iraqi scholar, who is passionate about cooking and its history and culture. Previously, Nasrallah was a professor at the universities of Baghdad and Mosul, teaching English language and Literature until 1990. She is an award-winning researcher and food writer, who has been giving cooking classes and presentations on the Iraqi cuisine for a number of years. The first edition of her cookbook Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine(Author House, 2003) was the winner of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2007. (This title is also available as an iBook.) Her book Dates: A Global History (Edible Series, Reaktion Books) was released in April 2011. Her English translation of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq’s tenth century CE Baghdadi cookbook, Kitab al-Tabeekh, entitled Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens (Brill, 2007), was awarded “Best Translation in the World” and “Best of the Best of the Past 12 Years” of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2007. It also received Honorable Mention in 2007 Arab American National Museum Book Awards. She also co-authored Beginner’s Iraqi Arabic, with 2 audio CDs(Hippocrene, 2005).

All images featured in this interview have been cited, and any images from Ms. Nawal Nasrallah have been provided to Ancient History Encyclopedia solely for the purposes of this interview.Unauthorized reproduction of text and images is strictly prohibited. Mr. James Blake Wiener was responsible for the editorial process. Special thanks is given to Ms. Karen Barrett-Wilt for assistance in the editorial process. The views presented here are not necessarily those of the Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE). All rights reserved. © AHE 2014. Please contact us for rights to republication.


Watch the video: Resurrecting Eden