July 05, 2018


Tahini and Turmeric: 101 Middle Eastern Classics—Made Irresistibly Vegan. By Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox. Da Capo. $24.99.

     There is always room for another food fad. While some people pursue food-limiting diets and others take legitimate health concerns to extremes (such as urging gluten elimination for people with no sensitivity to gluten), still others look to expand and enrich their chosen dietary approaches and food interests. That is what sisters Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox, both committed vegans of Middle Eastern ancestry, try to do in Tahini and Turmeric. The authors say these are vegan variants of recipes they remember from childhood, but what will really matter to the vegans who are the target market for the book is how easy the foods are to prepare and how good they taste.

     Vegetarian and vegan food has become a great deal tastier in recent years, and the skillful use of spices and other flavorings is one reason. There is quite a bit of that in this book. “Mini Spinach Pies with Pine Nuts and Dried Cherries,” for example, include sweet onion, allspice and everyday salt; “Belgian Endive Salad with Pomegranate and Pumpkin Seeds” calls on “Maple Mustard Vinaigrette” – which is a recipe itself – for its flavoring; “Roasted Cauliflower with Green Tahini” uses cilantro, dill, lemon juice, and agave nectar or pure maple syrup. As usual in cookbooks, particularly specialty ones like this, there are bounteous illustrations showing how dishes ought to look when prepared according to the recipes. The pictures serve not only as temptations to try out the dishes but also as guides to what the finished products will (one hopes) look like.

     As for the specific types of foods on display, they are divided into sections called “Day Starters and Brunch Nosh,” “Appetite Teasers,” “Body Warmers,” “Big-Enough-to-Share Salads,” “Dressings and Condiments,” “Kicked-Up Rice,” “The Main Event,” “Fresh from the Oven,” and “Sweet Endings.” For those interested in trying some less-than-familiar Middle Eastern flavors but not fully committed to vegan eating, “Fresh from the Oven” is the best place to start. It includes “Savory Sesame and Nigella Seed Fingers,” “Sweet Challah Rolls,” “Abuelita’s Savory Bourekas,” and other attractive breads. But cooks and bakers need to be sure they have on hand all the ingredients needed for the recipes – which, in the case of the bourekas (to cite one example among many), include raw cashews, nutritional yeast, coconut oil, canned pure pumpkin or butternut squash puree, as well as unsweetened dairy milk and some more-standard items such as baking powder, salt and all-purpose flour.

     Cohen and Fox begin their book with a chapter called “The Middle Eastern Pantry” that is supposed to make it easy to stock up on the essentials needed for the recipes they present. This is helpful – but will also be challenging for anyone with only a casual interest in trying the recipes, and especially for such a person who is not a vegan. Baharat, bulgur wheat, chickpea flour, harissa (chili paste), kataifi, orange blossom water, pomegranate molasses, wheat berries and other listed pantry items will not be easy for many people to find – and it makes sense to buy them only if you intend to make a great many of the recipes in Tahini and Turmeric. Furthermore, anyone who wants to try some of these recipes needs to be prepared for how complex some of them are, and how time-consuming a number of them can be. To be sure, more-ordinary recipes can take plenty of time as well, but these Middle Eastern ones require a level of care and focus that may make some of them difficult for people who are not already familiar with food of this type. Tahini and Turmeric is best for people who are strict vegans – which means a lot of the seemingly exotic ingredients will likely be on hand already – and who are primarily looking to experiment with some flavors that likely go beyond the everyday ones that they usually produce in the kitchen.

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