Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Savory Secrets of Dodi's Home Cooking

The Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking
Author: Howida (Dodi) Elhalogy
ISBN: 978-1-4327-2557-0
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc. 2008
Genre: cooking, food, culture
Reviewed by Sarah Moore for Writers in the Sky (9/08)

I always take a little time to skim through cookbooks while at my local bookstore. I like discovering new ingredients, or perhaps just new ways to use already familiar ingredients. I enjoy taking a moment to envision the great dinner parties I will host and the compliments I will receive on the unique and delicious menu I prepared. Above all, I love to stare at the beautiful pictures of the final product as created by the author. While my limited culinary skills may never allow for an exact visual replica of the dish as it’s intended, the colorful presentations provide something to which I can aspire. The new cookbook The Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking by Howida “Dodi” Elhalogy exceeds all of my prerequisites for a great addition to anyone’s kitchen collection.

Mrs. Elhalogy grew up in an Egyptian village as the daughter of the province’s mayor. Since her family did a lot of entertaining on their large estate, Mrs. Elhalogy learned at a young age to prepare meals for special events and eventually mastered the art of Middle Eastern cooking. She decided to pull together her family’s recipes into this beautiful cookbook as a way of preserving a cultural tradition and of introducing a new audience to the amazing flavors and textures found in the dishes of the Middle East.

I was first struck by the beauty of the book. Mrs. Elhalogy uses rich colors of yellow and orange on the cover, along with a photo of garlic, onion and cilantro (I’m already sold … you cannot do better than those ingredients for a great-smelling kitchen!) to draw her readers into the culinary treasures inside. Once I turned the pages, I found page after page of beautiful pictures highlighting the table presentations that can be created with her recipes. When necessary, there were even “action photos” showing how to proceed correctly with certain steps in the recipe. I am a cook who hesitates to try a new recipe unless I can see the intended end product, so the pictures that accompanied each recipe were much appreciated.

The recipes themselves provided explicit step-by-step instructions. I have tried to work from other cookbooks that take certain steps in the process for granted, inevitably leading me to make a critical error. Not so with the recipes written by Dodi. The recipes develop methodically from the initial washing of ingredients to the necessary garnishes. I feel confident that, even though I would be working with some food that is unfamiliar to me, Dodi has provided enough instruction to ensure my success. And, just in case aspiring cooks of Middle Eastern cuisine still have some concern when working through her recipes, Dodi includes a glossary of some of the more unusual ingredients, along with their alternate names and descriptions. This component of the Helpful Hints section, along with the recipes’ Arabic translations on each page, provide an opportunity to learn about the individual foods while you are bringing them together for a meal.

As I read through each recipe, I was struck by an even greater opportunity that this book provides than just creating amazing food. A primary way of learning about a culture is through its traditional foods. I think back to “Culture Days” as a young child at school, when we would bring in a meal from the country of our choice. Learning about food opens the doors to other conversations, and this truth continues into adulthood. Why is a particular ingredient a staple of the diet in certain cultures? What are the most common cooking methods and why are they used? What are the standard customs practiced when eating a meal? I believe that by discussing these questions and other topics that may evolve from the conversation, we can gain greater appreciation and understanding for individuals from around the world. The recipes in The Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking provide an excellent catalyst for just this purpose.

My husband and I have long considered Middle Eastern cuisine to be among our favorites. I already have tried several of the recipes, including the Tabula Salad and Koshary, to rave reviews around my dinner table. I look forward to wearing out the pages of The Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking as I teach my own children the great Egyptian traditions that Dodi learned in her own youth and now, thankfully, shares with all of us. For those who are interested in expanding their culinary horizons, or perhaps simply want to enjoy the beauty of a well-planned cookbook, this offering by Howida “Dodi” Elhalogy is a must-have addition to your home library.


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