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OP: Babylonian Cuisine

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by Julia Najor

Although Middle Eastern cooking has achieved, in the past fifty years or so, a prominent position in America, most of what is offered is limited to the foods of the eastern Mediterranean—Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. Still largely neglected are the cuisines of the regions further inland and strongly subject to west Asian influences. Particularly well regarded, but rarely encountered is the food of Chaldea, the area around Mosul, along the mid-Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now north central Iraq.

Julia Najor was born in a village in the Iraqi north, and although she moved to America in her mid-twenties, she devoted herself here to achieving expertise in creating the food of her childhood. 

Working with great care she reconstructed an array of dishes that were an expression of a very different culture, drawing on her recollections and those of her husband, an American of Chaldean descent. The Chaldeans are heavily Christian, using an Aramaic liturgy in their churches, and Julia Najor gives particular attention to food in holiday observances.

Although the book does contain some well-known recipes from the broader Middle Eastern traditions—kabobs of various sorts and pastries such as baklava—most will be unfamiliar and noticeably colored by the cuisines of neighbors to the west.

We see for example a whitefish curry or a biryani (here spelled beryani) that might be from India or Pakistan, a meaty barley soup that might be from Afghanistan, and such unexpected specialties as pickled mango, cracked wheat pies stuffed with onions and peanuts, and a poppy seed strudel made with yogurt and cinnamon.

Self-published in 1981, Babylonian Cuisine received little attention, but it has now gained notice, and the supply of copies is very limited. Although far from being slickly professional or scholarly, it has much to offer. It is respectably made, with good, clear recipes and a section of about 75 black and white photographs, perhaps best thought of as snapshots. This copy, from the original printing, has been handled but is clearly unused and is definitely Very Good. Clean inside and out, the jacket is also VG, with some small chips on a somewhat sun-faded spine. Very scarce.

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