2017, Interlink Books, 978-1-56656-026-9, $35 hb.
Arab merchants had as much to do with establishing what we now call “the Mediterranean diet” as did the Greeks, the Romans and even the Vikings, the authors of this colorful volume say. While often considered, historically, a “Roman lake,” the Mediterranean might be better described as a superhighway—of trade. For trade introduced eggplants, artichokes, almonds, lemons and even pasta, or inspired their widespread use, in the northwestern Mediterranean region. At one end were their sources—India, the Middle East and Central Asia—and in between were Arab traders. By introducing rice to Andalusia, Arabs laid “the groundwork for paella.” Sugar, “the Arab sweetening,” offered a more affordable alternative to pricey honey. Recipes reflecting these influences are featured throughout this elegant title, such as le riz aux cerises (cherry and almond rice pudding); paella Valencia, a saffron-infused blend of chicken, rabbit and snails; and even biscotti, an Italian favorite, studded with Arab staples: fig, almond and orange.