Where does your love of Middle Eastern food come from?
CR: I come from Egypt. When I lived there, it was a very cosmopolitan country, like Dubai today. People from all around the area came there for business. When the Suez Canal crisis happened, it resulted in Jews having to leave Egypt. This whole big shock of having to leave brought to me the urgency of collecting recipes because we never had a cookbook. There were never any recipes in print at all. It didn't exist.
More with Claudia Roden after the jump ...
Everybody was leaving and stopping in London, which is where my family settled, and one of the things people were asking each other for was recipes. I started just by collecting recipes and then I became addicted to cooking and getting the best recipes and those are the ones I put in the book.
It has been my career but initially it was a labor of love for our community. It grew and grew. I collected recipes from countries I'd never been like Iran and Iraq, not through the Jewish community but through the Muslim community. It wasn't a Jewish cookbook; it was the foods of the countries.
When you wrote it nobody really knew about Middle Eastern food.
CR: People didn't really know anything about it and they didn't like the idea of it. People would ask me if it was about sheep's testicles and sheep's eyeballs. That was the kind of image people had. It was young people who adopted it first. They were the ones who had traveled to different countries and were interested in healthy cooking. They found lots of beans and vegetables and dishes that were very tasty in the book. It is an extremely tasty cuisine; it's an area of spices and aromatics. Every kind of spice that you can imagine goes into their food.
Any tips for home cooks?
CR: Just take it every simply and quietly. If you know how to read the recipes you will know how to cook. The explanations are there. If you don't take cooking as a chore or a worrying thing, I think you can't ever go wrong. Trust your taste buds.