If recipes for cardamom- and saffron-scented cake, or rose-scented rice pudding pique your interest, Sarah Al-Hamad's cookbook, "Cardamom and Lime; Recipes from the Arabian Gulf" (Interlink Books, $26.95) should go on your bookshelf.
The countries of the Arabian Gulf include Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab emirates and Saudi Arabia. In these countries, says the author, "families are large and food sharing is central to local life."
In the 1960s, Al-Hamad points out, the area, once relatively poor, grew into a land of opportunity. An influx of South Asians affected the dietary habits in the regions. Cuisines merged and cooks exchanged information about local dishes, Continental dishes and their own ethnic cuisines. Cooks became valuable assets to families and were sometimes "loaned out."
Rice is now the staple food, but in the past, coarse wheat and lentils were used, cooked with vegetables for several hours then beaten to a savory porridge, she says. Whole-grain dishes are often eaten, and sweet and savory flavors combined.
Dates are a valued staple, and many of the region's dessert dishes feature this nourishing fruit. The juice from the date palms, called "dibs," is also used for baking and cooking . The lime that is consumed in the region is called "lumi" and is dried, offering a particular sour flavor to stews and soups.
To leaf through "Cardamom and Lime" is to take an armchair journey to one of the world's most exotic regions. Dishes such as Milky Rice Pudding (laced with green cardamom and rosewater) are enough to send me to the kitchen. The Green Bean Stew recipe is anything but mundane, as the vegetable is cooked with garlic, ginger root, turmeric and curry powder.
The photos certainly have an appetizing effect, and the author's skills with a camera bring the local scenes to life. Also, the recipes are relatively simple, including one for Milky Rice Pudding
Let the book take you away, but you'll want to come back soon to start cooking.