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A Classic Matures

November 15, 2000|CHARLES PERRY

In 1972, Claudia Roden introduced millions of Americans to the culinary riches of the Middle East. Four years earlier, the original edition of "A Book of Middle Eastern Food" had made an even bigger splash in England; Roden became a culinary star on the Julia Child level over there. But the author wasn't a cook, food writer or cooking teacher, and this was her very first book.

The secret wasn't just the exotic dishes or the unfamiliar ways of combining ingredients. It was Roden's passionate yearning for the foods of her childhood. Her Jewish family had been obliged to leave Egypt after the Suez Crisis in 1956. Exile nostalgia cast a golden glow on every dish.

She went on to write books about coffee, picnics and Italian food, and three years ago she published another major labor of love, "The Book of Jewish Food." Now she's released a substantially revised version of her first book, called "The New Book of Middle Eastern Food" (Knopf, $35).

It's a bigger, glossier, more sophisticated work. The historical introduction has been greatly expanded. The focus is no longer so heavily on the eastern Arab countries and Turkey; there are more Iranian, North African and Armenian recipes, and even a couple from Yemen.

The recipes are more sophisticated, too. They're based on wider experience, more variations are given and they've been revised to reflect what has become available in our markets. (And they're lighter; no more fried pies.) At first glance it may look like 1972 here, but, as in life, scarcely anything remains totally unchanged.

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