The Jewelled Kitchen

Middle Eastern food has always intrigued me, it seems like the meals always come with cozy little candle lights, luxuriously embroidered table cloths and boldly colored serving dishes. The culinary traditions revolve around sharing and giving generously. Spiced meats and sweets remind me of late Medieval British cooking when ginger, caraway, cumin, cinnamon and currants were used in stews and pudding much alike the Middle Eastern ones. 
The aromatics give the kitchens a mysterious scent, almost as if the beautiful women coming out of them carrying trays of oozing food to present to you are bewitching their guests with their culinary arts. 

With anticipation I awaited my friend Beth's book, if there were to be one book about Middle Eastern food I would buy, it would be hers. She who lures people with the tales of perfect Hummus and tasty lamb stews. Drop dead gorgeous and a former miss Lebanon she is a woman who fights every day to change the worlds negative preconceptions about the Middle East.

She founded Taste Lebanon, to show people Lebanon by exploring it through food and culture. Showing a different picture, a picture that is more real to her than all the sadness she has seen in her country. On her blog she shares the recipes of her homeland, and now finally we get to explore the Middle East with her beautiful book 'The Jewelled Kitchen'.

I've known Beth for tree years, she invited me into the blogger community with open arms at my first Food Blogger Connect - another one of her ventures. She has always been the one with the big smile, the jokes and a flair of a sorrow free life. I had never thought opening her book for the first time that I would read there about how her childhood was influenced by the 15 year long civil war and the divorce of her parents which led to her family being divided between two different continents. She had a taste of two different worlds living in Lebanon with her family on a dairy farm on the foothills of Mount Sannine during the war and on the other side having an American mother discovering fast food and tinned soup in the States.

She grew up to be a glamorous lady who enjoys nice shoes but isn't afraid of trowing them aside to walk through the dust to pick some fruit. She will always try to cook for you - feeding you is what she loves the most.
As I wrote in my post about my other friends book, reading a book from someone you know is a special thing. So here we are together with a bunch of foodies, celebrating a virtual cookbook launch for Beth's book. The books arrived just in time and we all chose a recipe to cook. I went for the Date Fudge. It is a gorgeous book filled with intriguing food, and beautiful photography by another talented friend Sarka Babicka. A must have, a book to enjoy.

Recipe extracted with permission from The Jewelled Kitchen  by Bethany Kehdy, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London

Date Fudge

Serves 4

100g Walnut halves, plus 55 g walnuts roughly chopped
500g dried pitted dates
300g unsalted butter
300g plain flour
50 g icing sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 ground cardamon
a pinch of salt
55g pistachios (I didn't find unsalted ones)
55g almonds

1. Toast the walnut halves in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and fragrant, shaking the pan often.

2. Stuff a toasted walnut into each date and then pack them tightly in a 20 cm baking tin, 3 cm deep.

3. Melt the butter in a deep heavy-based saucepan over a medium- low heat, then add the flour, icing sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and salt and stir constantly for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture resembles a smooth golden caramel.

4. Pour the mixture over the dates and smooth out with the back of a metal spoon. Leave to set for 20 minutes.

5. Grind the walnut pieces, pistachios and almonds separately using a pestle and mortar. Sprinkle a thin layer of pistachios over the top of the fudge, then one of walnuts and finally almonds, then repeat until all the nuts have been used. Press the nuts down with your hands so that they stick to the fudge. Leave to cool completely, then, using a sharp knife, cut into small squares or diamonds to serve.