I WAS 23 years previous the primary time I tasted sticky toffee pudding. An American in London working for the BBC, I used to be pulling in a single day shifts and, on my days off, blearily exploring the town alone. One uncooked, grey day, I ducked right into a pub and determined cake smothered in toffee sauce was simply the factor to brighten my outlook. The steaming pudding turned out to be tooth-achingly candy, however its energy to consolation, even coddle, was simple. The Brits don’t name it nursery meals for nothing.
The reality is I at all times preferred the concept of sticky toffee pudding higher than the true factor. So I used to be intrigued to search out an adaptation in a brand new cookbook on Arab delicacies, “The Arabesque Desk” (Phaidon). Its creator, Reem Kassis, additionally found sticky toffee pudding throughout a stint in London. Her model provides creamy tahini to the cake and replaces among the sugar within the toffee sauce with a dollop of brilliant date molasses and extra tahini. It’s a grown-up, refreshing twist on the British basic that nonetheless preserves the childlike pleasures of the unique.
Refreshing can also be the most effective phrase to explain Ms. Kassis’s e-book, which arrives in an period when the meals world is engaged in a livid, usually infuriating debate about who “owns” sure meals and even who has the proper to prepare dinner them. Is fried hen a Southern dish or an African American one? Can a white chef who studied in Thailand put himself ahead as an knowledgeable on Thai meals? For that matter, is it unsuitable for a Palestinian author to mess with sticky toffee pudding—or an American one to declare that model an enchancment on the unique?
Ms. Kassis isn’t tired of the place these traces ought to fall. Her earlier e-book, “The Palestinian Desk,” was her effort to document, and outline as Palestinian, dishes she grew up consuming which are usually referred to hazily as Center Japanese or typically, incorrectly, as Israeli. In distinction, “The Arabesque Desk” zooms out, inspecting each the historical past and the evolution of Arab dishes, suggesting one other, richer method to understanding meals. “No delicacies is a straight line stretching infinitely again in time,” she writes in her introduction. “If there’s one factor I would like this e-book to convey, it’s that we’re at all times shifting ahead, studying from others, adapting and evolving.”
That is true of so many dishes whose historical past we expect we all know. Steamed milk puddings corresponding to Italy’s panna cotta or French blanc mange, Ms. Kassis factors out, have roots in Arab milk puddings referred to as muhallabiyeh, recorded way back to the Tenth-century cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh (although early variations additionally included meat, sheep’s tail fats and bread). In the meantime, most of the elements of maqlubeh, the basic Palestinian upside-down rice dish, usually are not even native to the Levant. Eggplants arrived from Asia and tomatoes weren’t extensively utilized in Palestinian cooking till the nineteenth century. “Does that make maqlubeh any much less Palestinian? Completely not,” Ms. Kassis informed me. “Meals may be essential to a nationwide identification at the same time as we acknowledge the cross-cultural journey it took to get there.”