Some cookbooks, to state the obvious, are a lot more ambitious than others. There are the books, stacks of them, that arrive with dismaying frequency — slight kitchen novellas, cheerful recipe boxes — and whose shelf lives are as short as the time it likely took to produce them. Not so with Anissa Helou’s new cookbook, her ninth, a stately encyclopedia of a book that runs over 500 pages, catalogs more than 300 recipes and the scope of which is breathtaking.
“Feast: Food of the Islamic World,” published in May by Ecco, begins in, well, the beginning, with the birth of Islam around AD 610. As Helou sets both the stage and the table, you begin to realize that the feast before you will encompass nearly 1,500 years, through countries and caliphates, desert caravans and palace kitchens.