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Claudia Roden is sometimes called a "culinary journalist," rather than a cookbook writer, and with her newest book, it's easy to see why. Arabesque comprises recipes from Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon, all countries that once were part of the Ottoman Empire. The differences between the three are subtle, but Roden sensitively details the history of each country and how it has shaped the way its citizens cook and eat.

While Roden effuses about the colors and scents, music and traditions of each country, she avoids making any overtly political statements about a region where bombs explode almost as often as amazing flavors. Arabesque is a terrific source for an unbiased historical understanding of the Middle East, but, more importantly, it's a fount of stunning recipes. (Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden; Knopf)