Book review: The Lebanese Kitchen

25 January 2013
Book review: The Lebanese Kitchen

The Lebanese Kitchen By Salma Hage
Phaidon Press, £29.95

This is a big book: 500 pages, 500 recipes and lots of nice pictures. It is similar in scope to The Silver Spoon, which covers just about everything in the Italian repertoire, much as this does with the Lebanon. The result is more reference book than short inspirational read.

A good working knowledge of Lebanese cooking terminology will also be a help. Za'atar, for example, is a reasonably frequent ingredient but not explained. I believe it is a sumac, sesame and oregano spice mix but, as Michael Caine might say, not many people know that.

The recipes are divided into sections and start with mezze, all the exquisite little dishes that make Lebanese, north African and Middle Eastern meals such a treat. A fine and straightforward hummus recipe moves on to some interesting variations with things like pumpkin and coriander or beetroot. The staples are all here: baba ganoush and tabouli, likewise falafel and bulgur salads. Butternut squash wedges, roasted with herbs and olive, then drizzled with a tahini, lemon and garlic sauce, sounded like it would work perfectly and taste great.

The fish and meat sections have plenty of inspiring combinations, such as chicken livers with lemon and pomegranate seeds or shoulder of lamb braised in yogurt. Puds are all the sticky stuff you expect: baklava and Turkish delight plus one or two interesting ideas with pistachios, especially a pancake dish with pistachio and orange flower water filling.

There is a small section on pickles and jams, quince preserve, date and honey jam, that sort of thing, and a really good selection of guest chef recipes from people like Australian chef Greg Malouf, who made a name for himself in this country during his brief stint at Petersham Nurseries, and Anissa Helou who has written impressive books on Lebanese food herself. Malouf's recipe for chickpea battered courgette flowers stuffed with goat's cheese and mint is like the essence of summer.

I did have reservations about this book. It has been written for and aimed at the US market, rather than ourselves. The recipes are for eggplant, cilantro and zucchini, snappers and flounders. There are English versions of the ingredients in brackets of course, but I felt this detracted from the pleasure. Similarly the recipes are in American cups, with metric as an afterthought. It's a fine book if these distractions don't bother you.

By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, the Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

If you like this, you might like these:
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon
, Claudia Roden
â- Saraban: A Chef's Journey Through Persia
, Greg Malouf
â- Lebanese Cuisine, 
Anissa Helou

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