A Taste of Beirut by Joumana Accad
As an introduction to Lebanese food Joumana Accad's book provides both basic recipes and a wide selection of everyday and more special dishes, accompanied by some mouth-watering illustrations. I found it a leant a little heavily on the American experience of what was available and cooking terms, but it's easy enough to get ingredients over the internet these days if you don't live anywhere that sells Middle Eastern foods – for instance I was able to find the spice mix zaatar quite readily.
There are some American adaptations: for instance a po'boy sandwich, and I found the use of a pineapple a bit surprising in one dish. But there's plenty that's authentic even while allowing the use of canned chickpeas rather than the dried version, in recognition that not many households can spare someone to cook all day!
The book starts with a list of staples: breads, rice varieties, couscous etc with a guide to how they are used, before tackling the basic recipes that turn up as elements in many dishes: mint or coriander pestos, walnut sauce, garlic paste and so on (though I must admit to using garlic paste out of a tube rather than making it), with directions for how to keep an excess quantity so that you can make a batch rather than a single recipe's worth. Dough and basic meat pastes are included in this section, so by the end of it you’ve had a pretty good grounding in both ingredients and methods. I was pleased, too, to see my favourite pilaf here, ruz bel-sh’ariyeh, made with rice and vermicelli – it sounds plain, but it’s a superb accompaniment to a stew.
Breakfasts and snack foods (lunches, sandwiches, soups) come in the next chapters, before a fairly lengthy section on mezze, which seems an appropriate reflection of its importance in Lebanese cuisine. I found this a particularly attractive section and instantly wanted to start planning a party to share all these delicious recipes – I do like finger food!
Main courses next, and I have resolved to try making kibbeh again – Joumana’s instructions look much better than those in the recipe I followed last time, and she has a whole page of illustrations showing how to score it beautifully. Here I noticed a couple of concessions to western preferences for lower calorie foods which I approved of. I’m inspired by the roast turkey recipe (habash w-hashwet al-ruz) to try in this Christmas, served with spiced rice, nuts and chestnuts, and I needed no persuading that yakhnet-al-arnabeet (cauliflower stew) would be enjoyed by the family. Roasting a cauliflower does something quite wonderful to it.
I must admit to being less interested in puddings, as we don’t eat them much, and I found that many looked too sweet for my taste. It doesn’t matter though, there’s so much else in this book to try, and to enjoy. The author has a website, too, with more recipes.
My copy came courtesy of NetGalley.