I've been visiting my food-obsessed family in London since the mid-90s. Our trips always included fresh, flavorful meals at immaculate Lebanese shawarma and juice joints on the bustling Middle-Eastern enclave of Edgeware Road. On a recent visit, I had been lamenting the lack of amazing Lebanese food in the States to my father, so he bought what turned out to be the perfect cookbook for me at a Notting Hill bookstore, Books for Cooks--the now (sadly) out-of-print Seductive Flavours of the Levant.
Though it is virtually unknown in the United States, Nada Saleh's superlative collection explains regional home cooking from Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. The term Levant refers roughly to the Eastern Mediterranean, where the author spent considerable time in home kitchens, capturing this lesser-known cuisine. Saleh's food is bright and citrusy, benefiting from loads of fresh lemon juice, tart sumac, warm spices such as cinnamon, clove, and allspice, and fresh herbs like mint, parsley, and cilantro. The result is a flavor palette that is both satisfying and healthful. My favorite recipes introduced me to unique, decidedly Middle-Eastern techniques: Djaj bi Basal wa Sumac, a lemony, perfumed chicken dish, uses a fragrant stock to temper lemon and sumac; Khosaf al Rumman, a revelatory pomegranate and nut dessert, is infused with delicate orange blossom water. The food takes effort, but it's absolutely worth it.