Middle Eastern Cookbooks
Four fresh takes on an ancient cuisine
Greg Malouf, formerly of MoMo, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, has made a career of adapting the food of his Lebanese childhood to a modern global palate. For instance, he combines kibbeh, a lamb and bulgar fritter, with mozzarella cheese for a pan-Mediterranean croquette. And he plays with other cuisines as well, seasoning his “Southern” fried chicken with South Asian ingredients such as turmeric, paprika, and coriander. Together with his former wife and co-author Lucy, he makes restaurant-quality dishes accessible with down-to-earth guidance doled out with a sense of charm and disarming modesty (that kibbeh recipe, for example, includes this reassuring note: “They are a little fiddly to make but with a bit of practice you can achieve a passable, if not exceptional, result”). Indeed, when I made Malouf’s lamb manoushi, a blend of vegetables and meat that’s pureed and fried, then crumbled over fresh hummus, it yielded the type of soulful yet refined cookery that has turned me into an instant fan of his cooking. For all his talk of passable results, this dish turned out to be exceptional.
This absorbing new memoir by cookbook writer Kitty Morse follows the author as she returns to her beloved Moroccan birthplace. We first meet up with her as she smuggles her British father’s ashes from London to Morocco–a place he also loved–then tag along while she painstakingly restores an ancient Berber castle he left her.
What makes the story particularly delicious, though, are the recipes that punctuate each chapter–hearty tagines, orange-blossom-scented desserts–all of which allow readers, through their sense of taste and smell, to accompany her along the way. The book reads like a novel, with yellowed family pictures, antique postcards, and arresting photos (taken by Morse’s husband) of contemporary Morocco, heightening the sense of adventure. Taking a break from reading, I headed to my kitchen to make her meltingly tender mrouziya–a honey and spice rubbed lamb shoulder. Within an hour my apartment was flooded with the sweet and spicy aromas of Morocco. As the lamb sizzled in the oven, I went back to the book, continuing on the journey.
Lebanese-born chef Salma Hage may have learned to cook professionally in England, but it all started in her family’s home kitchen. With this debut effort, she has canonized the dishes of her youth, giving us one of the most comprehensive guides to Lebanese cooking ever published–a 500-page volume, with the striking photography of Toby Glanville to boot. Before moving to England in 1967, Hage lived in a small Maronite Catholic village where she made simple rustic food from the bounty of the family garden: grilled zucchini and mint, roasted figs with almonds, and more. She returns there often, and her book reflects an intimacy with the cuisine. A recipe for a sesame loaf stuffed with deliciously salty halloumi cheese recommends baking until the bread “sounds hollow when tapped on the underside,” a folksy tip that yielded a fantastically crisp crust, and a light, airy crumb. An early section on basics–a quick tomato sauce, a za’atar seasoning blend–prepares home cooks for the more ambitious fare to come, including six variations on falafel, from traditional fava bean to carrot-cumin and cilantro-green chile, all showcasing Lebanese cooking in all its splendor.
I was delighted when dipping into Middle Eastern chef Suzanne Husseini’s new cookbook this past winter. So colorful were the flavorful dishes that unfurled before me–sliced grilled eggplant topped with ruby red pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and torn mint; a lemony tabbouleh as green as fresh-cut grass–that my winter doldrums immediately lifted. Husseini, who splits her time between Canada and Dubai, where she judges Top Chef Middle East, presents pan-Arab standards such as falafel and hummus alongside recipes with a Western influence like pistachio-crusted rack of lamb with tomato and arugula salad. The Palestinian-born author’s enthusiasm for sharing her culinary heritage materializes in accessible recipes requiring few ingredients. And the sumptuous photographs by Petrina Tinslay will inspire you to create dishes such as Husseini’s herb-filled cauliflower fritter and her chocolate cardamom cookies at home.