Now out in paperback version - see Saha: A Chef's Journey Through Lebanon and Syria
. Saha ("Cheers!" - the name comes from the Arabic toast to good health; in these regions it seems that even Islamic prohibitions don't stop people from enjoying an alcoholic spirit called arak) is a book of the same format as the Malouf's Turquoise
- part travelogue, part photo album, part recipe book.
As a result many of my criticisms of that other work also apply to this. However some of my peeves with that book are not so bad here. The dimensions of this book are considerably smaller so the bookself problem is not as great. The photography feels much more relevant - many of the photos are directly food related rather than just photos of old men sitting around smoking fags or kids in back streets, so although the photography still feels excessive in quantity it doesn't feel quite so totally irrelevant or obtrusive and can actually add to the food 'atmosphere'.
Some good recipes in here too. No middle eastern cookbook would be complete without muhammara, a red pepper, walnut and pomegranate dip which is the very ambrosia of the gods. There is also a version of this mixed with labneh (a thick yoghurt), but inexplicably doesn't describe a version mixed with tahini (which if I recall correctly from the excellent Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen
is a speciality of Aleppo).
We also have hummus with spiced sliced lamb, which I've only seen previously in Feast Bazaar
; sfiha - a kind of little pie with minced lamb served with pomegranate molasses and labneh; and slices of eggplant layered with halloumi and bastourma (a thinly sliced preserved beef - presumably similar to pastrami given the similarity of name) then coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
The zgorta style kibbeh (lamb and bulgur wheat shells with a filling) have been adapted here - the originals would have a filling of sheep's tail fat - to be filled with a pine nut and cinnamon butter.
Then how about quail stuffed with ma'ahani (a sausage meat) and baked in kataifi (a shredded pastry) with a feta and paprika sauce? Or musakhan spicy chicken baked wrapped in a parcel of flatbread with spinach, chickpeas and pine nuts?
Lamb shawarma sounds wonderful in its simplicity - leg of lamb barbecued in a spicy marinade then simply sliced and eaten wrapped up in warm flatbreads with herb salad, labneh or a yoghurt-tahini sauce. And slow roasted lamb with red pepper and pomegranate paste.
How about finishing off with 'Rose of Damascus', turkish delight ice cream with filo pastry flowers and toffeed strawberries?
Within my large collection of middle eastern cookbooks, there are several which I would value overall more highly than this work, but this is a good addition to my collection.