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Model Beirut Recital
on 22 August 2014
I have been a fan of Lebanese food for many years - once even factoring a 24 hour stopover in Beirut to a flight schedule just to have an authentic Lebanese lunch.
I am prepared to take the authenticity of the recipes in The Lebanese Kitchen at face value, but I wonder whether the flavours are quite authentic. Perhaps it is just chance that the first recipes I have chosen were so heavy on seven-spice mixture and cinnamon, but it tends to make the food taste rather samey and flat. The flavours I associate with Lebanon - especially cardamom and lemon juice - just don't seem to be there. Having said that, my family have enjoyed the end products.
The recipes I have followed (baba ganoush; spaghetti; lamb and aubergine stew; spinach and rice salad; lemon, lime and ginger drink) were straightforward and the inclusion of two ribbon placemarkers is useful, but the dense text, lack of paragraphing and the use of the dreaded "meanwhile" make it necessary to read the entire recipe quite carefully before starting out.
A further issue is that a good Lebanese meal focuses on many small mezze dishes, supplemented with dips, pickles, salads and the like. If you eat Lebanese food every day, you would presumably make these mezze in batches and stuff your fridge or freezer full of them. But if you are in a western kitchen and only occasionally want to eat Lebanese food, you'll either end up working many hours to create small quantities of many things, or you'll end up going down a western route of starter, main course and pudding. That's not the fault of the book, but may limit how effectively people are able to recreate their favourite Levantine restaurant in their own homes.
As a recipe book goes, this does what it sets out to do in a comprehensive and functional way. It is not over-cluttered with photos - most dishes are not illustrated. It does not have lots of photos of countryside or the author in front of endless exotic backdrops. This is a book for the kitchen, not the coffee table. That, alone, is a major selling point when so many cookbooks have been designed purely for decoration.
Did a houmus and broad bean dip that worked very well indeed. Waaaay nicer than bought houmus.
But then the book let me down with the rice with lamb and spinach. The recipe said preparation time of 20 minutes and cooking time of 30 minutes. Then, two thirds of the way through the cooking process (i.e. after 20 minutes), the recipe said cover and cook for 1 hour. Oops. The end result, an hour later than expected, was nice but like so many of these recipes it seemed very heavy on the cinnamon. And having now rad tested about 7 or 8 recipes, still not had to take the lid off the cardamom jar.