This breezy cookbook (256 pages) was published in April of 2015 by Running Press Adult. The book takes you to a Lebanese kitchen. Melissa read Rose Water and Orange Blossoms and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Maureen is Lebanese-American. She grew up eating Lebanese food cooked by Sitto, the Arabic for grandmother. In this charming, practical book, she shares delightful stories about her family’s relationship with food, her life-changing trip to Lebanon, and her formidable Sitto.
All the greatest hits of Lebanese food are here, and family stories are woven into every recipe, beginning with the ubiquitous and essential laban (yogurt). ‘The story goes that [Sitto] didn’t want the marriage, didn’t want to go to the United States, and didn’t want to leave the boy she was in love with in Lebanon behind. She cried rivers, but in the end, entered the arrangement, got on a boat, and started a new life. I think of the laban as her safety blanket, her piece of home.’ That poignant story flows into a short essay with practical advice for making your own homemade yogurt.
Helpful tips, grounded in Abood’s personal experience and cooking school training, are sprinkled throughout the pages, like how to seed a pomegranate or how to choose the best grape leaves for stuffing. It’s all very amiable, and the way she talks about sharing food with the people she loves will make you very hungry.
Now, the recipes: There’s toum, the seemingly magical sauce made with lots of garlic, olive oil, and ice water that you can eat on everything. Her recipe for whipped hummus with minced lamb is like eating a hummus cloud. There are nibbles for a meze platter, like warm dates with almonds and lime zest or potato salad with lemon and mint.
She also goes deep into different types of kibbeh — that’s ground meat, usually lamb, mixed with spices and bulghur wheat and cooked in different ways. It can be baked, fried in butter, or eaten raw, like the Lebanese version of steak tartare.
There’s also a foolproof recipe for homemade pita bread with just the right pocket puff. And the desserts: date-stuffed cookies, rice pudding with dried cherries and pistachios, and the grand poobah: baklava.
This book’s design is the equivalent of a bright, airy café, and it’s very usable and practical for the Western kitchen: the instructions are clear, and the ingredients are easy to find. Even better, Abood’s stories will make you feel like you have a helpful Sitto by your side in the kitchen.
Sitto loved to tease and laugh and poke fun. She’d nod to me as I scored and cut through her crisp, fragrant baklawa with a knife so dull it must have never been sharpened (but was used so much she never put it away, leaning it on the side of the sink instead), and tsk me into toughening my hands to pull charred eggplant for baba gannouj from the oven bare.
Sitto reached in there with adept fingers that met no heat they couldn’t take, and got her well-chosen (firm, not too big) eggplant going. She flipped it barehanded; she pulled it out with bare hands, and sort of threw it onto the kitchen counter as if to say: ‘Take that, you hot smoky eggplant. I am Sitto, and I am in charge.’ — Maureen Abood
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