Why buy it?
Thumbing through the 150 recipes, one can almost imagine being welcomed into the kitchen by the Anthony sisters. Three pairs of arms would shoot outwards, simultaneously beckoning you in for an embrace while pushing a plate of warm and golden kibbi shells into your chest. If you’ve ever had the fortune of being a guest at a Lebanese feast, it’s not hard to imagine how the sisters’ hospitality might extend to lessons on folding spinach turnovers and keeping the sugar syrup from burning. It’s this radiant culture of sharing food and knowledge that gives this cookbook its warm tone. The three sisters steer your hand through the chapters, from stuffed vegetables to savoury pastries, waggling a finger as a reminder to keep the spinach stalks aside for the salad. There’s nothing overly finessed about the way these recipes are presented, they’re simply plated and written as an open invitation to enjoy them; it’s only a shame more of them aren’t photographed. The Original Lebanese Cookbook is just the place to begin a journey into the sweet and heavily fragrant world of Arabic cooking.
The recipes are absolutely achievable, even if your experience with Lebanese cooking is limited to opening a tub of supermarket hummus. You’ll find many of the ingredients are familiar and already in your pantry, too.
Kaak b’tamar wa jowz (date walnut delights). These could not be easier to make and could not be any more suited to a strong cup of ahweh (Lebanese coffee), the recipe of which you’ll also find in here.
Most surprising dish
Kibbi nayye (kibbi eaten raw). There’s a whole chapter on kibbi, the ubiquitous ground mutton and burghul mixture, in The Original Lebanese Cookbook, but to the uninitiated home cook, eating this raw may take some convincing.
In a culture privileged enough to eat what we like and when we like, it pays to remember that not so long ago – and still for many cultures – abundance was a luxury. Unfortunately, it seems we’ve become somewhat ambivalent about wastefulness, but it makes good economic sense to use every last bit of an animal or vegetable wherever possible. The three sisters guide us to stretching an ingredient to feed as many hungry mouths as possible.
Those who are looking for a solid grounding in Lebanese cooking. There’s also a chapter of vegetarian and vegan recipes.
The Original Lebanese Cookbook by Dawn, Elaine and Selwa Anthony (Allen & Unwin, $39.99, hbk).