Simply Lebanese, by Ina’am Atalla

I  first saw  Mrs. Atalla on a television show a few years ago.  Chef Ramzi, a famous Lebanese chef, was touring the world meeting Lebanese expats and immigrant restaurateurs  and this was filmed during his  weekly thirty-minute documentary.

This particular episode took place in London and while Chef Ramzi was interviewing Mrs. Atalla in her  Lebanese restaurant, she mentioned  that she was working on a cookbook.  I saw it sold in bookstores in Beirut the following summer and  grabbed it.

What I liked about this cookbook:

  • Beautiful color photographs (about 50) interspersed throughout the book. Having struggled with Lebanese food photo rendering, I was able to appreciate the fine treatment of hard-to-photograph dishes like stuffed carrots and stuffed zucchini in yogurt sauce.
  • The size and weight of the book, about a standard letter size, with 236 pages;  perfect to leaf through or  carry into a kitchen, not heavy.
  • This is a good, rather generic, book on traditional Lebanese cuisine with easy-to-follow recipes that will provide a good introduction to this cuisine.
  • A short section of the book provides conversion tables, a list of necessary equipment and a list of common spices and condiments in the Lebanese pantry, as well as some suppliers in the London area.
  • A section that contains 19 recipes for basic sauces and foods such as pickles, dressings, and the ubiquitous syrup.
  • A section with 11 recipes for soups,  followed by a section for mezzes including recipes for dishes that are very popular in Lebanon but not well-known in the West such as lamb brains, tongues or kidneys and sweetbreads; (of course falafel, hummus and tabbouleh are all included). Recipes for savory pastries such as sambousek and  fatayer, as well as a few recipes for kibbeh, including one of her own creations kibbeh makhtoum, created at the request of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Makhtoum, which is a basic lamb kibbeh with a vegetarian stuffing.
  • A section on homestyle traditional dishes, such as chicken with mouloukhieh, stuffed chicken and rice, stuffed zucchini, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. A recipe for the Palestinian dish, mousakhan as well as one for stuffed turkey.
  • A section on fish, with eight recipes both classic and innovative, such as the traditional samke harra and the creative fish fatayer.
  • A section on traditional rice dishes such as the famous mansaf (lamb and yogurt stew), makloubet bitijan (a rice, lamb and eggplant casserole) and others.
  • Finally a section on grilled meats, with classics such as shish taouk (chicken in a garlic marinade), and lamb kebabs.
  • A desserts chapter offers a dozen classic recipes such as muhallabiya, ma’amoul, nammoura as well as one recipe for a rich carrot cake named express passion cake (with carrots, banana, pineapple and walnuts).
  • The very last section of the book entails a pita bread recipe as well as some classic Lebanese flatbread recipes such as sfeeha and zaatar man’oushe as well as some traditional drinks such as coffee and various juices and herbal teas.
  • The recipes are tested and work.

What I did not like about the book:

  • I found it odd that some recipes,  like the hummus recipe, did not call for any garlic!
  • I was disappointed not to find a recipe for sambousek dough; instead Mrs. Atalla suggests using ready-made puff pastry.
  • There is no background information or a historical narrative for each recipe.

In conclusion, this is a good investment if you are interested in Lebanese cuisine; it is user-friendly and it is of chock-ful of excellent recipes; it is not exhaustive though and does not offer much in-depth cultural or background information, other than a few paragraphs at the beginning of the book related to the mezze tradition.

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21 Comments

  1. Georges
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    The definitive book will always be Madelain Farah’s Lebanese Cuisine published in 1971.

  2. Posted July 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Great review. I’m on a self-imposed cookbook hiatus, but need to learn more about this region, so might have to at least start browsing. Cheers!

  3. Posted July 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    That’s a fair and great review. I do love the book cover.

  4. Posted July 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    A lovely looking book! Thanks for the tip.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  5. Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    This sounds like a good book…I have no Lebanese cookbooks…Would this one be a good one for me to seek out or do you recommend a different one?

  6. samir
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    great review but your right , hummos with no garlic!!! could this be a variation or mis-
    print ( i hope) and then to include the Palestian/Jordanian dishes of mousakhan , mansaf, maklouba in a book titled Simply Lebanese?…can this be bought here in the States? Id love to have you do the stuffed carrot recipe!

  7. Posted July 28, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Really like the likes and dislikes list!

  8. Posted July 28, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    I adore lebanese flavors so I’ll definitely have to look into getting this! Great review!

  9. Posted July 28, 2011 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Je suis toujours intéressée par la cuisine libanaise.
    Existe-t-il une version francophone?
    Toujours un plaisir de passer sur ton blog.
    A très bientôt;

  10. Joumana
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    @Samir: Do you know these Palestinian dishes are so popular, I totally understand including them; I have been hankering to do the carrot recipe for a while and now you are spurring me on!

  11. Joumana
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    @Nadji: Je ne sais pas s’il y a une version francophone; en France, il y a un livre qui a fait beaucoup de bruit. “La cuisine libanaise d’hier et d’aujourd’hui” une version moderne de la cuisine traditionnelle.

    @Bo: Sure, if you want an introduction to Lebanese and Middle-Eastern cuisine in general.

    @Samir: I agree, if a dish is known to be Palestinian then its origin should be acknowledged. I don’t see a ijjeh recipe in her book and from the way it is written I suspect the editors felt it was not exotic enough, but that is just a guess.

  12. Posted July 28, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Cool… you are my Lebanese cook book! No garlic in hummus? WHAAA?

  13. samir
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    thanks, I suppose your right they are so popular! but would hope she at least gives the Palestinians/Jordanians some credit… There is strong level of similarity between all Levantine countries but an author should try to keep the regional name ie mansaf= laban ummo or highlight the origins of the dish. Cant wait to see the struffed carrot recipe and does she also include a good ijjeh recipe?

  14. Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Since I use about 7-10 cloves of roasted garlic in my hummus, I can’t imagine a recipe without garlic either. Perhaps a misprint. The cover of the book is beautiful and I can imagine the other photography as well.

  15. Posted July 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Gasp. No garlic in hummus? That’s sacrilegious. Perhaps it’s a hummus recipe for dates. When are you coming up with your own cookbook? That’s one I would love to see and hold one day. :-)

  16. Posted July 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for introducing me to a book that I have not heard of. I need to see if Amazon carries it so I can add it to my wishlist of cookbooks.

  17. Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Overall, it sounds like a really fantastic book! Thanks for sharing your review with us, Joumana!

  18. Denny
    Posted February 11, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Like someone else said, your are my cookbook!
    Why don’t you make a cookbook of your one, you are the best
    It will be like a bible.

  19. Joumana
    Posted February 11, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    @Denny: A cookbook is in the works, thanks!

  20. aaishah naddaf
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    As an australian muslim revert, whos husband is lebanese i really.appreciate recipes and books on lebo cooking,ive never tasted a better cuisine variety,and i love to try new lebanese dishes.this looks like a good book for.beginners and pros,yet i agree that the hummus recipe isnt correct without garlic.thats what makes hummus hummus is it not?if anyone has other great lebanese dishes or recipes id be very interested in hearing from them.thankyou to all those who put their time and recipe experience for those online like myself! :-).and thanku joumana!

  21. Aboudi
    Posted August 24, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Hello, i eat kibbe b Bathenjan since 30 years, small kebbes stuffed with eggplant, walnuts, pomegranate molasses. thsi to say that the invention of veggie stuffed kibbe exist since before dubai was erected :)

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