I met Anissa Helou about 2 years ago. I found out she was going to be in Dallas to do a baking demonstration based on her latest book Savory Baking from the Mediterranean at the Central Market store. I drove 45 minutes to meet her. I found her there, tall and regal, calm and very friendly, without an ounce of haughtiness or pretentiousness. I felt like a groupie! I told her how much I had loved her book Lebanese Cuisine and how I had called my mother in Beirut to tell her to get a copy as well. We talked for a few minutes and she asked me how was my Arabic! She showed me a Tunisian specialty that she had just finished preparing that looked like our samboosek. She also mentioned that she was organizing culinary tours the following summer to Syria and Lebanon. I later saw photos of her tour when my neighbor brought me a copy of Food & Wine magazine and they had an article on Miss Helou and her tour. Wow! I really wanted to go!!
What I liked about this book:
- This is a serious book. What this means is that the recipes are all tested and work. One example: My mother had been telling me about this new way that people in Beirut had devised to make ashta, using American-style white bread. I was in disbelief at first, until I found the method in Anissa’s book. I tried it and it gave me a wonderful ashta, lighter than the original but with a very similar texture.
- It is an excellent reference book: almost all the recipes are what Lebanese-born have experienced in their household growing up. These are the recipes of Lebanese mothers and grandmothers, such as the mehshis, both vegetarian and with meat, the kibbes, the fattet, the mukhallalat, the pastries that could be made at home such as the ma’karoon, atayef, ma’mool, etc
- It is a book that is specifically geared to the home cook, with most of the recipes serving 4 people.
- It is a book which uses specific and detailed instructions, minimizing the potential for failures.
What I did not like about this book:
- For those of us who really like a cookbook to have a lot of photos, this one has only 8 full-page photos in the middle section of the book. So, if you have never cooked Lebanese food before, you are on your own as far as how the dish is supposed to look like!
As a conclusion, this is a book I keep close at hand and consult frequently especially when I don’t remember a specific technique or certain ratios in a recipe. I strongly recommend it.
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