Saha by Lucy and Greg Malouf

May 11, 2009  • 

Bookcover

 

I have a weakness for beautiful coffee table cookbooks. This one is particularly well done. The photographs are superb. The text is very well written and although this is supposed to be a cookbook it feels more like a documentary. One of the authors is Australian-born Lebanese of immigrant parents and a chef in Melbourne. The co-author is his ex-wife who is English. 


WHAT I LIKED:

  • Superb photography by Matt Harvey. I actually bought the book because I was so attracted by the photographs. They are full page and really show a flair for communicating the light, colors, architecture and general atmosphere of the area.
  • Excellent prose: the writer gives very accurate descriptions, making you feel like you were there. The book is divided into sections such as ” A day in Gemmayzeh ” (artsy Beirut neighborhood) with soup recipes, or “The butchers of Baalbeck” for meat mezzes. I loved the articles on the local artisans such as the Ghosn brothers and their arak factory, or the folks who farm and export the wonderful Lebanese pine nuts.

WHAT I DID NOT LIKE:

  • It is contradictory: the book is the result of the author’s quest for his Lebanese roots, yet most of the recipes are not very traditional. So, you are left wondering if he truly cares about Lebanese cuisine, or does he want to show off his take on it?
  • I found inaccuracy: for example, there is a recipe for manoushi bread with cheese that mentions ackawi as a blue cheese. Now, it is my understanding for having bought it and used it many times over that ackawi or akkawe is very similar to mozzarella! 
  • For a chef who suppposedly wants to show off his roots I did not see much evidence of it. Case in point, the book is replete with recipes such as” sour cherry mascarpone sorbet” or “duck fatayer”or “rabbit hotpot with black pepper, ginger and cinnamon”or “confit salmon tarator”. I did not see any effort in showing the traditional techniques or flavors.

CONCLUSION:

This book is a good investment if, like me, you are feeling nostalgic and want to see beautiful pictures of a much loved homeland. However, if you are looking for traditional recipes, forget it!

Comments

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  1. Arlette says:

    Marhaba Joumana

    Thanks for your information and feed back about this book…

    I wonder if the author is trying to show his talent in showing a new version on a traditional recipe????

    As you said its bad to give wrong information, specially many people knows the Lebanese cuisine and the food of Lebanon.

    • Joumana says:

      Well, Arlette, I got a really interesting comment from Emmanuelle. She says that Greg Malouf is a famous chef who is known for his creative use of middle-eastern ingredients.
      The book is beautiful to read and look at and the recipes seem delicious; however, they are not authentic or traditional!

  2. Emmanuelle says:

    Hi Joumana,

    Thank you for this book review. I too bought Saha mostly for its travelogue aspect, and I have to say that I for one quite enjoy the recipes.

    Greg Malouf is famous in Australia for putting a contemporary, innovative twist on North African and Middle Eastern cooking. So indeed, he is showcasing his creativity through these recipes, rather than trying to teach the traditional ways.

    I find his approach interesting, but then again I love anything creative. Don’t get me wrong, though, I am all for preserving, teaching and passing on traditional recipes – I am originally from France so you can bet that I was taught proper reverence for culinary traditions from a young age!

    It is a shame that there are some factual errors in Saha, however – thanks for pointing that out.

    What other cookbooks would you recommend to those who want to learn traditional Lebanese recipes? (I have one that I love, but it is in French and I do not think it was ever translated into English)

    Emmanuelle

    PS: If you like Asian food, you would probably enjoy “Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet” by J. Alford & N. Duguid. Same concept as Saha – a mix between travel book and cookbook, beautiful photos of the Mekong region – but as far as I can tell, the recipes do stick to the traditional version quite closely.

    What other cookbooks

    • Joumana says:

      Emmanuelle
      I appreciate your remarks. Thank you. I guess my perspective is different because I see traditions melting away and I really wish we could hold on to them in Lebanon. That being said, I am sure Greg Malouf is a very artistic chef; he has showcased it quite well in this book. I am planning to review more Lebanese cookbooks, including the ones in French and Arabic. In English, I think Anissa Helou has done a superb job of exposing homestyle Lebanese cooking. Check her book out. Des livres en langue francaise, j’aime bien celui d’Ibrahim Mouzannar.

  3. Emmanuelle says:

    Thank you very much for these recommendations Joumana, I look forward to your future reviews!

    I will definitely look for Anissa Helou’s book – at the moment I am mostly cooking from “Le mezze libanais” by Rudolf El-Kareh, plus a few traditional recipes that I picked up in Beirut, and I would love to broaden my repertoire.

    I really appreciate your contribution to preserving and passing on the Lebanese culinary traditions. I would be very interested in hearing more of your thoughts and concerns on this subject.

    Merci!
    Emmanuelle

  4. Leyla says:

    Hello ,
    This is the book that I use, it was the best seller in maarad el kitab in Beirut .
    What is interesting about it is the use of cups and spoons as measure instead of the metric system.
    http://www.amazon.com/Alef-Bae-Al-Tabekh-Muasa/dp/9953931542/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1249269390&sr=1-1

  5. Tamara says:

    Joumana,

    So happy to have found your website! I am Australian married 20+ short years to a gorgeous man from tripoli. We just relocated to Dallas. I have to say I learnt all the ‘traditional’ ways of preparing dishes with my mother in law and sister in law. However, I have since had to adapt some ways to reduce fat or carbs as we get older, live in the west & deal with issues like high cholesterol… I do respect also what Malouf is doing in Australia changing up the traditional cuisine. There are a million lovely little mataim and furin in both Melbourne and Sydney turning out very traditional lebanese food for first and second generation Lebanese and the many Australians who have grown to love this food. He is offering an adaptation to this wonderful soulful cuisine. I am reminded of a quote by another Lebanese chef in Melbourne “if you want a traditional Lebanese meal, stay at home, it is what you eat every day… here I am giving you something new….” Experimentation is how a language, a culture a cuisine grows. Not everything will work, and some should NEVER see the light of day.. but something, just maybe may work out to be even better than before! Keep up the great work… I admire you! Any tips on where to find good lahme bajin / manoush here?? 🙂
    txxx

  6. dl lyons says:

    I have a request of Emmanuelle.
    In May 2009, on the Taste of Beirut site you mention a cookbook that you love of Lebanese Recipes in the French language.
    I would greatly appreciate if you would send me the name and author as I would like to get it as a gift to some French Canadian friends of Lebanese heritage.

    Again, many thanks for your consideration.

    Donna Lee Lyons

    • Joumana says:

      I can think of several; one is by Ibrahim Mouzannar La Cuisine Libanaise; the other one is out of print. There is a cookbook that is very successful and trendy that is called La Cuisine Libanaise d’Hier et d’Aujourd’hui, d’Andrée Maalouf et Karim Haidar; it is a contemporary take on traditional Lebanese cuisine.

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