Taste of Beirut. Joumana Accad. Book Review

http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Beirut-Delicious-Lebanese-Contemporary/dp/0757317707

After regaling us these past several years with her blog, Taste of Beirut, Joumana Accad has recently published a cookbook of her favorite native Lebanese dishes in a book also named Taste of Beirut. Getting past her relatively small repertoire and several somewhat repetitive pictures and compositions, I applaud Joumana Accad’s philosophy of food and the resulting gorgeous dishes she shares with us: Far from trying to impress anyone with blockbuster recipes or images, she accomplishes precisely the opposite, which is great news for us, the home cooks, whose corner she is resolutely in: Unapologetically simple, wholesome, sizzling fresh and natural, eminently doable, wherever you happen to be, however harried you might be. She expresses perfectly that nostalgia is so accessible, so easily satisfied, when it comes to food. Don’t wax lyrical about your favorite ethnic foods: Make them!

Joumana Accad knows a thing or two about making exciting dishes without ever making you go out of your way: Plebeian ingredients, glorious dishes that all look like spot-on street foods you can enjoy right at your table. She starts with simple basic sauces, dips, spreads and spice mixtures, and uses them as natural building blocks for many of her dishes (garlic paste, tahini sauce, red pepper walnut dip, yogurt sauce, zaatar, to name just a few). These basics become such integral part of your pantry you will want to have them on hand at all times, not only to follow her recipes, but to take them places for your own repurposed dishes, or to just enjoy as is, mopped up with chunks of her delicious flatbreads.

Joumana Accad leaves the names of almost all her dishes deceptively simple, as if to reinforce even further her desire to express that simple, unfussy and fresh is the absolute best way to go. I’ll bet you didn’t think of whipping up dishes like Pasta with Yogurt Sauce (yogurt, tahini, garlic, pine nuts); oven-baked omelet;  green wheat and lamb pilaf; Swiss Chard Dip; Falafel loaf (no frying: Yay! I’m trying that asap); stuffed pumpkin (ditto).

The dessert selection is somewhat scant, with a couple selections erring on the sweet side (spiced pudding sounds intriguing, with half the sugar listed); some other sound positively outrageous: The oatmeal cookies (making them); molasses cake; halvah chocolate bars (must make them for my daughter who goes gaga for all things halva); anise rings (I pray this recipe finally turns some recalcitrant American palates onto anise). I marveled at a recipe laconically titled “cream”, an ersatz of pure cream using bread, milk and cornstarch.

Wishing Joumana Accad much success and Bonne Chance!

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