Written by the Chef Patron of Comptoir Libanais, this book shares some of his favourite Arabic Recipes, celebrating the generous Middle Eastern Culture.
The book begins with a charming, charismatic autobiographical insight as to how Kitous became involved with food and this history behind his obvious passion. From humble beginnings, Kitous gained his love of food from his Mother’s simple home cooking using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients to create meals which were the hub of family life and generous hospitality. The recipes to follow reflect how the sharing of food is integral to bringing people together be it friends or family.
Most recipes centre upon dishes which can be shared en masse, from Mezze & dips to feast style mains. The book is thoughtfully laid out, divided into clear sections which work their way from Breakfasts & Breads through Main Courses to Desserts & Drinks with helpful subdivisions.
To Start, the helpful introduction to The Middle Eastern Store cupboard explains some of the basic ingredients central to Arabic cooking many of which are used in the recipes to follow. Thankfully nothing is too ‘way out’ and if you are vaguely interested in cooking you will probably find you have a large proportion of them anyway.
The Breakfast section, whilst being an eye opener wasn’t so appealing for me. The dishes were either quite meat based (Scrambled Eggs With Lamb & Courgettes) or quite sweet (Labneh & Caramelised Banana Wrap), neither of which are my go to flavours at breakfast. This is a personal opinion though and many of the dishes I might consider for dessert or main course ideas.
The Mezze & Dip Section, whilst extensive, didn’t really offer anything novel. Various Hommos & Labneh recipes interjected with Tahini based dips and spiced potatoes didn’t offer anything new. Not that there was anything wrong with the dishes themselves. I did however learn that Falafel are best made not with cooked chickpeas, but with dried chickpeas soaked overnight to give a better texture to the overall product. A tip which I am keen to experiment with.
The Salads & Vegetables section is where this book began to take off. Sharing salads using vegetables, beans & pulses offered interesting combinations and spice blends, such as the Beetroot, Fig & Feta Salad.
The Roasts & Grills section, again didn’t really float my boat, purely because they all seemed a bit stuck in the ’90s, but that could just be because I spend my life reading up about food. I did however take away a lot of ideas from the Fish & Seafood section with dishes such as Baked Bream with Tahina Sauce and My Mum Zohra’s Fried Sardines setting my creative juices alive. I made the mentioned sardine dish and it was indeed, delicious, the recipe being well thought out and easy to follow.
The Soups and Stews section offered some lovely ideas for warming Autumnal & Winter dishes, Such as a Lentil & Lemon Soup.
Back in line with my general consensus of the book, The Grains & Pulses Section seemed a bit tired and failed to offer anything new. My quirky side was however inspired by the Desserts & Drinks section which offered interesting combinations such as Shredded Filo & Cheese Pudding with a Rose-Honey Syrup and Sweet Potato & Tahina Pudding, both of which I am eager to test out.
To summarise, this for me is a book of two halves. I really wanted to love it, and whilst a few recipes stood out, it really didn’t excite me enough. It could be because it seems quite meat focused. Also the photography fails to make the dishes look fresh, giving the food a ‘heavy’ feel.
If you are very meat orientated and enjoy sweet foods then I guess this book would be right up your street but for any vegans or vegetarians there are only a few dishes which might appeal.