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Salma Hage notes that Middle-Eastern cuisine is inherently mostly vegetarian - as a result the region's food provides a great opportunity for those of us who want to cut down on meat but not compromise on flavour. Many recipes are traditional, some classic dishes incorporating meat have been adapted to be vegetarian, and there are some 'fusion' recipes which make use of such non-authentic ingredients as avocado, quinoa and cranberries. Overall the spirit remains Middle Eastern. Where recipes are vegan or gluten free this is indicated. Where not, for many of these a footnote gives alternatives as to how it can be made vegan or gluten free.
The main division is into drinks, breakfast, dips & mezzes, salads, vegetables, legumes & grains, desserts. Ms Hage has written several pages of introduction putting the dishes into cultural context. There is a glossary of ingredients and a few basic recipes for making your own tahini, labneh, Lebanese 7-spice, za'atar and tomato paste. Most recipes are suitable for, and many perhaps even demand, mezze style eating rather than a single dish making a meal, so good for sharing or else to keep some back in the fridge to eat next day. According to the back cover there are over 140 recipes, more than enough to create almost innumerable mezze combinations in a single meal.
Despite the fact that Ms Hage is London-based, like her previous book this is written first and foremost for the American market, so language is Americanese (zucchini, eggplant, scallions, cilantro, fava beans), measurements are given in cups (which is of course different to imperial cups, which although not commonly used anymore could cause confusion) though they are also supplied in pounds/ounces and grams in parentheses, and oven temperatures given first in Farenheit and then by Centigrade and Gas Mark. Quantities made or number of people served are given for each recipe along with preparation and cooking times. One improvement on the earlier book is that the instructions are divided into paragraphs to break down into clearer steps rather than the single block of text in that previous work, Recipes are generally one to a page with a full page colour photograph of the finished dish opposite (or occasionally several mezze type dishes are grouped into a single photograph). If you were wondering about the cover photograph, it is the juices left over from a dish of beetroot and labneh - the back cover shows a photograph of the full plate - odd decision I would have thought, personally I would have put the full dish on the front and empty plate on the back.
Good balance between taste, preparation time and healthy ingredients. I have tried more than 10 recipes and they mostly turned out good or very good. Reminds me of Ottolenghi’s Plenty, but more focused on Lebanese cooking. The menu is overlapping though - four different kibbeh recipes, four falafel recipes, three hummus recipes, the baba ganoush recipe is almost identical to the eggplant dip, etc. Comes across as if the author struggled with coming up a diverse menu. Not excited about replacing bulgur dishes with quinoa.
This book definitely has tasty recipes. Especially the spicy tahini dressing on veggies has been a big hit. But there are 2 things that bother me: 1. At least one recipe is erroneously marked gluten free (wheat berry porridge). So I would definitely check the recipe thoroughly and not just rely on the little symbols. 2. The bean recipes are based on canned beans. I think it would be fine to offer the canned beans as an option but then give the recipe with actually cooking the beans. For example the lentil and bean soup: The directions state to cook the lima beans, black-eyed peas and green lentils "as directed on each package". And then to use them in the soup recipe. One plus is that the author does give the amounts of dried beans you would need and tells you to soak them overnight.