Books & Literature

Book Review: Bayrut: The Cookbook, by Hisham Assaad

With stunning food and travel photography, this book will transport you to the cultural melting pot that is Beirut — a city that excels at mouth-watering food.

A gem for fans of Lebanese cuisine and total newbies alike.
4.5

Bayrut: The Cookbook is a journey into the culinary traditions of Lebanon. Complete with over 200 pages of recipes and an aesthetic that you’ll want to show off on your bookshelf, Hisham Assaad’s own archive of authentic Lebanese flavours is a gem for fans of the cuisine and total newbies alike.

The early pages set up the foundations for a simple understanding of what Lebanese cooking is, touching on the history and politics of the country, past and present. There’s a specific focus here on how the cuisine came to be and the traditions that shaped it.

Also included is A Few Cooking Notes on page 13, in which Assaad details the importance of enjoying the art of cooking: “… don’t forget to keep the nafas (breath) and put your heart and soul into what you’re preparing.”

The recipes are divided into sensible chapters showcasing Breakfast & Brunch, Street Food, Salads & Sides, Mains, Sunday Feast, Desserts, Drinks, and Basics. In particular, the Street Food chapter contains several alluring recipes, including Topped Lebanese Flatbreads (Manouche), Chicken Shawarma (Shawarma Djej), and Spinach Pies (Fatayer Sbenekh).

Whether your aim is to impress your friends with a fully-decked Lebanese spread or dip your toes in with a simple recipe, this book has you covered. There are plenty of options for meat-eaters and vegetarians, as well as those who sit on both sides of the tolerance scale for spicy food.

The matte paper gives the book a luxe feel, but you’ll want to be careful of splashes and spillages if reading while you cook. The stunning artwork and travel photography are too beautiful to ruin.

For this review, I chose two dishes that I’ve eaten and loved in Lebanese restaurants, and my favourite Middle Eastern sweet.

BAKERY-STYLE PITA BREAD – KHEBZ AARABI (PAGE 39) + GRILLED KEBABS WITH PARSLEY & ONION SALAD – KABAB MESHWE W BIWAZ (PAGE 149)

Yum. Yum, yum, yum. For a carb-junkie like myself, this bread is warm fluffy heaven. It was so dreamy that I could have eaten the entire recipe’s worth alone, on its own with no accompaniments. But I paired it with the kebabs, which made a perfect match.

If you take out the rising and resting time, it didn’t take long to make this bread at all, and the recipe was straightforward. The mixture was particularly easy to work with, without being too sticky or too dry. I cooked my bread in a hot dry frying pan, but the recipe suggests using the oven as an alternative. I also opted not to use sugar and found that they weren’t lacking in any flavour.

The kebabs were delicious and tasty without being overwhelmingly rich or spicy. I used a griddle pan and suspect they would taste even better on the barbecue. The meat was soft and actually sometimes fell off the skewer during the preparation process. Otherwise, though, they were a dream to assemble and cook. I couldn’t find red pepper paste at my local supermarket so I used red chili sliced and preserved in oil. I didn’t rub the chili on the bread as the recipe suggests, since there was enough bite already.

I never thought that I would enjoy eating raw onions but the parsley salad was delicious with the meat and bread. Sumac is my new favourite spice!

WALNUT BAKLAVA – HADEF (PAGE 178)

Baklava is one of those desserts that looks too tricky to master. But this was my first attempt and, thanks to Assaad’s easy-to-follow recipe, it actually wasn’t a disaster! The filo pastry was all cracked when I remove it from the box and tried to unfold it—probably my fault. Still, I managed to piece it together and assemble the baklava according to the recipe, which was time-consuming but worth it. This dessert is seriously sweet, so a little goes a long way. But it ended up being a good thing that so much was left over as I got to discover that it actually tastes even better the next day!

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: October 2021
RRP: $55

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

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