Want, Need and a Taste of Beirut

August 26, 2014

There are many things that we need to do; many of which many of us, would prefer not to do.  We need to drag ourselves out of bed in the morning, but at a time when most of us would prefer a tad more respite.  We need to go to work when we would prefer to play.  We need to pay taxes when we would prefer to spend the money on other things, like a pair of socks without holes.

There are also many things we want.  It might be a bigger house, a sportier car, a new wardrobe, a piece of jewelry or simply a no holds barred evening out with an elegant feast as the centerpiece.  Sooner or later, some food longing/memory appears on the list.

That is a wonderful thing about food; it is one of those rare things that can combine our wants and our needs.  We need to eat to live.  However, with the right approach we can live to eat and do it not only healthfully, but deliciously.  A great meal provides not only nutrition, feeding our body; but it tells a story, feeding our soul.  And great cookbook should not only provide us with great recipes, it should help us eat well and live better.

At a conjunction roughly akin to the appearance of Halley’s Comet, such a book comes along.  Taste of Beirut, by native Lebanese Joumana Accad is just such a narrative.  Ms. Accad was born and raised in Beirut before immigrating to the United States.  The book is lightly seasoned with pleasing anecdotes describing how this recipe is from a particular region, and how even in a country as small as Lebanon, there are distinct regional variations from the north to the south that are based upon the availability of the fresh and local ingredients.  She fills our collective recipe baskets with fresh twists on old classics, unearthed family recipes that go back generations and instructions, techniques and ingredients that can be traced back literally thousands of years.

But this is no archaic, dusty tome on food history.  Ms. Accad has updated the application of these recipes for the busy, modern Western world without sacrificing their soul.  An amazing eggplant casserole that traditionally takes three days to make can be replicated with an hour from time in a modern kitchen without sacrificing integrity.  In addition to saving time, there are number of helpful ingredient substitutions for the Western kitchen.  Yet the common bedrock of the Lebanese cuisine; utilizing fresh, wholesome, natural and where possible local ingredient sourcing is never compromised.  Where recipes freeze well and advanced preparation can save time down the road, she advises the reader.

The book begins with a number of helpful tips of do’s and don’ts and stock ingredients, including spices and seasonings, that are applicable to a number of cuisines and generalized good kitchen practice.  Basics are covered and then the fun begins.  A deliciously dizzying array of offerings from finger foods, breads and finger sandwiches to rich stews, pasta, meat and seafood dishes to entire chapter to on Lebanese kibbeh so salaciously appealing that it might be considered food porn if it also wasn’t so salubrious.

And that cuts to the heart of why this particular cookbook is a must-have for any kitchen that wants to produce food that is incredibly scrumptious and unbelievably wholesome.  Lebanon borders the Mediterranean.  Its native cuisine is part of the foundation of the modern interpretation which is known as the modern Mediterranean diet.  Despite all the claims in the late-night infomercials, the Mediterranean diet and its variants are the only diets that have shown the ability to prevent and reverse some of the diseases and disabilities that modern medicine is dealing with at arguably pandemic proportions.  The Mediterranean diet has been effective in the treatment and prevention of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and a host of other conditions.

Having written, traveled and lectured extensively upon the Mediterranean diet and its health benefits; I can vouch for the authenticity of its adherence to the principles that underlie such health benefits.  With that being said, the book loaded with drool inducing photographs simply focuses on helping you make distinctive, delightful and delectable dishes in a most straightforward and entertaining manner.  And that’s how it should be.

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