Taste of Beirut — Book Review
Earlier this summer I received a copy of Taste of Beirut, a Lebanese cookbook by Joumana Accad, and engaged in a delightful journey exploring the delicious recipes, home cooking, and culture of the city once known as “The Paris of the Middle East.” While we are all fairly familiar with hummus, falafel, pita bread, and yogurt; this collection is complete compendium of classic and contemporary recipes. Accad, a trained pastry chef and professional caterer begins with the essentials; from stocking your pantry to helping you understand the common terms and uses for each element that is the hallmark of the cuisine, passing on what she learned both from her grandmother and how she adapted to cooking in the U.S. and raising her own family. Like a best friend, Accad provides her personal notes and comments helping us envision what it is like eating at her table with friends and family. She writes in an easy teaching style and describes her approach as, “a common thread for Lebanese culinary artists; striving to reach the highest flavor quotient with the smallest number of basic ingredients; it is for the person who values conviviality above all else.” Common Mediterranean flavors, onion, garlic, lemon, parsley and olive oil are all staples in the Lebanese larder as well as our American pantry, and most of us have allspice, nutmeg, black, white pepper, and cinnamon. What we learn is how to use them the Lebanese way and expanding our palates along the way.
I tried several different recipes; pilafs, cilantro pesto, yogurt cheese (labneh), kafta (meat paste), and a lemony salad dressing for everyday use. Each component was fresh, flavorful and easy to prepare. There is something for everyone in the seven chapters ranging from breads and breakfast, mezzes (dips, finger foods, salads and sides), mains and desserts.
Savoring the very last of the tomato season I would like to share her Bulgur with Tomatoes Pilaf (Burghul Bel-Banadoora) which, when stuffed in a heirloom tomato, makes a heavenly side dish or light lunch or dinner. For a variation I tossed bay shrimp in the Everyday Salad Dressing with Pomegranate Molasses to add to the top. Since I’ve been cooking for two lately, I used the leftovers to make a summer salad with added cilantro pesto and a variety of vegetables (green onions, radishes, peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes.) I look forward to delving deeper and adding many new favorites to my fall menus, Lamb in Yogurt Sauce, Cauliflower Stew, and Pumpkin Kibbeh Pie.
Bulgur with Tomatoes Pilaf
From Taste of Beirut, by Joumana Accad
Page 175 used with permission
“This dish uses up the last glorious tomatoes of the season. The bulgur drinks up the tomato juice while cooking and develops a mild tomato taste and a silky texture.”
Makes: 8 Servings
2 pounds red and juicy tomatoes (or a 24-ounce can of good quality tomatoes; reserve the juice)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1 ½ cups bulgur (medium or courses, #3, or #4)
1 teaspoon allspice or 1 teaspoon ground caraway
3 cups water
2 tablespoons tomato paste diluted with the extra tomato juice or water, if needed.
Note: If the tomatoes are not very juicy or flavorful, adding the tomato paste will intensify the flavor of this dish. One of my friends, Hoda, swears that the addition of caraway is essential for giving this dish depth of flavor. Caraway also fights bloating.
- Cut the tomato caps off and set aside. Using a serrated grapefruit spoon, empty the contents of the tomatoes into a bowl. Puree the tomato flesh in a blender or food processor. Sprinkling the hollow tomatoes with salt and flip them onta a cutting board to drain as much as possible. Place them on a serving plate and set aside. Carefully pour the juice off the cutting board into a bowl with the tomato puree.
- Heat the oil in a Dutch oven set over medium heat. Sauté the onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the bulgur and stir a couple of minutes until all the grains are shiny. Sprinkle with the spices. Pour the tomato puree, the tomato paste (if needed), and the water over the grains. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower the heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes
- Uncover the pot and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Check the texture of the bulgur. If it’s soft and silky, it’s done. If it is still hard, ad ½ cup more water and cook a bit longer. Cool
- Scoop the pilaf into the hollowed-out tomatoes and place the tomato caps ont top, and put the extra pilaf all around the serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Leftover Pilaf makes a great salad.
Note: I was given a copy of Taste of Beirut for review purposes by the publisher. All testing and opinions are my own and I have received no further compensation.
Taste of Beirut is available in paperback and Kindle versions from Amazon or check your favorite local bookstore. You can also find more recipes that Joumana Accad shares on her blog of the same name www.tasteofbeirut.com