Review of The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook by Salma Hage

The Middle Eastern Vegetarian CookbookSalma Hage is a professional English cook with 30 years of experience under her belt. At home, however, she has cooked her native Lebanese dishes for the past fifty plus years. Her debut cookbook, The Lebanese Kitchen, was well received and lauded by many sources. A huge volume with 500 recipes, it might well be the definitive cookbook on Lebanese cuisine. The title has been on my wish list for years and after reading her second title for this review, I had to order a copy.

The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook not only focuses on traditional Lebanese dishes that are naturally vegetarian and vegan but also includes adapted recipes such as Chickpea Kibbeh in lieu of the more common lamb kibbeh. Hage transformed the way she cooks because her son and grandson eliminated meat and fish from their diets. At first this change was puzzling for her, how could she cook without meat? Now most of her meals are vegetarian, if not completely vegan. She has fallen in love with this type of eating and cooking and wrote this title to share her new passion with her readers.

As with most international cookbooks, there is a Glossary as well as a chapter of Basic Recipes which shares common recipes such as Tahini and Lebneh. The remainder of the book is organized by Drinks, Breakfast, Dips and Mezzes, Salads, Vegetables, Legumes and Grains and Desserts. I found the drinks chapter very interesting with recipes for refreshments such as Blood Orange Juice with Pomegranate and Rosewater, Jallab (a grape molasses, crushed ice, raisin and pine nut drink) and Doogh (a yogurt-based drink similar to a lassi). Breakfast holds recipes for Za'atar and Lebneh Breakfast Pastries, Rosewater Pancakes with Pistachio and Honey and a Cardamom Oatmeal with Fresh Pomegranates. Lebanese Vegan Moussaka, Vegetarian Koftas and Classic Falafel and countless vegetarian entrees and side dishes round out this title. Vibrant photos are plentiful throughout The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook and draws us into this colorful way of cooking and eating. Halloumi with Sumac and Mint, Asparagus and Feta Quiche and Classic Falafel are on my list of recipes to try. A full index of the nearly 150 recipes can be found here.

Due to the holiday weekend, I was only able to test the Baklava Rolo. Baklava, while it is a dessert I love, I have hesitated to make it at home. One reason is that I worry about eating the whole pan and secondly could I make it as delicious as those decadent slices from a Middle Eastern restaurant? Hage's recipe read so simply that I was able to make this treat the morning after I had a big party at my home. Meaning, I'm usually so exhausted after a party from cooking and cleaning that I don't want to step in the kitchen to create the next morning. The Baklava Rolo was heavenly and had all the flavors of traditional baklava in small bites. I had to substitute orange water for rose water because that is what I had on hand. I ended up making a double batch of filling to try my hand at making a small pan of traditional baklava with Hage's instructions. This pan and most of the rolo will be dispersed immediately for fear of devouring them. The only negative I can come up with is that this recipe was so easy to make - I'll be making it more often. I found that the single recipe for syrup was sufficient for both the rolo and a small eight-by-eight pan because I wanted to attempt to save a few calories. The baklava was perfectly delicious without the syrup - and with half the syrup it was outstanding. I didn't try the baklava using the entire recipe of syrup - but don't let my preferences deter you.

Photo for tested recipe by Jenny Hartin.  Jenny is an enthusiastic home cook who lives in Colorado, owns the website The Cookbook Junkies and runs the Facebook group also called The Cookbook Junkies. The Facebook group is a closed group of 30,000 cookbook fans - new members are welcome.

BAKLAVA ROLOBaklava rolo

Baklava is one of the most famous sweet treats from the Levant and rightly so-it is indulgent, buttery, and delicious when done well. Dessert is about pleasure and this one will satisfy even the sweetest tooth. A little goes a long way!

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves: 28 pieces

INGREDIENTS

• 6 sheets phyllo (filo) pastry (covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying)
• unsalted butter, melted, for brushing the phyllo

For the filling
• ¾ cup (3½ oz/100 g) shelled pistachios
• 1 ¼ cups (5 oz/150 g) chopped walnuts
• ⅓ cup (2½ oz/75 g) superfine (caster) sugar
• 2 tablespoons rosewater

For the syrup
• 1 cup (7oz/200 g) superfine (caster) sugar
• 1 tablespoon rosewater
• 1 lemon leaf (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

For the filing, put the nuts and sugar into a food processor and process until coarsely ground. Stir in the rosewater, then transfer into a bowl.

To make the sugar syrup, put the sugar into a saucepan, pour in a scant 1 cup (7fl oz/200 ml) water, and stir over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and boil to a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat, stir in the rose water, and add the lemon leaf, if using. Let cool completely to allow the flavors to infuse.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC/Gas Mark 4 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment (baking) paper.

Take 1 sheet of phyllo (filo) and cut it into 4 smaller pieces, each 8½ x 4 inches/ 22 x 10 cm. Repeat this with the remaining 5 sheets of the phyllo so you have a total of 24 smaller pieces. Cover the pastry with a damp cloth to stop it from drying out.

Lay 2 pieces of phyllo out on a clean, dry work surface, with the longest sides toward you. Lightly brush both sheets with melted butter and lift one sheet on top of the other. Sprinkle on some of the filling to cover the surface completely. Brush 2 more phyllo pieces with butter, lay them on top, and sprinkle with more filling. Repeat with 2 more pieces of phyllo and a final layer of filling.

Next, roll the phyllo up into a flat log, starting from the closest edge to you. Brush al over with a little melted butter. Slice into 7 pieces and lay them on the prepared baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining phyllo, butter, and filling to achieve a total of 28 small baklava pieces. Arrange on a prepared baking sheet (using 2 if needed) and bake for 20 minutes, or until nice and golden. Let cool completely and then pour on the syrup and let stand until absorbed.

Special thanks to Phaidon for sharing this delicious recipe with Eat Your Book readers. Adapted from The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook by Salma Hage (Phaidon, April 2016)

Don't forget that EYB members can purchase any Phaidon book at special discounts.

3 Comments

  • Nancith  on  7/5/2016 at 10:34 PM

    Just put this book on my wishlist! Sounds great!

  • Foodycat  on  7/6/2016 at 4:01 PM

    I gave this to my aunt - she says every page is something she wants to cook and every dish she has tried has been good.

  • FaithB  on  7/6/2016 at 7:24 PM

    My father always cut back on the amount of syrup, as you wisely did, and it keeps the pastry crisper, too.

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