Introduction

Introduction

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742701455
Photographer
Mark Roper

My family is Lebanese–Australian, and I grew up eating food cooked by my mum, my two grandmothers and by a bevy of aunts, cousins and other female members of my extended family, so I knew just how exciting the flavours and dishes of my own heritage could be.

While still an apprentice, I read and was inspired by Claudia Roden’s seminal Book of Middle Eastern Food, and learnt that there was a whole world of culinary discoveries to make in these ancient and enticing lands. I could hardly wait to get there and explore it all for myself.

My training took me around Europe and South-East Asia, where I was lucky enough to hone my skills and extend my culinary repertoire, but I found that I was gradually being drawn back to the food of my childhood. By the time I took on my first head chef position, I was convinced that if more people were able to taste these dishes — and to understand that the Middle East has so much more to offer than tabbouleh and kebabs — they would love them as much as I do.

With all the arrogance of youth, I wanted to do things my own way. My food would not be about reinventing classics — and nor, really, would it be about tradition. Instead, I was bursting with ideas for a new kind of Middle Eastern food: subjective and personal interpretations, yes, but dishes that would absolutely capture the essence of the Middle East, but express it in a fresher, more inventive — and even, perhaps, a more Western — manner.

And I have certainly not been the only one wanting to open up this particular world of flavour, aroma and colour. Over the last ten years or so, the dishes and ingredients of the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean have come out of the shadows and into the limelight, thanks not just to Claudia Roden’s body of work, but also to a growing brigade of restaurateurs, cookbook authors and food writers, all keen to share their own discoveries and enthusiasm for these rich and complex culinary traditions.

As a result, more and more people are familiar with filo pastry and flower waters, with couscous, pomegranate molasses, saffron, sumac and harissa. And reflecting this growing popularity, formerly ‘exotic’ ingredients are far more widely available. Even suburban supermarkets now stock a reasonably broad range of Middle Eastern staples, spices and aromatics.

Since those giddy early days of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have cooked my own style of modern Middle Eastern food all around the world. I’ve also co-authored five food and travel books with my former wife, Lucy. And the journeying we’ve undertaken to research our books — around North Africa, Moorish Spain, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan — has not only provided a rich seam of inspiration for my restaurant menus and our books, but has underscored my deep love and respect for the food cultures of this extraordinary and exciting part of the world.

Over the years I’ve been thrilled to see so many of the young chefs who have worked with me embrace these ingredients and ideas and take them out into their very own restaurant kitchens. But I think my greatest joy comes when diners at the restaurant express their surprise and delight at the dishes and ingredients they have tried, or when I receive letters and emails from people telling me that they’ve enjoyed cooking recipes from my books, and how pleased they’ve been to try ‘something new’.

This book, then, is an attempt to bring together a comprehensive collection of my and Lucy’s best and favourite dishes from all five of our earlier books. Many of the recipes have been slightly refined or updated (after all, Arabesque, our first book, was published twelve years ago and my own cooking style has evolved and matured since then), and there are also new ones added, for good measure.

The recipes in this book are exactly the kind of ‘new’ Middle Eastern food that I started dreaming about all those years ago. They reflect my own culinary journey, which I have loved, and I hope that you will enjoy sharing it too.

Greg Malouf

November 2011

The new Middle Eastern way of eating

We have structured the book to reflect this philosophy of abundance, and to approximate, roughly, the Middle Eastern approach to eating. But we also want to avoid being overly prescriptive. These recipes are absolutely not about full-on immersion into culinary traditions that are, after all, quite different from our own. Instead, they are about ways of using Middle Eastern flavours and ideas to transform a meal from the mundane to the exotic, often with the simplest addition or replacement. And while we’re not expecting you to whip up an elaborate mezze banquet for every meal, we do hope that you will see the appeal of a looser, less structured way of eating, where dishes are served from the centre of the table and everyone helps themselves to a few spoonfuls of whatever they like.

With this in mind, we’ve divided the recipes into seven sections — soups, small dishes, large dishes, side dishes, bakery, sweet and larder — and we encourage you to mix and match them in any way you wish. The recipes are mostly designed for sharing — especially within the small, large and side dish sections — but most could also be served as individual portions, if you prefer.

For a larger meal, or when you’re entertaining, we recommend you select a few dishes from each of these three sections, ensuring you include a vegetable or salad, and perhaps a rice or grain dish as well. Most of the savoury pastries also make delicious starters, as do some of the lighter soups. So be as generous or restrained as you like!

For light meals, too, it’s lovely to put together a selection of one or two dishes — even if it’s just a simple basket of herbs, fresh cheese and bread, followed by a hearty soup, an omelette or a risotto. Many of the breads, pide, pizzas and savoury pastries also make terrific snacks or light lunches.

Vegetarians are well served, as in many Middle Eastern countries salads, vegetables, pulses and grains comprise the bulk of a meal, with meat, poultry and seafood served as a more occasional treat, or in much smaller quantities than we consume in the West. So you’ll find a large number of vegetarian dishes among the small dishes and in the bakery sections, while many of the side dishes would do excellent double-duty as a meat-free main course.

Although most Middle Easterners have a very sweet tooth, most ordinary mealtimes finish with fruit, and desserts are rarely eaten in the way that we do in the West; they are usually reserved for special occasions and celebrations. This, then, is the section in which we take the biggest liberties with tradition! There are a number of our favourite sorbet and ice creams, as well as a selection of fruit-based desserts, dairy desserts and heartier puddings. We also include some delectable goodies, many of which make excellent gift ideas or which you could serve with tea or coffee.

The larder plays an important role in every Middle Eastern household, where, even in these modern times, many families preserve homegrown summer fruits and vegetables to last through the leaner winter months. This is the section where you’ll find frequently used spice blends and pastes, popular dressings and sauces and pickled vegetables, relishes and preserved fruits. Finally, there are recipes for cordials, and even some of our favourite cocktails.

About ingredients

In general, the range and quality of fresh produce available in Middle Eastern countries is extraordinary. The cooking there is still largely seasonal; people understand that food follows the natural rhythm of the seasons and the expectation is that produce will have been grown or reared within a few kilometres of their own kitchen. Middle Easterners tend to shop in small amounts daily and they demand the best, freshest and most intensely flavoured ingredients. For us, too, freshness and quality are everything and these are two of the key elements of any of our recipes. Luckily, this approach is gaining in popularity in many Western countries as well, and so we encourage you to choose your ingredients carefully.

Although some of the spices and ingredients in these recipes might be new to you, most of them are readily available these days — even many larger supermarkets stock a good range of Middle Eastern ingredients. There are some more unusual items that you might have to track down in Middle Eastern or specialist food stores, but it will always be worth the effort to help you achieve an authentic result. There is a glossary to help you with some of these ingredients.

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