Bayrūt: The Cookbook: Recipes from the Heart of a Lebanese City Kitchen, written by Hisham Assaad, features an incredible variety of Lebanese street food, home-style meals, and celebratory feasts. A few highlights include Chickpeas with Cumin (Balila), Arayes Kafta (Kofta in Pita Bread Sandwiches), Beiruti Fish Pilaf (Sayyadiye), Pumpkin Kibbeh (Kibbet Laqtin), and Caraway-Spiced Pudding (Meghli). I will also be sharing his recipe for Bakery-Style Pita Bread (Khebz Aarabi) following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Smith Street Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Hisham Assaad is a food stylist, graphic designer, photographer, and culinary tour guide. He created the blog, Cook in Five Square Meters, in August 2013 as a way to share his passion for food with others.
He is currently based in Beirut, Lebanon. This is his first cookbook.
Hisham begins Bayrut with an introduction of the cuisine in Beirut and how he developed a love for food through his family. He even includes some of the city’s history from the Lower Paleolithic Era to the explosion on August 4th, 2020 and current day.
Chapters are divided according to the following: Breakfast & Brunch, Street Food, Salads & Sides, Mains, Sunday Feast, Desserts, Drinks, and Basics.
I especially appreciate the inclusion of some lesser known recipes. Hisham states, “A few of the recipes are those fading from common use, but they are authentic to Beirut, and I wanted to archive them in this book before they are gone forever.”
The food photography is provided by Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton with food styling by Valerie Berry. Hisham has also added beautiful photos of the people, landscape, and food of Beirut throughout the book. Most of the recipes are paired with a quarter to full-page photo of the finished dish.
Titles are written in English and romanized Arabic. Measurements are listed in Metric and US Customary. Each recipe include a headnote with background information, personal stories, yield, notes, serving ideas, and helpful tips.
Bakery-Style Pita Bread (Khebz Aarabi)
This Bakery-Style Pita Bread (Khebz Aarabi, Khubz Arabi) was the first bread I made since moving to our new home! I have had mixed results with pita bread in the past, but the entire batch puffed up perfectly. I was so excited and it was such a great start when reviewing the book.
After rising until doubled, a yeast-based dough with a combination of strong (bread) and wholemeal (whole-wheat) flour is simply formed into circles about 8 millimeters (3/16th inch) thick.
Hisham has included the instructions to prepare the bread in both the oven and on the stovetop. For these photos, I cooked them on the stovetop in a dry cast iron pan.
The result is a soft and pillowy bread with a light, chewy texture. It is perfect for scooping up hummus or labneh.
This Bakery-Style Pita Bread is best fresh from the oven or within 2-3 days. Leftovers can be fried for fattoush or fatteh.
I also made the Labneh & Veggie Dip (Beiruti Labneh); Crispy Potatoes with Coriander, Garlic & Chilli (Batata Harra); Chicken & Potato Traybake with Lemon & Garlic Dressing (Djej w Batata Maa’ Toom w Hamod- not photographed); and Walnut Baklava (Hadef).
I prepared the Labneh & Veggie Dip (Beiruti Labneh) to go with the fresh Bakery-Style Pita Bread (Khebz Aarabi). They were so good together! This labneh-based dip is packed with small pieces of cucumber, tomato, mint, and spring onion.
The Crispy Potatoes with Coriander, Garlic & Chilli (Batata Harra) were one of my favorites. Boiled and fried potato pieces are paired with red pepper paste, chilli powder, garlic, and cilantro. The resulting texture was fantastic.
The Chicken & Potato Traybake with Lemon & Garlic Dressing (Djej w Batata Maa’ Toom w Hamod) was such an easy meal with only a handful of ingredients. Chicken pieces are seasoned with lemon, white pepper, nutmeg, and olive oil, then baked with potato wedges until brown and crisped. It is topped with a delicious lemon and garlic dressing.
The Walnut Baklava (Hadef) is traditionally only available for 28 days of the year during the month of Ramadan. Layers of phyllo are filled with finely ground and sweetened walnuts, baked until golden, and soaked in a fragrant orange blossom and rose water syrup.
Bayrut is a wonderful pick for those interested in Lebanese cuisine. Hisham has put together an incredible collection of recipes highlighting street food, comforting meals, home cooking, and even favorite recipes from his family. Many come together easily with only a handful of ingredients, while others require more planning or resting times.
Having a market with Middle Eastern ingredients nearby will be helpful in locating items such as fava beans, Lebanese cucumbers, tahini, fenugreek, sumac, dried kishk, pomegranate molasses, cardamom pods, orange blossom water, rose water, and coarse semolina.
Bakery-Style Pita Bread (Khebz Aarabi) Recipe
Excerpt from Bayrut
Bakery-Style Pita Bread (Khebz Aarabi)
- 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) strong/bread flour plus extra for dusting
- 50 grams (1/3 cup) wholemeal/whole-wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar optional
- 7 grams (2 teaspoons) instant dried yeast
- 200 milliliters (scant 1 cup) warm water
- Olive oil for oiling
- In a large bowl, mix the flours, salt, sugar and yeast.
- Make a well in the middle and pour in the water.
- Bring the flour mix in and work with a wooden spoon or your hands. Knead until the dough starts to come together away from the sides of the bowl.
- Coat the dough with a little olive oil, cover the bowl with a dish towel and set aside for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200˚C (400˚F, gas 6) and place a large baking sheet inside to heat up.
- Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface.
- Divide into 6 pieces and shape each piece into a ball by pinching the sides down and rolling the ball in the palm of one hand against the work surface. Cover again and let rest for 10 minutes.
- On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll each ball of dough into a circle about 8 millimeters (3/16th inch) thick. Let rest, covered, while you roll the other balls.
- Slide the breads onto the heated baking sheet and bake for 3 minutes or until puffed and browned.
- Alternatively, you can bake them on the stovetop in a hot dry frying pan (skillet) until they puff up, flipping them over to brown on both sides.
- Eat them rest out of the oven, or cover them with a dish towel, then store in a bag to keep them soft.
- Best consumed within 2-3 days; otherwise toast or fry for fattoush or fatteh.