Rose Water and Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from my Lebanese Kitchen, written by Maureen Abood, features over 100 traditional Lebanese and Lebanese-inspired dishes from her family and childhood. Abood’s love of Lebanese cooking shines through the pages. You will find an array of recipes incorporating fresh produce, herbs, and spices with choices for across the seasons. There are some of the more well-known dishes (Baklawa, Kibbeh (multiple types), Hushweh, Fatayer, Mint Tea, Muhammara, and Baba Gannouj), along with variations on the classics (Avocado Tabbouleh, Pomegranate Rose Sorbet, Garlicky Lentil Soup, and Roasted Leg of Lamb with Black Cherry-Pomegranate Salsa).
Maureen Abood was born in the United States to a Lebanese-American family. She left her job in Chicago to attend culinary school in San Franciso before settling in Michigan closer to her family. She has an award winning food blog with the same name as the cookbook: Rose Water and Orange Blossoms.
Chapters are divided based on course: Introduction, Flavor Makers, Maza and Salads, Main Dishes, Grains and Legumes, Pastry and Sweets, Breads and Savory Pies, Pickles and Preserves, and Drinks. Abood also provides a list of menu guides for those looking for a little inspiration: A Summer Cookout, An Elegant Dinner, A Spring Luncheon, A Cocktail Party, A Holiday Brunch, A Winter Gathering, A Vegan Menu, and A Gluten-Free Menu.
Scattered across the pages are family stories involving food. Every recipe includes a detailed headnote on how Abood came across the dish, any history, and tips for serving or working with the ingredients. The name of the dish in Arabic is occasionally provided and she also makes a note of the pronunciation. She includes various cooking tips, such as how to remove the seeds from a pomegranate, picking grape leaves, peeling chickpeas, and what to look for when picking out eggplants. For those who enjoy making yogurt, there is a guide to making Lebanese yogurt, Laban, and the thick cheese, Labneh. For Kibbeh fans, she offers a variety of recipes: Raw Kibbeh (with tips on working safely with raw meat), Baked Kibbeh Sahnieh, Fried Kibbeh, Vegan Tomato Kibbeh, Potato and Spinach Kibbeh, and Yogurt-Poached Kibbeh.
Most of the ingredients are available to the average American cook. A few are a little harder to source and require a trip to the Middle Eastern Food Market or a purchase online. There is a list at the end of the book of websites that specialize in Lebanese ingredients. Ingredients are listed in US Customary and Metric.
The index is divided based on ingredient and the name of the recipe.
Photography is provided by Jason Varney. Many of the recipes have beautiful full-page photos. No step-by-step photos are provided.
This is a great pick for anyone wanting to learn more about Lebanese cuisine. The recipes are well-adapted for the home cook with a nice mixture of easy to more complicated dishes. There is an abundance of salads and other recipes that involve fresh vegetables. The tea drinker will also enjoy the drink section. This may not be the best choice for those looking for seafood recipes, as there are only two fish dishes.
I had heard of Fattoush many times while researching Lebanese cuisine, but didn’t actually try it until now. I don’t know why it took me so long, but I am now making this almost weekly. Fattoush is a Lebanese bread salad made from tossing toasted pita chips with various chopped vegetables and seasoning with a lemon sumac vinaigrette. It is a great use for any pita bread lying around that has gone stale. Abood also has a recipe for making your own pita chips by frying or baking (I used the baking method).
Do not dress the salad until right before serving. Last thing you want is the pita chips soaking up that dressing and becoming soggy. The crisp texture of the chips is part of the charm.
Sumac is a spice made from the berries of the sumac bush and is common in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It is available in berry or ground form. Sumac has a lightly bitter, lemony taste and a deep brownish red hue. There are no good substitutes for the flavor. I have been able to find it in the specialty section of some ethnic grocery stores, the spice section of Williams-Sonoma, and recently at Whole Foods. Watch the ingredient list and color of sumac. It should be a deep red. Bright red spices may have added coloring and some have added salt. It is also available of Amazon: Sumac 4.0 oz by Zamouri Spices.
I was able to find Pomegranate Molasses at Whole Foods. It is also be found in International markets featuring Middle Eastern food and on Amazon: Al Wadi Pomegranate Sauce, 14 Ounce and Cortas Pomegranate Molasses, 10-Ounce Bottles (Pack of 4).
Here is also a way to make your own pomegranate molasses.
I also made the Tomato and Sweet Onion Salad (photo on the cover); Walnut Baklawa Diamonds; Eggplant with Lamb, Tomato, and Pine Nuts (Sheik al Mehsheh); and Cafe Blanc (Orange Blossom and Raw Honey Tisane.
The Tomato and Sweet Onion Salad was a cinch to toss together and a perfect choice for the abundant heirloom tomatoes available this time of year. A variety of sizes and colors of tomatoes are combined with mint and onion, then tossed with a lemon olive oil dressing. Simple, but delicious.
There are so many delicious desserts choices, from rice pudding and pistachio bark to frozen yogurt and a few types of cookies. I made the Walnut Baklawa Diamonds since it is great for serving a crowd and we had a get-together that particular weekend. They were a huge hit. Most baklawa recipes require buttering every individual layer of phyllo. This particular recipe only has the top four layers individually buttered while the rest of the butter is poured over the top to seep down through the scored layers. This definitely made for a quicker, but still delicious process.
Chad and I have never been huge eggplant fans, but I keep trying recipes to learn of new ways to prepare it. Abood’s mother has a variation of Sheik al Mehsheh that involves layering instead of the usual stuffing of the eggplants with a lamb mixture and baking in tomato sauce. The eggplants are cut into slices and broiled until golden before being layered with seasoned ground meat (I used beef since there is still 1/4 of a cow in my freezer), tomato sauce, and buttered toasted pine nuts. After a long bake in the oven, the mixture is topped with mozzarella cheese. The combination of broiling and baking caramelizes the eggplants and gives them a melt in your mouth texture. We both absolutely loved this dish. I served the layered eggplant with Lebanese Vermicelli Rice. This rice is lightly seasoned with cinnamon, butter, and broken up thin toasted noodles. It paired perfectly with the eggplant. I have made it a few times since and it also doubles easily.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much when I came across Cafe Blanc. I tried it on a whim since I had all the (three!) ingredients on hand. Despite the name, there actually isn’t any coffee at all. Creamed raw honey and a splash of orange blossom water are mixed into boiling water. I can now say I am hooked. It is a great, refreshing alternative for those avoiding caffeine to sip on while everyone else has coffee or tea. The honey added a bit of sweetness and accompanied the floral tones from the orange blossom water perfectly. Abood states it has become an obsession of hers and it looks like it has become one of mine as well. I ended up polishing off my remaining creamed honey over the past few days, as it has become a new favorite when my son and I have tea parties. I enjoyed the tisane hot, but you can also serve it cold over ice during the heat.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Running Press in exchange for my review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Adapted from Rose Water and Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from my Lebanese Kitchen
8 Small Servings
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons crushed dried mint, divided
2 teaspoons sumac, divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 hearts of romaine, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 radishes, thinly sliced
10 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, glaric, salt, 1 teaspoon of the dried mint, 1 teaspoon of the sumac, and olive oil until well combined.
In a large bowl, toss together chopped romaine, tomatoes, onion, radishes, and pita chips.Toss with the vinaigrette and finish with the remaining 1 teaspoon sumac, 1 teaspoon dried mint, fresh mint, and black pepper.