The Arabian Cookbook: Traditional Arab Cuisine with a Modern Twist is a bilingual book featuring fifty-five favorite recipes from Chef Ramzi Choueiry in both English and Arabic. You will find popular Lebanese dishes such as Shish Taouk (Marinated Chicken Skewers), Open Katayef (Open Lebanese Crepes), Kaftah with Pine Nuts, Octopus in Ink, Shish Barak Kibbeh (Lebanese Ravioli with Coriander and Yogurt Sauce), and Manakish with Zaatar (Lebanese Pizza with Zaatar), along with flavors from other areas of the Middle East and Northern Africa like Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding), Kibbeh from Iraq, Mansaf (Leg of Lamb from Jordan), Couscous from Morocco, and Kabsa with al-Yadam (Lamb Dish from Saudi Arabia). I reviewed the paperback version that was released in July 2016 and there is also a hardcover version. This book was the winner of the Gourmand World Cookbook Award.
Ramzi Choueiry, the smiling chef, was born in 1971 in Beirut, Lebanon. His family home was destroyed in 1976 during the war and he fled with his family to Lyon, France while his father remained behind. They returned after the end of the war, but had to flee three more times. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and law from Lyon, France and studied culinary arts Bournemouth College in the United Kingdom. Choueiry joined Future TV in 1993 to become Lebanon’s first television chef and continues as the host of a live cooking show. He has also written The Culinary Heritage of Lebanon and Chef Ramzi.
Chapters are divided based on course: Origin and Understanding, The Smiling Chef, Meze- Snacks & Dips, Kibbeh- Ground Meat Dishes, Main Courses, Desserts & Pastries, Quick Reference Guide to Lebanese Cuisine, English Recipe Index, Arabic Recipe Index, Quick Reference to Lebanese Cuisine in Arabic, The Smiling Chef in Arabic, and Origin and Understanding in Arabic.
The book includes a brief background of Lebanese cuisine and featured ingredients. I loved the little facts such as the development of preservation as a need to keep foods during the winter when roads were blocked by snow or the use of thickened grape juice as a sweetener. Choueiry also includes a quick reference guide with a list of basic Lebanese ingredients in English and Arabic.
Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric. As a note, some of the quantities may differ from the average American measurement, such as using 2/5 cup. Every recipe is written in English and Arabic and they also include headnotes with background information and serving tips. The photography is provided by Bruno Ehrs. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a well-styled, full page color photo of the finished dish.
This book is a great pick for those interested in authentic Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine. Recipes range from simple to more complex with directions that are easy to read and to the point. Most of the dishes that I tried worked perfectly, but I did need to adjust the cooking time and add a little salt to the Sfeeha. Having a background in Middle Eastern cooking will be helpful. I particularly enjoyed the variety of dishes including dips, pies, breads, meats, poultry, seafood, desserts and a handful of vegetarian- though there are no beverages. I also liked that many of the dishes have not appeared in other Middle Eastern cookbooks I own. Most of the ingredients are available in the average American grocery store, but a few will require access to a Middle Eastern grocer or purchase online such as mastic, freekah, chickpeas, dried limes, saffron, rose water, orange blossom water, bulgur, tahini, sumac, fava beans, mahlab, semolina, and grape molasses. Substitutions are provided when possible.
Sfeeha are small meat pies from Lebanon. These Sfeeha from Baalbek have a partially exposed filling made with chopped or ground lamb, tomatoes, and onions. Red chili and parsley or tahini may also be added for extra flavor. A yeast dough is rolled into a thin crust, cut into circles (Claire was particularly helpful in assisting me in cutting out the circles), and filled with the lamb. The rounds of dough are folded over to seal in the edges of the pie before baking until golden. They can be served warm from the oven or allowed to cool slightly to room temperature.
Salt wasn’t included in the original ingredient list, but I added it to taste. I also increased the baking temp from 350 degrees F to 450 to develop a more crisp crust.
I added tahini to my Sfeeha, but also sprinkled a little parsley over then finished pies for an extra bit of color for the photos.
These sfeeha freeze well for easy future meals. I lined an extra baking sheet with parchment and filled it with a single layer of prepared, uncooked sfeeha. I baked them straight from the freezer with only a minute or two added to the cooking time.
I also made Pita Pizza, Mousakhkhan (Chicken Wraps from Palestine), Kushari (Vegetarian Dish from Egypt), and Awamat (Fried Balls in Sugar Syrup).
The Pita Pizza was perfect for an easy and quick snack or light meal. Liba or pita bread is covered with a light layer of tomato puree, then topped with sliced red onion, parsley, and sumac. Choueiry recommends serving the pizzas, which are eaten by folding in half and with your hands, with grilled meats.
Mousakhkhan are small chicken wraps from Palestine. A chicken is boiled with bay leaves, cinnamon and leek, then shredded and stuffed in thin flatbread triangles with sumac seasoned onions. The rolled up triangles are then baked in the oven until crisp. These wraps were a huge hit with the kids. Their small size was perfect for Claire.
Kushari is an interesting vegetarian dish from Egypt with a mixture of pasta, rice, chickpeas or lentils, and spiced vegetables. I used small pasta shells and toasted them with the rice before adding the lentils with spices and tomatoes. The mixture is then simmered until tender. This was another great dish for the kids.
Awamat are Lebanese fried doughnut-like balls that are coated in a rose and orange blossom water scented sugar syrup. The yogurt-based dough itself doesn’t contain any sugar so you get all of the sweetness from the syrup. Those with a sweet tooth will also enjoy Choueiry’s other delicious desserts such as the Barazek (Sesame Cookies), Mamool (Filled Semolina Cookies), Ma’karoons (Fried Cones in Sugar Syrup), Ashta Pudding, and Baklava.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Skyhorse Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Sfeeha from Baalbek
Adapted from The Arabian Cookbook
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 cups (710 mL) lukewarm water (125 degrees F/50 degrees C)
1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
8 cups (1 kg) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound (450 grams) lamb meat from the ribs or ground lamb
1 pound (450 grams) tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Optional: 1/2-1 red chili and 2/5 cup (12 grams chopped flat-leaf parsley or 2 tablespoons tahini
In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water. Stir to combine, then allow to sit until frothy, 5-10 minutes.
In a large bowl, crumble the butter into the flour. Make a well in the center and add the water with the frothy yeast. Work in the flour to form a smooth dough. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
To make the filling: If the lamb is not ground, finely chop. Add to a bowl and mix with the diced tomatoes and chopped onions. If desired, add chili and parsley or tahini.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly grease rimmed baking sheets. Punch down the dough and roll into a thin rectangle. Use a 3 inch wide circle cutter to cut out circles of dough. Add a spoonful of filling to the center of each circle. Press each side partially over the filling to form a square with the center of the filling still showing. Pinch the edges to form four corners.
Arrange the sfeeha 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets and bake in preheated oven until the meat is cooked through and dough is golden brown, 10-15 minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature.