On opening Sharon Salloum's cookbook, Almond Bar, I couldn't resist turning to the Dessert chapter first, for I knew that it would offer an assortment of intriguing Syrian sweets based on exquisite ingredient combinations. And indeed it does. There's rose of damascus, for example, (filo pastry rounds filled with Middle Eastern clotted cream, orange blossom jam, sugar syrup and pistachios); and semolina fudge (semolina topped with rosewater, clotted cream, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios and jam); as well as turmeric cake (made with semolina, turmeric, tahini and almonds); a simple fig sorbet; and also rosewater ice cream (served with chopped macadamias).
According to Syrian tradition, sharing meals is an essential part of spending time with family and friends – 'you should never eat alone,' Ms Salloum writes in her introduction. Hence, I turn next to the chapter on Shared Plates, where there are recipes for delicious dishes such as quail cooked in pomegranate molasses; za'atar prawns served with pumpkin mash; chilled yoghurt soup with barley and chickpeas; lightly fried whitebait served with tahini; falafel served with tahini sauce; and a lemony lentil soup. Other chapters cover sauces and dips; salads and sides; and mains, in all some 100 classic and contemporary Syrian recipes. There is also a comprehensive section on the Syrian pantry, and a national listing of the best Middle Eastern food suppliers.
Ms Salloum is the Australian-born co-owner and chef of the popular Almond Bar restaurant in Sydney's Darlinghurst. She is passionate about the artistry of Middle Eastern food and says she learned to cook authentic Syrian food from her mother and aunts, and learned to appreciate good food from both her parents. 'My mother poured all her young dreams into her passion for food; her time in the kitchen was the only time she could call her own. In typical Syrian tradition, she would sometimes cook for every man and his donkey, as relatives and neighbours were always dropping in for dinner. My father believes that food fixes everything. In our home, when you're not feeling well, it's because you don't eat enough. Or if someone is in a bad mood, they're not eating enough. ... An appreciation of food was passed down to my brothers, my sister and me from a young age.' Ms Salloum hopes that Almond Bar the book will shed light on the subtle difference in flavours between Syrian and other Middle Eastern food, and encourage greater appreciation for this ancient cuisine and its heritage.
Almond Bar by Sharon Salloum $39.99 (Lantern). Thank you kindly to Sharon Salloum and the publicity department at Lantern for giving me the opportunity to review this title.
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