The Original Lebanese Cookbook was first published 35 years ago in 1978 at a time when Lebanese food was very 'new' in Australia. Dawn, Elaine and Selwa Anthony were born in Cowra in country New South Wales to parents who migrated to Australia from Lebanon in the 1920s. Throughout their childhood they learned that generosity and hospitality are expressed through food.
The book begins with an introduction to Lebanon ('the biblical land of the Song of Songs and the homeland of the ancient Phoenicians') and Lebanese cuisine, a 'delight for the gourmet'... and where 'hospitality requires an abundant table to be set at all times [with] a variety of food always being on hand to offer the unexpected guest.'
The sisters authenticated many of the recipes in the book from their mother and an aunt - recipes that had been passed down through the generations. The secret to mastering Lebanese cuisine, they say, is in the preparation and organisation of the menu. The Lebanese cook prepares several dishes in advance... largely made of grain, cheese, yoghurt and fresh and dried fruits and vegetables.
Mezza is explained as a selection of hors d'oeuvres often comprising thirty or more small dishes. There is the wonderful Baba ghannouj and Hoummus with Tahini; together with fried cauliflower, fried chicken giblets in lemon juice and marinated tongue salad. There are savoury pastries, including Lebanese pizza with zaatar, Sambousik (meat and pine nut pies) and spinach turnovers. Lebanese soups are substantial: white bean soup, pumpkin soup made with ghee, lentil and spinach soup, for example. A selection of fish dishes feature tahini and lemon juice and there are numerous recipes for Kibbi (ground meat and bur'ghul), kaftas, salads and stews. I am drawn to the chapter on Sweets, which are served to visitors with coffee rather than at the end of a meal. Here we find a range of sweet rice puddings, syrup cheese, kanaafi pastry, date walnuts delights, fig and pumpkin jams, crystallised flowers and Lebanese coffee.
For further delicious insights into The Original Lebanese Cookbook, Michael Mackenzie from ABC RN First Bite discusses the book and Lebanese cuisine with 78 year old Elaine Anthony here.
The Original Lebanese Cookbook by Dawn, Elaine and Selwa Anthony, Allen & Unwin, $39.99. With thanks to the Anthony Sisters and Allen and Unwin for giving me the opportunity to review and cook from this classic title.
Cookbook reviews and interviews with food writers and chefs.