Saha: A Chef’s Journey through Lebanon and Syria by Greg and Lucy Malouf ****
While at last year’s Savour New Zealand, Australian chef Greg Malouf was just back from a month spent travelling and eating in Lebanon and Syria and he spoke enthusiastically about the book that he was writing with his former wife, Lucy, based on the time they spent there. Saha is the gorgeous end result. A beautifully designed book which is equally comfortable on your coffee table as in your kitchen, it comes across as a pure labour of love.
While Greg explores flavours from his childhood and finds new inspiration for his cooking, Lucy documents their travels and relates stories about the craftspeople they meet, the food culture and the history of both countries. He supplies the recipes – Green Beans Slow-Cooked with Cumin and Tomatoes; Grilled Tiger Prawn Shish Kebabs with Spicy Cracked Wheat Salad and Tomato Dressing; Crunchy Sesame-Pistachio Biscuits – while she furnishes the context.
Lucy writes in a very personal and honest way of their experiences, occasional misgivings and adventures in places like the Roman remains at Baalbeck and Palmyra, the legendary desert kingdom of Queen Zenobia. Her stories and the evocative images by photographer Matt Harvey are complimented by Greg’s recipes, in chapters that range from Mezze Dips and Meat Mezze to Sweet Treats and Beverages. There are new ingredients – desert truffles, mastic, barberries – and some complex recipes but many of the dishes are easily managed and, after my success with Greg’s yoghurt instructions, that recipe is set to become a staple in my kitchen.
Saha depicts a Lebanon still scarred, but recovering, from the ravages of the civil war that ended in 1990. People are hopeful about the future, Beirut is nearly reconstructed, tourists are starting to investigate the beauties of the country. Sadly, after this summer’s shameful Israeli invasion, it is impossible not to wonder what has happened to the people and places that Greg and Lucy met and visited.
Also reviewed on Bibliocook: Moorish by Greg and Lucy Malouf