So my mom always says Honesty is the best policy (whose mother doesn’t say this?) — I feel sort of bad starting my review like this (and if the authors are reading this I may be giving them a fright) but I’ve got to fess up: before receiving this beautiful flexibound edition I had an equally beautiful hardcover edition of this book that I had never cooked from. It was for no other reason (in hind sight I think) than the hardcover edition is so big and cumbersome (but an absolutely beautiful book). This new flexibound edition, however, is the perfect size (and weight) to pick up, flip through, and cook from. Why I picked up New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian in the first placewas because I’d been yearning to learn more about Middle Eastern cuisine and this book (especially with its focus on vegetarianism) seemed like the perfect place to start.
Interestingly enough if you don’t read the wonderful introduction, you would think that this vibrant cookbook is solely focusing on Middle Eastern cuisine. However, the authors, Greg and Lucy Malouf, reveal that in writing this book they were marking a huge shift in their own diets — one towards a diet focused much more on plants rather than animals. What they’ve managed is to write a health-conscious cookbook about how to celebrate the simple pleasures of preparing and eating a meal without being an overtly healthy eating/diet cookbook. When faced with health concerns they found a new way to express what is essential, in their minds, that food has to be about pleasure.(10)
I know this is what food means to me — pleasure. The pleasure of preparing it, eating it, talking about it, reading about it, and most importantly sharing it. This brings me to another aspect of this book — that Middle Easterners tend to take a more relaxed approach to mealtime. As the authors point out It’s how we always eat, and we love the way this unstructured approach allows us to experience so many complimentary tastes and textures in the course of one meal.(12) So as this is their practice this is the way the book is organized — into twenty small sections (Breakfast, Breads, Butters & Preserves, Dips & Spreads, Pickles & Relishes, Soups, Stuffed Vegetables, Fritters, Savoury Pastries, Raw Vegetable Salads, Cooked Vegetable Salads, Hot Vegetable Dishes, Grains, Rice, Legumes, Pasta & Couscous, Ices, Desserts, Sweet Pastries, and, finally, Cakes & Cookies) that focus on the type of dish you’re preparing rather than by course, so that you can easily mix-and-match your menu.
One of the first recipes I tried was the recipe for Middle Eastern Pizzas, in which the star is really their pizza dough recipe. A light bubbly crust with a bit of chew this dough is one of the best pizza dough recipes I’ve tried. Maybe this is due to the fact that this dough uses eggs (as does the Griddled Flatbread recipe — which is also amazing!)? Their instructions in the recipe header to use a stone and heat the oven as high as you dare is one that I already follow to great success ( I use a baking steel in an oven preheated to 500F which results in a really superior homemade pizza). Their list of suggested toppings is really good as well — we tried chopped spinach sauteed in a bit of butter with garlic and shallot and also the Slow-Roasted Tomatoes.
It seems that this year I’ve been looking for recipes to learn specific techniques and in New Feast I’d found one — homemade, stuffed pasta. Since I’m a total novice when it comes to homemade pasta I saved this recipe for the weekend when I knew I’d have more time to practice. As you can see from the photo, the Goat’s Cheese Dumplings w/ Fresh & Dried Mint turned out really well (and tasted like a dream), even though it took me awhile to get the hang of trying to fold the dumpling into a four-cornered star-like shape (even in the picture you can see only one dumpling really shows this shape). What I’ve noticed about the recipes is that they’re well-tested and well-written. Even with more challenging tasks like making dough or pasta they’ve given sufficient guidance so that the home cook feels less intimidated and more likely to achieve success.
Not only are the recipes well-tested and well-written but the end results are really beautiful. The finishing touches — whether it’s the oven-crisped pita on the Lebanese Spiced Chickpeas & Eggplant or the deep-fried onion wisps on the Lebanese Dirty Rice — make each dish look well-plated and very enticing. Admittedly I really had to work myself up to deep frying the onions because I was convinced (having never deep-fried anything before) that I would mess up and would most likely have a visit from my local fire department. Thankfully, I got through my first-ever attempt to deep fry without as much as a grease stain on my clothes! (I do recommend using a dry fry/candy thermometer for this activity — it’s extremely helpful).
It is important to note that this is a cookbook which uses weight measures rather than cup measures so it is useful to have a kitchen scale on hand when making the recipes. Using weight measures is fairly new to me but I’ve been finding that I end up with better results and a more consistent final product when I use weights over cups. If you’d like to see what I’ve been enjoying from New Feast, check out my custom hashtag #eatworthynewfeast or my dedicated Facebook post. As I’ve been posting pictures of the wonderful recipes I’ve been trying I’ve had a few questions about how easy it would be to make the recipes vegan or how dairy/egg-based are the recipes. For the most part, most of the recipes that use dairy (such as cheese, yogurt, or butter) can have the dairy omitted or a good vegan substitute used. As for the dough recipes that use eggs — I might try omitting the eggs entirely rather than using a substitute but I’ll leave that up to someone who knows more about it. As for the availability of some of the more specialized ingredients such as — rose petals, pomegranate molasses, orange blossom water or rose water — I found these easily (and relatively inexpensively) at my local supermarket.
New Feast proves to be an indispensable guide to exploring the Malouf’s modern and inventive take on Middle Eastern vegetarian cooking. The best part about this cookbook is that it’s designed to showcase beautiful plant-based Middle Eastern dishes — it’s really about using fresh vegetables in a way that maximizes their flavour — whether you enjoy them raw or cooked.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hardie Grant Books and Raincoast Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.