The Lebanese Kitchen
By Salma Hage

As with many of the other cookbooks from the Phaidon publishing house - including its volumes on Italy, India, France and Spain - The Lebanese Kitchen is a fascinating, in-depth look at a specific cuisine. I'm not knowledgable enough about the food of Lebanon to say this book is comprehensive, but having sampled this type of food only in restaurants, it's eye-opening to see what dishes I've missed out on.

In the introduction, Salma Hage writes, "There are more Lebanese outside Lebanon today than there are living in this smallest of countries." (One wishes a few of them would open restaurants in Hong Kong.) She also writes that the cuisine is a "mix of the earthy, hearty traditional peasant dishes that come from the country's many mountain villages and the cutting edge, contemporary cuisine found in Beirut and other cities, influenced by the mix of cultures, both of the Levant and Europe, that have called Lebanon home throughout its history".

Who knew hummus could be so varied! I only know of the version I make: chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice. Hage gives seven versions, including ones with pine nuts, pumpkin, cilantro, red bell peppers and beets.

Lamb dishes are plentiful, with recipes for lamb spaghetti with cashew nuts and seven spice; potato patties stuffed with the meat; raw kibbeh; mini flatbread topped with spiced lamb and anchovies; and zucchini stuffed with lamb. Other dishes include coarse bulgur wheat with beans and onions; bell pepper and chilli falafel; sweet potato kibbeh with mozzarella and tomato; koftas with tomato sauce and potatoes; salmon fishcakes with sesame seed and sumac crumb; rabbit soup; and crepes with pistachio filling and syrup.