Mouneh by Barbara Abdeni Massaad – Book Review

This is my first ever book review. My intention is to introduce you, dear reader, to books that inspire me to cook, ones that teach me new things, or ones that contain extremely valuable information. It so happens that this first book, Mouneh, does these things all at once.

Book Highlights

  • A comprehensive work
  • Contains recipes for lesser-known aspects of Lebanese food
  • A one-of-a-kind book which has, for the first time, made these recipes publicly available
  • Chefs and cooks will be inspired and educated about old techniques and obscure dishes that are absolutely stunning
  • Has beautiful photography
  • A must have for anyone serious or even slightly interested about Lebanese food

Book Review

To call the task of putting together a book like Mouneh daunting would be a gross understatement. Mouneh is the Lebanese word for the larder, the supplies and provisions that saw village people through the rough Lebanese winters. Weighing in at 592 pages, Mouneh is a comprehensive work, encompassing recipes for pretty much all Lebanese pantry items, from the well-known to the obscure. Author Barbara Abdeni Massaad is an American born of Lebanese parents and she is more than passionate about preserving both pantry items and Lebanese traditions. It takes individuals like Barbara who feel a connection to a country but see it through an outsider’s perspective to fully appreciate the value and need to document its fragile traditions. This work is the result of years of research and experimentation to produce accurate, authentic recipes categorised by month to give the reader an idea of what can be preserved at that time of year. Many of the recipes contained in Mouneh have never been previously documented or made this easily available.

In the style of her first book Man’oushé, which is dedicated in its entirety to manakish, the Levantine pizza, Barbara has written Mouneh in a personal tone. The recipes, it becomes obvious, are not her own, but belong to the farmers and artisan producers she introduces us to. She relays her stories and encounters with heart, and shares the recipes she has gathered from numerous people living all over Lebanon.

In addition to doing all the writing, Barbara has also done most of the photography. Her portrayal of wonderful and often exotic ingredients largely contributes to the pleasure of reading Mouneh. The book explodes with colour and the images of farmers in their fields or producers preparing their recipes speak a thousand words.

I aim to provide honest, balanced reviews, so here’s some dwelling on the negatives. In my opinion, the book could have used an editor to give it the once over as sometimes, the sentences could be better structured and there are some minor, infrequent spelling mistakes. My second criticism is common to most books I’ve seen come out of Lebanon, though it is observed less with Mouneh. Here, the layout and the typography could be better handled. A more suitable font could have been selected, the images are sometimes placed in awkward positions on the page, and in some cases the text clashes with its background and becomes difficult to read.

All in all, these are minor issues that would not stand in the way of Mouneh becoming a true classic. To me, Mouneh has become my first reference for Lebanese preserves. No other book has gone to such lengths to describe these recipes in such a serious, well-researched manner. Non-Lebanese readers will truly enter a new and colourful world of Lebanese food, one that is very distinct from any other Lebanese cook book, as it relates to a completely different facet of our cuisine. You won’t find a recipe for hummus here, but instead, you will learn how to make orange blossom petal jam, pickled green almonds, candied pumpkin and a plethora of other Lebanese classics that until now have been known mostly to a handful of the Lebanese. Barbara has done the Lebanese people a great service in producing Mouneh, and I, for one, am very grateful.

You can buy the book here: http://www.buylebanese.com/browse.asp?pr=596&x=2&y=4

Book Score

Content: 7.5/10
Recipes: 10/10
Layout: 7/10
Total: 24.5/30

Additional Information

  • I heard about Barbara when she left a comment on my Manakish post
  • Barbara is also a blogger. Her blog can be found here: http://myculinaryjourneythroughlebanon.blogspot.com
  • In the interest of full disclosure, Barbara is one of my Facebook contacts, but I personally purchased the book and have written this review with no bias or favouritism

11 Responses to “Mouneh by Barbara Abdeni Massaad – Book Review”

  1. Justine says:

    I love the book Man’oushé, especially the images throughout. Thanks for this review. I’m heading there now to buy it. It sounds amazing!

  2. charterbot says:

    Thank you for the balanced review! Both her books sound like such satisfying reads—I really hope they turn up on amazon or ibooks soon, I pine to buy them!

  3. Thank you for the lovely book review. I just purchased the book from Amazon. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

    Thanks again, I’ve been waiting for something like this :)

  4. I heard of Barbara’s dedication from an American writer whom I met in Beirut; she was telling me how Barbara spent two weeks with mountain folks learning their methods for canning and preserving, living with them day in and day out. True dedication that brings to mind another great writer, Paula Wolfert.
    I have the book Man’ooshe and I plan to get this one as well. Great review. thanks.
    tasteofbeirut´s last [type] ..Earl Grey cake

  5. Uh-oh, not another tempting cookbook. Thanks a million Fouad! This sounds fabulous – I particularly love preserving.

  6. Sounds great! I love the idea that secret Lebanese family recipes are made available in the book :)

  7. Thank you for the review, it sounds like a great book for those wanting to explore a little deeper into Lebanese cooking.
    sara (Belly Rumbles)´s last [type] ..Lemon Myrtle Panna Cotta plus Macadamia- Glace Fig &amp Mountain Pepper Florentines

  8. I have read recently about the book in a local magazine. It sounded interesting actually. Your review kind of corroborated my opinion! Thanks!
    Viviane@Taste-Buds´s last [type] ..Chicken Tikka Masala for Family Lunch

  9. Mary says:

    Maybe I never ate good Lebanese food before but I really don’t like it. Maybe a recipe book like this would change my mind. Ill try it.
    Mary´s last [type] ..Divorce Attorney Long Island

  10. [...] recent trip to Lebanon, I recorded a short segment with my friend Barbara Abdeni Massaad, author of Mouneh and presenter of the Helwi w Morra.  It was great fun and I made Barbara a dessert influenced by [...]

  11. George says:

    Thank you for unveiling the code for us around the lebanese cuisine, there a thirst for these kind of books you work on, manoucheh then mouneh now.
    I will be patiently waiting to add your 3rd and so on books to my kitchen library. Keep up the good work.

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