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.
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