In a bid to stop the ever-growing piles of cookbooks evicting me from my own home, I’m making an Easter resolution of sorts, to cook directly from them instead of taking them simply as reading material and “inspiration.” Cookbook sales are at an all time high but cooking homemade meals on a daily basis also seems to be a dying art if some sections of the media are believed; yet I’m sure I’m not the only person who buys cookbooks that go unused, read thoroughly but never daubed in the splashes of an afternoon in the kitchen.
My favourite cookbooks generally fall into two categories: collections of traditional, everyday food from around the world (such as the books that accompany Rick Stein’s recent TV series); everyday British-inspired food done in a modern way (think Nigel Slater or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall).
Anissa Helou’s Levant, published last year, falls into the first category. Amassed from the writer’s travels in her native Lebanon and Syria, as well as Iran, Jordan, Palestine and Turkey, it’s a very comprehensive book, divided into chapters based on where the food originates, from farms to homes to bakeries and markets rather than countries themselves.
Towards the end of the book is a simple recipe for Iranian shortbread, scented with cardamom. The shortage of images means I don’t really know if they’ve turned out right (the pictures for the book were lost before publication), I made them today to nibble on with coffee, although the chickpea flour based dough was virtually impossible to work with. If only it were proper Turkish coffee on the side.