One of the most common ways marketers describe a vegetarian cookbook is by saying “you won’t miss the meat!”. That’s not often true, except in the case of The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook(Phaidon Press, 2016) written by noted Lebanese-British author Salma Hage.
In my opinion, the best vegetarian recipes expand upon cuisines with an already-strong vegetable-based cooking tradition rather than trying to turn vegetables into something that masquerades as meat. The Middle Eastern Vegetarian cookbook does just that. It offers traditional Lebanese recipes for vegetables and grains like tabbouleh and hummus but also the offers the author’s creative adaptations of these dishes as well—like lentil and quinoa tabboulehs which are both higher in protein and forgo the cracked wheat, which is ideal for those who are gluten free.
Hage breaks down the foundational flavors of this cuisine in the simplest way with a section that helps cooks create a pantry of necessary flavors—like her version of Lebanese 7-Spice Powder. The author refers to this combination of spices as core to Lebanese cuisine—and something she misses when she is traveling away from home. Think of it like basil to Italian cuisine or curry to Indian food.
The book uses a wide variety of vegetables from roots to greens to cooking vegetables of all kinds and the author offers vegan or gluten free options for many of the recipes.
Desserts are covered in this book and feature a beautiful array of traditional Middle Eastern sweets like baklava and Ma’mool (date cookies) as well as gorgeous newcomers like Coconut Ginger Cake.