Tabouli was the first food I ate associated with the Middle East and I had that in Australia at the back end of the 1980s. I moved to London in the early 1990s and London has an abundance of food from this whole region. In those days I dined out with my boyfriend (now husband!) in the many restaurants available but I didn’t really cook anything from the region.
It wasn’t until I went to Beirut in Lebanon on a work trip did I really fall in love with the food – I was lucky enough to spend time with Chef Ramzi Choueiri who went on to become the first Arab chef to star in a live cooking show with 10 million viewers and has since written his own cookery books. But I was there before that when Chef Ramzi (amongst many other things) ran his own cookery school as part of the Al Kafaat Foundation, of which he is now CEO. My colleague Peter and I ate incredibly well – lamb, chicken, incredible flatbreads (cooked in Chef Ramzi’s huge bakery and the best in Beirut) and a range of incredible salads.
When we left, Chef Ramzi gave me a copy of the Rayees’ cookery book called ‘Art of Lebanese Cooking’. This instantly became my bible for food from this part of the world. A few years later, my great friend Sam gave me another book, The Arab Table, which was written by her husband’s cousin May Bsisu. This has been a massively successful book, particularly in the US, where May currently lives. It has 5 star reviews and is a 5 star book and has helped to further cement my love of Arabic food.
A variety of recipes using Middle East Spice
This warm and delicate spice mix, evocative of the Middle East, is a heady smokey, musky, citrusy, woody, sweet, nutty, fragrant combination of flavours. It can be used in a range of dishes and marinades. Keep an eye out for these dishes: