- 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 ReviewTo 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 categorized 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 ScoreContent: 7.5/10
- 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.
A few days ago our mother arrived from Lebanon for a visit. Aside from the many edible delights that she brought with her including her freshly made Zaatar, Baklava from AbdulRahman Hallab Sweets, fresh batches of Lebanese 7-spices and Sumac spice, she brought us something unique this time, Barbara Massaad’s recent book titled “Mouneh, Preserving Foods for the Lebanese Pantry.”
“Mouneh” is a Lebanese slang word coming from the Arabic word “Mana” which means to preserve food. Mouneh is a living Lebanese tradition refined through the generations by culture and creativity. And what makes the Lebanese Mouneh specifically so special is the rich mixture and inheritance of civilizations that Lebanon and its surroundings have had over thousands of years, including but not limited to the civilizations of the Phoenicians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Byzantine, Islamic Caliphates, Ottoman and up to the recent French colonization.With that in mind, the people of Lebanon learned to preserve hundreds of food items and staples across seasons, and this is what Barbara’s book is meant to archive.
Barbara took over 5 years to write and publish this book. She moved from one Lebanese village to the other, sat down with the old and the young, and she took her time in not only listening to and writing their stories, but also in actually helping out the villagers in their processes of preserving their local foods. Hence, her experience is practical and is first hand.
So this is not a typical “recipes” cookbook. “Mouneh” documents the stories of the people and the traditions behind its recipes as well.
Content and Style:
The book “Mouneh” is organized into sections according to the 4 seasons that Lebanon enjoys. Each section contains recipes and methods of naturally preserving vegetables, fruits, grains, crops, spices and dairy products according to seasonal availability. The book has about 590 pages, is full color, and features hundreds of Barbara’s professionally taken photographs, along with photographs by other professional photographers. The book’s images are quite vivid and impressive, and give the book another dimension by helping the reader get fully immersed in the story.
Typically villagers in Lebanon tend to focus on preserving their own local crops and foods, with some exceptions. So it’s not common to find one village that aced it all since nature, weather and even history play a big role in dictating what type of produce or food products each village grows. And that is why Barbara’s work is quite important: it gathers all those precious methods from hundreds of Lebanese villages and people and puts its all in one place. The content is rich.
In terms of writing style, “Mouneh” is a very easy and lively read, despite its intimidating volume. Barbara overviews vividly the personal experiences she’s had in many villages. She talks about people, and their stories, and she talks about their own traditions in preserving local foods, and in some case she talks about villages and their history. From this perspective, the book is quite a piece of cultural archive.
As a final word on Barbara, she is a founding member of Slow Food Beirut, a delegate of the International Terra Madre Community, and Slow Food Italy. She is a contributing editor to local and international publications. She has also worked on an extensive portfolio dealing with children’s portraiture. She lives in Beirut with her husband and three children who are very much involved in her culinary journey.
We found Barbara’s work to be quite impressive and in our opinion, her book is a service to Lebanon’s future generations as it preserves a slowly fading aspect of their culture in such a beautiful and detailed way.