A well known man in Australian food circles - he is the executive chef at acclaimed Melbourne restaurant MoMo - Greg Malouf has introduced the flavours of the Middle East, and particularly those of his Lebanese ancestral homeland, to many people through his restaurant and the two cookbooks that he has written with his former wife, Lucy. 'Arabesque' and 'Moorish' were both wonderful books, full of explanations of unusual ingredients and recipes for Malouf's modern take on modern Middle Eastern food.
The latest book from this duo is 'Saha', an evocative account of their culinary journey through Lebanon and Syria. For Greg, it was a homecoming of sorts, a chance to taste dishes remembered from his childhood while all the time finding fresh inspiration. Lucy, a gifted storyteller, writes engagingly of the artisans and craftspeople they encountered during the month they spent travelling there, in chapters with titles ranging from Bienvenue a Beirut (spice blends and flavourings), through The Butchers of Baalbeck (meat mezze) to The Storyteller of Damascus (puddings and sweet pastries). Her eye for intriguing fact is echoed visually in detailed photo essays by Matt Harvey, although the lack of captions does cause occasional confusion.
Once again, Greg looks after the recipes - and what recipes they are. Choose from Salmon Kibbeh Stuffed with Minced Shrimp, Pine Nuts and Stewed Peppers; Hot Yoghurt Soup with Lamb Shanks, Pearl Onions, Broad Beans and Rice; Manouish Bread with Za'atar; or Lebanese Doughnuts with Lemon Syrup.
But 'Saha' is more than just another cookbook. The Lebanon that the Maloufs journeyed through last year was a hopeful country, albeit one still in recovery from a civil war that tore the country apart until 1990. Since then a lot has changed and it is impossible to read this beautifully illustrated and lavishly designed book without wondering how much of what they lovingly documented still survives.