Feast – Anissa Helou

Anissa Helou

In the world of cookbook publishing, there is still a trend of exploring a particular cuisine and culture in greater detail, thankfully! I’ve always found that a well-researched and well-written cookbook can transport me into the heart and soul of culture in a matter of minutes. We can get lost in the culture of the country, in its colours and the emotions of its people, and hopefully, become more aware and have a greater understanding of what drives them, what they live for, and what they love and cherish.

Anissa’s book delves into the heart of the Islamic world and you can devour it like a novel. It’s filled with explanations on the origins of people and the recipes they’ve created, their histories, how they’ve evolved, and what cultures have influenced them over the years. Anissa walks us through the Islamic world as a whole, way back to the beginning of the seventh century when Islam was born. She explores the important occasions like Ramadan, and celebrations for the birth of a child to the death of a loved one and the traditional dishes they prepare for these occasions.

You’ll find recipes and histories on the simplest flatbreads to the sweetest baklava, Biryani’s and lamb stews, sweet-savoury couscous with chicken, and a fragrant variety of tagines.

The history and knowledge that fills the pages of this tome-like book is captivating and full of depth and tradition. The front of the book features a world map so you track exactly where each recipe that takes your fancy originates from.

Fast 5 with Anissa Helou

What couldn’t you live without in the kitchen?

My big, white, plastic chopping board and my wide blade ceramic knife; almost every day, I make myself a salad for lunch and these two are indispensable for this daily ritual with the wide blade serving to both chop and scoop up the salad ingredients.

What is your most memorable meal and why?

I have many but one that I still remember many, many years later happened in Barcelona, in the basement of a fish monger called El Sherif, where he had a restaurant serving simple fish dishes and delicious rose wine served in jugs. We spent the whole afternoon feasting on the freshest grilled fish and seafood, dipping our bread in delicious olive oil drizzled over the fish, and sipping chilled wine. The place is long gone now as it was in the neighbourhood that was redeveloped for the Olympics but it was a destination for Barcelona foodies and recommended to us by a local friend.

What’s your worst kitchen disaster?

Serving a practically inedible meal once in Paris when I lived there to a journalist I was trying to impress because I had had lunch with a friend and spent the afternoon with her drinking wine. By the time we came to prepare the dinner, we were slightly tipsy and added too much salt. The journalist was too polite and gracious to comment but my friend’s husband immediately picked up on the disastrous seasoning!

What would you want to eat for your last meal?

So many different things: my mother’s stuffed vegetables, foie gras, caviar, the most perfect figs, and custard apples.

The great coriander debate  –  yes or no?

I used to hate it but learnt to love it in Morocco, so, yes!

We have three recipes to share with you from Feast:

Anissa Helou’s Feast is published by Bloomsbury ($59.99) Out now!

Turkish Kebabs – Anissa Helou
Mango Yogurt Drink – Anissa Helou
Slow-Cooked Biryani – Anissa Helou
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