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COOKBOOK WATCH | Cookstuff

September 30, 1998|LAURIE OCHOA

Anissa Helou caught the food world's attention in 1994 with the publication of "Lebanese Cuisine." Not just a collection of home cooking and not solely a historic document, it's a carefully thought-out exploration of a cuisine that often gets dumped into a single Middle Eastern category. Helou questions the idea of a collective Middle Eastern cuisine. Lebanon, she points out, has no desert and so uses more fresh vegetables than surrounding countries. And she wonders whether the Ottoman Turks really were the major influence on Lebanese cooking or whether they took elements from a Lebanese cuisine that was already well developed and spread it to other areas.

The most eye-opening aspect of the book, however, is the recipes. She is in love with the traditions of Lebanese cuisine, but she has a distinct personal style. She cuts down on the traditional heavy use of lemon juice, for instance, making dishes that go better with wine. It's not exactly Lebanese nouvelle cuisine, but her cooking reflects a sophisticated foodie's taste. (Helou, who grew up in Lebanon and Syria, spent many years as an art consultant for Sotheby's and lives in London.) She includes Lebanon's best-known dishes, and a number of unfamiliar ones, as well as two dishes made with pork, a rare, though not unknown, ingredient in Lebanon.

Now the book is available in paperback (St. Martin's Griffin, $14.95) and a new audience has a chance to see what the fuss was about.

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