If you’re a foodie, chances are you’ve already heard of 66-year-old Syrian-Lebanese cook Anissa Helou. The former art consultant turned self-made chef, is now also one of the world’s most renowned cookbook writers. Having just released her ninth book to date entitled Feast: Food for the Islamic World—as a way of shining a light on a brighter image of the Muslim world—Helou unveils some of her favourite recipes from Turkey to Saudi Arabia.
For Helou, food is all about culture and pleasure. “Whether people live to eat or eat to live, the subject of food is one that not only appeals universally but also opens doors”, she says. But first and foremost, to her, food is a family affair. She was first introduced to cooking by her grandmother, mother and aunt, who cooked her a dish, which until today remains her favourite: Lubiyeh bil-Zeyt (green beans in olive oil and tomato sauce). This typical Lebanese vegetarian dish is usually served as a mezze or in Christian households on a Friday, when Christians don’t eat meat. “We would spread the beans and tomato sauce on to pita bread and tear the dry edges to scoop the beans and when we had finished eating them all we would roll the pita bread, which by this time had become soaked in tomato sauce, to eat it like a wrap with wedges of raw onions”, she nostalgically recalls.
Since she left the Middle East, Helou has travelled around the world, developing new technical skills. She cites Paris as her biggest inspiration, while still affirming that Mediterranean ingredients such as, “tomatoes, lemons, extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs” should forever be everyone’s ultimate cooking ingredients. “Whether it is cheese, vegetables, meat, fish or poultry, with these ingredients you can create a myriad of wonderfully tasty and fresh dishes to enjoy, especially in the heat of summer”, she says.
But in the summer months, it can be especially hard to find recipes that are both tasty and healthy. That’s why we’re here to help. MILLE selects three of Helou’s best meals, ideal for the warmer days.