What's inside Abla's Lebanese Kitchen - Abla Amad

Cook with love and you'll never go wrong

By Tricia Brown

April 15th, 2010


T'fadalou, a Lebanese expression meaning 'Come eat at my table', aptly captures Abla Amad's approach to food. An acclaimed cook and restaurateur, Abla Amad of Abla's restaurant in Carlton, Melbourne, shares the secrets of Lebanese cooking in this inspired collection of recipes.

Abla Amad was born in Lebanon and arrived in Australia in 1954 at the age of nineteen. She always had a passion for cooking and became renowned among Melbourne's Lebanese community for sharing wonderful meals in her kitchen at home. In 1979, at the urging of friends and family, she opened her restaurant, Abla's, in Elgin Street, Carlton. It has since become a Melbourne institution and has attracted the praise of leading food critics and professional chefs.

Every two years she likes to go back to Lebanon to see what's happening and also to get new ideas as there have been many different influences on Lebanese cuisine over the last twenty years - "the way of life of the Lebanon I grew up in has changed considerably and so has the cuisine". However it is the traditional recipes, a link with traditions that are fast disappearing, that keep bringing the customers back to her restaurant for more. 

In 2001, the first edition of this book called The Lebanese Kitchen was published and was a huge success. Abla's Lebanese Kitchen is an updated and expanded version of the original. The new edition came about when Abla realised there is a whole new generation out there who have not only been exposed to different cuisines and are willing to try them but also are concerned about what they eat. "I have included recipes that tend towards being vegetarian for, on top of liking to eat well, today's young people are health conscious."

This new edition brings together one hundred authentic Lebanese recipes with menus and ingredient information from her own kitchen. Abla's Lebanese Kitchen moves seamlessly from the restaurant kitchen of Abla's famous Carlton eatery to the kitchen table at home, where family and friends gather to prepare and share dishes that have been handed down from one generation to the next.

Abla's Lebanese Kitchen contains all the colour, energy and tradition of this ancient Middle Eastern cuisine, with time-honoured dishes such as kibbee, tabouleh, vine leaves, kafta and Alba's famous chicken and rice - an aromatic meal of chicken flavoured with spices and almonds.

Rich in detail, sumptuously photographed and beautifully designed, it is a treasure trove for anyone wanting to experience the joys of authentic Lebanese food at home and is your warm welcome into the world of one of Australia's most respected Lebanese cooks.

The menu suggestions throughout make a wonderful addition to the book. For a fabulous Lebanese feast with friends, perhaps sharing the cooking, Abla has included six menu suggestions (two each for meat, fish and vegetarian) as well as helpful advice on how Lebanese people serve and eat their meals.

An unexpected but delightful inclusion is an entire Christmas Lunch menu of generous platters and many different dishes to be eaten with lots of people sharing the spirit of goodwill. Abla says: "As far as I am concerned, for Christmas there is no greater gift than the gift of food, and regardless of who we are or where we come from, when you sit at my table we are all one people." Now that's my kind of Christmas.

There is also a Barbecue Menu and a Mezza Menu. Mezza, a Middle Eastern word meaning small dishes served hot or cold and shared at the table, is the jewel of the Lebanese table. Many of these dishes can also be served as a main course.

Lebanese cooking is about the balance of meat, vegetables, grains and spices. The quantity of meat isn't large and the dishes relatively inexpensive to make. Originally many dishes were adapted to be free of meat or dairy foods to observe periods of fasting and so it is a popular cuisine for vegetarians.

Abla's Lebanese Kitchen travels from dips and bread making to salads, soups, meat and vegetable dishes and even yoghurt making. Her notes on the dishes and where they fit into Lebanese culture are thoughtful and interesting as well as an inspiration to get cooking. "For me, this book is more than a cookbook; I consider it a memoir of my culture as well."

The book ends with a Sweets section and who doesn't adore Lebanese sweets? Small morsels of sugar syrup coated pastry and nuts or dates served with a small rich, full-flavoured Lebanese coffee - surely a marriage made in heaven.

"All that is left to say is that I love to cook," says Abla, and "anything you do with love you can never do wrong."


Abla's Lebanese Kitchen by Abla Amad is published by Penguin Books (2010; RRP A$49.95). Subscribers of and Winepros Archive can purchase Abla's Lebanese Kitchen at 12.5% discount via our book partners Seekbooks (postage extra).



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