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‘Levantine Harvest’ the first cookery book by Lara Ariss

With ‘Levantine Harvest’, Lara Ariss brings her signature love of medleys of flavour together with a keen appreciation for fresh seasonal produce and a gratifyingly straightforward approach to preparing food. Lara Ariss speaks to us about her career and her book.

Who is Lara Ariss?
I started my career in advertising, however, I soon realized that the corporate world was not where my heart was and nor was it a place where I could see myself growing or wanting to build my career. In 2010, I moved to London to attend Le Cordon Bleu.

Where did your passion come from?
At the age of about 9 years old, during one of the summer vacations my family spent in Beirut, my mother enrolled me at the Bake it yourself, baking classes for teens and tweens, founded and owned by Fayza Bast. It was then and there that I found my love for being in the kitchen and baking. From there on, like many other bakers, I used to pretend to host my own culinary TV show. Although the result was rarely ever satisfactory, and I created a mess out of my mother’s kitchen, I never stopped. As the years went by, my baking improved tremendously and I found a sense of happiness and solace in spending time in my mother’s kitchen and sharing my baked goods with friends and family.

What can you tell us about your book? Why is it different from others cooking books?
My book is inspired by the fresh produce that is grown on my family’s farm in the south of Lebanon, at Sarafand. Each week, we receive baskets of seasonal fresh produce and we decide how best to turn this into meals.
My book is extremely visual, with a large emphasis on the photographs. The story behind its inspiration is an ingrained appreciation for the produce that is grown in Lebanon, and there is a subtle focus on seasonal eating.
There are so many cookbooks that are written world-wide each year, it really depends on the story that inspired the book – whether it resonates with the reader or not. It depends on how appetizing the photography is and the look and feel of the book in general.

Why have you dedicated a whole section for vegetarians, is this trendy?
In the history of the Arab world, guests were honored at the dinner table by being served meat and fish because this, being expensive,was not accessible to everyone. This is one of the reasons the Levantine cuisine is known for being green – dishes that are just vegetables, and the book is inspired by my family’s orchard.

What will we find in your fridge? According to you, what are the essential ingredients and why?
There is always a large bowl of unmixed fattoush. Two essential ingredients that I have grown to appreciate are garlic and lemon.
I grew up in a home where there was always extra lemon and garlic at the dinner table; these two ingredients are easily accessible and really give an extraordinary flavor to anything that is bland.

To delight all the taste buds, what’s the unmissable dish at Christmas?
My book is generic, if there is any focus it’s on seasonal eating. I don’t focus on holidays although I do briefly mention if a dish is famous during certain holidays, but none specifically for Christmas.
Christmas is a time of year where a lot of different flavors are brought together at the dinner table. If I had to choose one recipe that I would like to share at the Christmas dinner table it would be the Cauliflower and Chickpea Soup with Sumac Croutons.

Can you give us the recipe?
Cauliflower and Chickpea Soup with Sumac Croutons

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus overnight
Cooking time: 60 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

For the soup
220g fresh chickpeas
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
3 spring onions, coarsely chopped
1 potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chili
1 tsp cinnamon
1l vegetable stock
1⁄2 bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
1⁄4 bunch of parsley, coarsely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the croutons
3 slices white bread, cut into 2cm cubes
3 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp sumac

To serve
• Seeds of 1 pomegranate
• Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, spring onions and potato. Fry, stirring occasionally, until their color changes slightly, about 20 minutes.
• Add the garlic, bay leaves and spices. Sauté until the spices release their aroma, about 3 to 5 minutes.
• Add the cauliflower, chickpeas, vegetable stock and coriander. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
• Stir in the parsley and lemon juice. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves.
• Process the soup until smooth using a hand blender or food processor. Add a little more stock if the soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
For the croutons, preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
• Toss the bread cubes, olive oil and sumac in a medium bowl. Make sure all the bread cubes are evenly coated with oil. Spread the cubes on the baking tray and bake for 6 to 7 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
• To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with the croutons and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Book launch
‘Levantine Harvest’ by Lara Ariss, published by Rawiya Editions
Sursock museum
Thursday 17 November 2016 at 5.00pm

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