With so many cool kitchen gadgets, tools, and small appliances out there, along with endless options when it comes to gourmet treats, shopping for the food lover on your list should be one of the easier tasks on your to-do list these days.
If you’re somehow still stuck, however, a great cookbook always makes for a winning gift. There are countless choices in this category, too, but there are a few standouts.
Though it dates back to the beginning of civilization, Middle Eastern food is becoming increasingly familiar and more popular on Canada’s West Coast. Consider some of the newer or growing places to eat in town, such as Aleph Eatery, Balila, and Paramount Fine Foods, and Manoush’eh and the fully deserved success of Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine, with pop-ups, a catering company, food truck, and, most recently, cooking classes.
In his latest cookbook, London-based, Jerusalem-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi makes the cuisine even more approachable for the home cook. To keep things, well, simple, the book has a colour-coded system that allows you to pick the recipes that will suit the amount of time you have to cook. It’s based on the word simple: Recipes marked with an “S” are for days when you’re short on time; those with an “I” require 10 ingredients or less; “M” means make ahead; and so on.
Also, quite simply: the recipes are gorgeous. Their bold colours and flavours bursting off the page, these might be the kinds of dishes that the culinary star serves at home for his own family and friends.
Tops on my list: Burrata with grilled grapes and basil. Pumpkin, saffron, and orange soup. Lima bean mash with muhammara, which is a spicy Levantine dip made of walnuts and red peppers. Roasted whole cauliflower (with all the leaves intact, the whole head intended for people to share with drinks at the start of the meal, breaking it apart with their hands and dipping florets and crispy leaves into a parsley-blitzed green tahini). Roasted trout with tomato, orange, and barberry salsa. The list goes on. ($42)
THE SCENT OF POMEGRANATES AND ROSE WATER
Syrian-born writer Habeeb Salloum, who emigrated to Canada as an infant, shares authorship of this cookbook, subtitled Reviving the Beautiful Food Traditions of Syria, with his daughters, Leila Salloum Elias and Muna Salloum.
Sprinkling the book with folktales, family memories, and historical food facts, they focus on dishes of 18th and 19th centuries, prior to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Kousa mihshee bil-laban (stuffed zucchini in yogurt) remains a favourite item among many Syrians today; baasamshakaat (“the bride of Damascus”), which consists of rolls of lean steak stuffed with rice, diced or ground meat, and spices, is considered one of the best of that city’s traditional dishes. Dajaaj ma’a ruzz, a spectacular dish of chicken and rice studded with toasted almonds and pine nuts, welcomes special guests, while dandelion salad with cilantro dates back as far as the 10th century.
Partial proceeds of book sales go to Montreal's Centre culturel Syrien (Syrian Cultural Centre), a nonprofit organization that helps those who have been displaced or affected by the war in Syria. ($32.95)
SEVEN SEASONS ON STOWEL LAKE FARM
Subtitled Stories and Recipes that Nourish Community, this is not just a cookbook but a glimpse into the lives of the families who live and work together on an organic farm and retreat centre on Salt Spring Island.
Written by Jennifer Lloyd-Karr, Elizabeth Young, and Lisa Lloyd, with recipes by Haidee Hart, the book includes individual accounts about what life is like at Stowel Lake.
Each family has its own house (or yurt), but together they celebrate the solstices, share summer dinners outdoors, dye Easter eggs naturally (blue from red cabbage, yellow from turmeric), garden, grow all sorts of produce, raise chickens, host yoga retreats, and more, all with the common good as an unshakeable principle.
With so much fresh food, resourcefulness, and dedication to healthy living, the “farmies” also eat well. Hart shares 44 recipes that aren’t hard to execute, from tortilla soup and summer squash-blossom risotto to hunter-style rabbit stew and fresh ginger cake with pears. ($40)