Maydān: Recipes from Lebanon and Beyond
“this book works on many levels—as an entry into different cultures and kitchens and as a way to bring those foods into our home, making them our own.”
Rose Previte, owner of three Washington D.C. restaurants—Compass Rose, Kirby Club, and the Michelin-starred Maydān—was in Ukraine when she first heard the word maydān. And as she traveled, she heard it more and more, frequently in such phrases as “everyone is meeting at the maydān” and “the festival is at the maydān,” she recalls in the introduction to her debut cookbook Maydān: Recipes from Lebanon and Beyond.
Pronounced as “MY-dahn,” “MAY-dahn” or “MI-dan,” the word is commonly used through the Eastern Mediterranean, Central and South Asia, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and North Africa. Though it’s pronounced differently, it means the same everywhere: a central meeting place, often in the middle of the city.
“Maydān isn’t the only cross-lingual traveler in this region,” writes Previte. “The foodways also stretch across and through Morocco and Tunisia in the west, moving East though Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey up to Georgia, and as far east as Iran. Even if similar dishes don’t have the same name everywhere or are made a bit differently from village to city to country, many of ingredients and recipes from this part of the world have crossed borders, carried on the backs and in the minds by people who sometimes were making the journey willingly, and often not.”
Previte, raised in Ohio in a Sicilian-Lebanese family, worked in her mother’s restaurant and catering business. It was after spending several years traveling the ancient spice trade routes while learning the foodways from home cooks—often grandmothers—that she felt she was ready to open her own restaurant. The recipes she collected as well as the techniques she gathered in her journey and what she learned from her parents growing up form the basis for this lovely cookbook with its lush photos and typically easily accessible recipes that make it perfect for the home chef.
Maydān is in many ways a personal book and Previte’s personality—warm, inviting, and passionate about food, shows in her writing and the stories she shares about her life, her family, and her experiences. Her sense of humor also comes across in such chapter titles as “Carbs, Beautiful Carbs: Breads, Grains, and Legumes,” “You Don’t Eat Me?! It’s Okay, I make Lamb (Meat, Poultry, Fish, and Shellfish)” and “Why Are We All Lactose Intolerant? Cheese and Dairy.”
Written with New York Times bestselling cookbook author Marah Stets, in this cookbook the more than 150 recipes each have an introduction that is a personal recollection from Previte’s travels and childhood. She is a keen observer of different cultures, embracing the culinary ways of other lands with eagerness. At times the introduction to a recipe such as Batata Harra (Lebanese Spicy Potatoes), Beet Borant, which can be used as a spread, and Salatet Malfouf (Mint Cabbage Salad) are as long or even longer than the instructions for making the dish. It’s as if Previte wants to share her vast knowledge so that the foods we make from her book are more than just something to serve but instead become part of our own culinary traditions.
For the experienced home chef or those willing to take on a gastronomic challenge, there are such dishes as Tahdig, a beloved Persian rice dish with a crisp crust, Compass Rose’s Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread), and Kushari—Egyptian Elbow Pasta with Lentils, Chickpeas, and Rice.
Whatever a person’s skills and interest in cooking, this book works on many levels—as an entry into different cultures and kitchens and as a way to bring those foods into our home, making them our own.