Cookbook Circle Beirut Edition

Since moving to Beirut over two years ago (can it possibly be that long ago?!?), I have been lucky enough to have found myself surrounded by a group of local women, also in the food business, who have been nothing but supportive of this newcomer. They have offered advice on local tastes, sent clients my way, guided me to others in the know, and just been all-round fantastic and fun. Over and over again I've counted my lucky stars to have been welcomed and embraced so warmly.In that vein, over the summer I was asked to be a member of Beirut's first (I think) cookbook club. Among the six of us there are two cookbook authors and chefs, a food superblogger/instagram queen, a TV chef and consultant, a health coach, and me.  Essentially, each month we will pick a cookbook to cook from, then we'll each pick a dish to prepare (not deviating from the author's instructions), and bring it to dinner at one of our homes. At dinner we share our feelings about the book and what we produced, eat way too much, and generally catch up. Fun, right?Earlier this month we had our first meeting at my kitchen space, The Pantry, in Achrafieh. Weather still lovely, we sat outside on my terrace and ate dishes out of Ottolenghi's newest cookbook "Simple." I chose the book because as an Ottolenghi superfan I had been eagerly anticipating his latest release and thought the flavors he so elegantly champions would be a wonderful fit for our Mediterranean climate and ingredients.On the night, with one last minute cancellation, we still had a greedy seven dishes to eat from (two of us prepared two dishes so that all 8 categories from the book could be represented). The sections included: Brunch, Raw Veg, Cooked Veg, Grains, Pasta, Meat, Fish, and Dessert. Now, I've cooked from this book several more times and would say that while these recipes are undoubtedly less complicated and hard-to-find ingredient friendly than his previous books, they still are not "simple." The very first recipe I tried was the delicious sounding Lamb Fillet with Orange Blossom Water and Almonds. The lamb must be marinated overnight, the sauce isn't complicated but takes time and must cool. A Rachel Ray or Jamie Oliver 30 minute meal it is not! However, generally, I still found the end result delicious and the flavors unexpected and extravagant.One thing I wonder about as I cook more from "Simple," is how does everyone feel about every ingredient being designated in grams? I recognize how much more accurate it is, but to a home cook, what does 5g of parsley look like? And does everyone have a digital scale in their home kitchens these days? While designating a handful or a 1/2 cup of something leaves room for error, I do think the way some ingredients are listed would put many cooks off. What do you think?Overall, our cookbook circle wasn't thrilled with their results out of "Simple." I did like the Beetroot, caraway, goat's cheese bread I made from the Brunch section and thought it would be best toasted and slathered with salted butter. And while the slow cooked lamb shoulder with mint and cumin I made was good, I didn't think that the tedious marinade the meat was submerged in overnight really made the lamb taste any better than when I just simply sear and roast it without. Lara brought Courgette, pea, and basil soup which was, meh, but her honey and yogurt cheesecake was good - the crust very special. Tina W. cooked a bulgur, with tomato, eggplant and yogurt that left us cold, while Tina K. tried an orzo with shrimp, tomato and marinated feta dish that was good but declared pretty ordinary. The best dish of the night, we all agreed, was Sana's tomato and bread salad with anchovies and capers. It was classic Ottolenghi, with extra punches of flavor and texture that he normally does so well.[video width="720" height="1280" mp4=""][/video]I thought I'd share the recipe we liked best each month with all of you and give you a recap of our dinners. We'd love it if you all wanted to cook along and share your thoughts on the book and your favorite recipes from it. November is coming up quickly and we will share our next pick with you once we've finalized it. Better yet, create your own Cookbook Circle with a group of foodie friends where you are and let us know about it!Tomato and bread salad with anchovies and capersfrom Ottolenghi's SIMPLEserves 4-64 garlic cloves, crushed6 anchovy fillets, in oil, drained and chopped finely110ml olive oil100g sourdough, crust on, sliced 2cm thick, toasted, then cut into 4cm chunks500g ripe tomatoes, cut into 4cm chunks1 lemon, zest and juice1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped5g parsley leaves, finely chopped5g basil leaves, finely chopped1 tsp Urfa chilli flakes, or 1/2 tsp other chilli flakeflaked sea saltPut the first three ingredients into a medium saucepan, along with 1/2 tsp flaked salt and put over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the garlic and anchovies soften when mashed with the back of a spoon. Make sure not to heat the oil too much or the oil will burn. After 10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and add the toasted sourdough chunks to the hot oil. Toss the bread around until well coated, then transfer the bread to a large bowl. Leave the anchovy and garlic oil in the pan.Mix together the tomatoes, lemon zest, lemon juice, capers, parsley, and basil.Once ready to assemble, add the tomato mixture to the bowl of bread. Carefully toss everything together, then transfer to a platter or serving dish. Drizzle over the remaining anchovy and garlic oil and finish with the chilli flakes.