Cooking for the diaspora: Oral histories of Lebanese cuisine

Hosted by

Anissa Helou (left) says her seminal collection of recipes, "Lebanese Cuisine," could be considered her mother's cookbook, as all of the information came from that source. Photo by Joao Bousa.

Prolific cookbook author and chef Anissa Helou pursued a career in art before turning her focus to food. Aiming to preserve her mother's recipes and offer them to a younger generation who grew up during the Lebanese civil war, Helou says, "A lot of them had to leave and didn't have the chance that I had of seeing everything prepared at home."

Helou recalls being shooed out of the kitchen as a youth. 

"My mother was very stern, and she is still very stern at 91. Not only would she not let me touch the food, she wouldn't let me taste it until we got to the table," she says. Watching her mom prepare a meal for 30 people, cooking every Lebanese dish from memory, propelled Helou's interest in the culinary arts. 

When she asked her mother to write all of her recipes in Arabic, Helou remembers, "She wrote very approximate recipes, like all kinds of home cooks who have cooked for years, ending with the phrase, 'Cook until done.' I didn't even know the Arabic word for 'done.'"

Helou worked with her mother to test the recipes in her new home in London then started writing her seminal cookbook, "Lebanese Cuisine," in 1992. It was well-received by the Lebanese diaspora.



  • Anissa Helou - chef, culinary instructor, author of “Feast”


Evan Kleiman