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Falafel for breakfast

I guess when you grow up in Tel Aviv as chef Michael Rantissi did, then some things become hardwired into you, becoming part of your mental anatomy. As a child he watched his mother cook and joined in the many family feasts as well as tasting the food from a dozen or more countries in his own neighbourhood.

After training in Israel and then studying in Paris and New York, he arrived in Australia in 2005 and began working in The Bathers Pavilion at Balmoral, as a sous-chef. Years later he was ready to branch out on his own, and this book which is quite obviously a labour of love from Rantissi and his partner, Kristy Frawley, is the result of it.

Falafel for Breakfast draws not only on the tastes and flavours of the Middle East, but also embodies the ethos of the cooking and the heritage from these ancient lands. Together the couple have assembled over 120 original recipes, many of which will be familiar to diners at their restaurants, Kepos & Co and Kepos Street Kitchen.

'In the Middle East we take our breakfasts very seriously' is the introduction to one chapter, bursting with zucchini fritters, feta scrambled eggs, labneh, shakshuka – and falafel, of course! From here on, it's a delicious roller-coaster of foods that we have all seen or tasted, or at least heard of. And some that we haven't: like pumpkin doughnuts, best served with a caramel sauce, and roasted cauliflower and raisin upside down bread!

Breads include flaky Yemenite pan roti, pita bread, za'atar bread, challah - the marvellous mixture of races in the Middle East so evident in just this chapter. There are drinks and teas, and a section on condiments which alone is worth buying the book for.

But of course everyone knows that this corner of the world is known for its pastries and sweet treats, so ditch the diet and look at the lemon and oraange blossom slice, tahini and sesame teacake, chocolate halva brownies, and chocolate and pistachio brownies. And many more!

Of course there are mains - I've marked a richly flavoured North African fish stew, chicken bastilla and Persian eggplant risotto to try - but you'll find others for any occasion.

Each recipe has clear instructions, plus a little preamble to explain a point or two, and there are many of Alan Benson's bright and beautiful photographs throughout to inspire you to make notes and plan when you can begin trying out these dishes.

It is quite clear that although Rantissi may have left the country in which he was born, it is abundantly clear that he has brought a significant amount of it with him - in his heart and his head and memory. And now part of that has been transferred to this book.

Falafel for Breakfast, by Michael Rantissi & Kristy Frawley, published by Murdoch Books, 2015, rrpA$49.99, hardcover, ISBN: 978 1 74336 444 4.


- reviewed by Sally Hammond


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