In 2020, the pandemic sidelined Edy Massih’s catering business. That summer, his neighbor, who owned a Polish deli in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, approached him about taking over the space. Massih, who’d moved to the U.S. from Lebanon at age 10, jumped at the chance to open Edy’s Grocer, where customers can stock up on Middle Eastern pantry staples and order from a full menu. He spoke with PW about sharing favorite recipes from the Grocer and honoring his beloved grandmothers’ cooking in Keep It Zesty (Harper, May).

How does the cookbook complement the work that you’ve done with Edy’s Grocer?

A lot of recipes are ones from growing up that I’ve adapted into Grocer style. With Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, the recipes often have much longer cooking times. I was trying to figure out how to make things easier for everyday prep and consumption.

What balance do you strike between respecting your grandmothers’ recipes and making them your own?

I don’t have time like my grandmothers did, you know? The catering mindset helped me figure out what can be prepped ahead. All that experience shaped my brain to be able to put together these recipes—to keep their integrity, but with small shortcuts.

For instance, there’s a recipe for tabbouleh in the book. Nobody has enough time or money to chop up that much parsley, and it wilts after a day. People were asking for tabbouleh over and over again at the Grocer, and we did it with chopped kale, because it holds up and it can stay in the fridge for up to three days. Of course, there’s still parsley in it, but it’s not a full parsley salad. It’s about making it work for longevity.

What does “keep it zesty” mean to you?

A lot of people get so intimidated in the kitchen. “Keep it zesty” is about going into the kitchen with the mindset of, we’re going to have fun with the flavors, make them bright and delicious. It’s about being playful and flirty with what you’re making and enjoying yourself, shedding negativity and stress.

How does it feel to have written a Lebanese cookbook for Americans?

In the childhood memories chapter, there’s a dish called samkeh harra, which is spicy fish. It’s one of those recipes I never learned from my grandmother—I interpreted how she would have made it in a modern way. There’s also riz a djej, Lebanese dirty rice, which is so close to my heart. Same with the kibbe, which is also in that chapter. Growing up, those are the type of recipes that your grandmother or your mother would be worrying about cooking all day long. I’ve made it so you should only be spending like an hour in the kitchen making them.

At the end of the day, I come from the smallest little fishing village in Lebanon. It means a lot to come so far from that—not only the transition of moving to America but moving to New York and growing a name in the industry—and to be able to bring my recipes to people’s homes across the country. All that hard work and love and passion I have for Lebanese cooking is in the book. It means more to me than anything—to that little child that came from Lebanon—to be able to share those flavors that I was deprived of for many years.

Read more from our cookbooks feature:

Cookbooks for the Real Mediterranean Diet
New cookbooks illuminate the roles culture and geography play in the region’s cuisine.