Cookbook Review: Our Syria
Hearty, welcoming, generous recipes.
I realize not everyone reads a cookbook cover to cover like a novel, but when I find a good one, that’s precisely what I do.
I first found Our Syria by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi through an online library. I liked it so much, I bought it from my local bookstore.
Sometimes cooking the recipes of another culture can be intimidating. There are often unfamiliar ingredients. If you can’t track them down, you don’t always know what you can substitute successfully or leave out.
The recipes in Our Syria are so simple, the ingredients common enough even in my smallish Canadian town, that I’ve felt quite confident giving them a go.
And the results have been fantastic!
The Zucchini with Garlic and Mint is pretty much just that, with the addition of salt and pepper to taste and some olive oil. Who knew such simple ingredients could taste so good! The recipe calls for serving it with flatbread. My husband and I were extra hungry that night, so we spooned it over pasta. I hope no one minds.
We’re trying to eat more vegan meals, so we made the White Bean and Lamb Stew without the lamb chops. And we didn’t even miss them! It’s a warm, hearty, filling stew that packs a bunch of flavor without being heavy. We sent some leftovers to a friend who’s getting over pneumonia. He claims it sped up his recovery (I think it might have been the garlic).
We did fall off the vegan wagon for the Fish in Tahini. The tahini sauce is so good, I can totally see myself serving it up with tofu or roasted cauliflower instead of the fish. Actually, that sauce is so good I ate up the leftovers for lunch the next day, spooned over a bowl of rice. Please don’t judge me.
These are hearty, welcoming, generous recipes that you will want to share with family and friends. OK, we can’t do that right now, but the instant this pandemic is sorted, I’m having my friends round for one hell of a feast!
Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi were born in Syria and Lebanon, respectively. They are amateur cooks with backgrounds in theater. They live in London now but conceived the idea of the cookbook while in Beirut working on a theater project with a group of Syrian women who had just recently escaped the war that is destroying their homeland.
From the introduction: That’s when we hit upon the idea for this book — to bring to the world the glories of Syrian food and, in the process, honor these brave women who are fighting back against the destruction of their home with the only weapons they have: pots and pans. We desperately wanted to share their great recipes and our love of Syrian food and to celebrate what food can mean to an individual, to a family, and to a nation.
Interspersed with the recipes are stories of the women who shared them. They are heartbreaking and human. And if they make you want to help, there are two charities mentioned at the end of the book that are doing good work.
One is the Hands Up Foundation based in London. They fund health and education programs in Syria and neighboring countries. They work with local organizations that understand the needs of their communities better than anyone. The authors donated part of the advance for this book to the charity.
The other organization is Open Art Foundation, through which the authors met many of the women who contributed to the book.
When cooking the recipes of other cultures, I try to be aware of cultural appropriation. As a white Canadian woman, I wonder if maybe it’s not my place to recommend a Syrian cookbook. I hope that this recommendation will raise awareness of what the Syrian people are going through and make us more welcoming of refugees.
To quote the introduction, When we asked thirty-one-year-old Mona how she felt about this book, she replied, ‘The thought that someone might be cooking my maqloubeh recipe makes me so happy. It means people in the West are thinking of us.’
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