Some degree of novelty must be one of the materials in almost every instrument which works upon the mind; and curiosity blends itself, more or less, with all our pleasures.Most people love a little novelty now and then. This is especially true if you are dealing with a readership, because it breaks the routine, brings excitement, arouses curiosity, keeps you entertained, cultivates faithfulness, acts like a breath of fresh air and delights the soul. A real necessity, antidote to boredom and ally against audience loss.
- Edmund Burke
As the committed editor and mastermind behind Rosa's Yummy Yums, I strongly believe that changes are crucial to the survival of a blog or online magazine as inspiration and pogress can only be achieved by exploring new horizons; stagnation represents death whereas innovation equals growth and opportunity.
This is why I aim to please my followers by continuously trying to improve and diversify the site's content in order to make it more attractive and worthy of attention as well as by constantly rethinking my way of publishing articles. A difficult task to carry out, but one of great importance nonetheless. Hence, today I have decided to innovate and share with you an interview I conducted with the brilliant Faith Gorsky of "An Edible Mosaic" - m y very first attempt at being a " food journalist" (I already played the wannabe reporter as a teenager when I interviewed musicians for underground fanzines) and surely not my last.
After reviewing her wonderful book "An Edible Mosaic - Middle Eastern Fare With Extraordinary Flair" and sharing with you one of her mouthwatering recipe for "Mujaddara Burghul" last week (link to the article: click here), I thought that you may be interested in learning what makes this lovely lady's culinary world go round. Hopefully you'll enjoy her in-depth, thoughtful and enlightening answers as much as I do...
P.S. Don't forget to enter the giveaway to have a chance to win this fabulous book (scroll down for info).
- Mujaddara Burghul Or Lentil And Bulghur Pilaf -
When did your love affair with food start and, after all those years of blogging, what made you want to get published?
My passion for quality food began back in high school. I actually have my high school French teacher to thank for that! Our French Club met after school once a month and each meeting we enjoyed a French feast. Sometimes we cooked together and sometimes each student brought in a dish to share, but with dishes like Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Crepes Suzette, how could I not fall in love with good food?
Cooking is something that is a comfortable, natural fit for me; it’s as if no matter where I am in the world, my soul is at home and my heart at ease if I’m in a kitchen cooking. People always tell a writer to write about what they know, and I think it’s the same thing with a cook. If you’re doing something that’s so natural that it’s an extension of yourself, I think it’s important to share your passion, whether it’s through a food blog, cookbook, or by any other means. In this way, food blogging truly solidified my dream of wanting to publish my own cookbook.
Middle Eastern food is quite popular and there are already many cookbooks out there on the topic. According to you, what does your book offer that others don’t and how does it differentiate itself from them?
If you didn’t grow up eating Middle Eastern food with the opportunity to watch it being cooked regularly, it can be a very difficult art to master. Although I’m not Middle Eastern and I didn’t grow up with it, I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in the Middle East after marrying. I learned the cuisine from my lovely Syrian mother-in-law, Sahar, starting from the very basics, right down to the ingredients used and techniques employed. To have the opporunity to watch her in the kicthen was incredibly insightful, as the only way to truly learn how to cook from an authentic old world cook is to watch them in action.
In this sense, my book offers the best of both worlds: authentic Middle Eastern food explained in an approachable way that is easy-to-follow even if you’re not familiar with the cuisine. I’ve kept the integrity of each recipe, but in general have streamlined the book just a bit for the way we cook today, with unique ingredients demystified and cooking techniques that anyone can master.
In which way did being introduced to a totally different culture and culinary world change you? Do you regard food and cooking differently now?
I completely view food and cooking differently now. Middle Eastern cuisine is all about celebrating the flavours of the freshest, best-quality ingredients you can find, usually prepared very simply. In Syria, foods like olives, cheese, and produce are purchased from small grocers within walking distance from your house that sell everything fresh…so fresh in fact, that the goods may have been delivered that morning from a local farmer or artisan. Meats are bought from your local butcher. It’s all about eating local, which essentially means everything is fresh and at its peak, flavour-wise.
The thing I truly love about this cuisine is how recipes take just a few high-quality ingredients and combine these ingredients in such a way that the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe an herb or spice is used, or maybe it’s a sauce…but the resulting dish is always more delicious than you might have expected in its simplicity.
A wonderful example of this from the book is my recipe for Fried Cauliflower with Sesame Parsley Sauce. Normally cauliflower isn’t the sort of thing that I go crazy for and want to plan a whole meal around, but after tasting this dish for the first time I was smitten. After frying, cauliflower is transformed into something surreal – rich, slightly nutty, and slightly sweet; the sesame sauce that it’s topped with adds the perfect amount of tangy contrast. Another example is the Meat and Vegetable Casserole with Pomegranate Molasses. The thick, sweet, tangy pomegranate molasses makes this simple casserole unforgettable.
Would you say that embracing the cuisine of your husband’s country helped you understand the culture of Syria better? Were your bonds with your mother in law strenghtened by the passing of her culinary knowledge onto you?
Absolutely. I feel like it would be nearly impossible to truly understand Syrian culture without simultaneously getting to know her cuisine as well, as the two are so closely intertwined. Firstly, the eating schedule is shaped around the lifestyle in the Middle East, and it is significantly different from what I grew up with in the U.S. In general, people get up a bit later in the morning and then breakfast is taken sometime between 10AM to 12PM. Breakfast isn’t a large meal, and may be comprised of simple things like tea, cheese, and sliced raw veggies with flatbread, eggs with flatbread, or just flatbread dipped in the best quality olive oil and then a spice mix called Za’atar. Fridays are the day off in the Middle East and of course Friday mornings require a special breakfast – usually Foul Mudammas (Mashed Fava Beans with Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, and Garlic), which is akin to a breakfast of pancakes or bacon and eggs on Sunday mornings in the U.S.
Since breakfast is late, lunch is usually eaten sometime mid to late-afternoon, and many people return home from work to enjoy this meal. Lunch in the Middle East is actually the largest meal of the day, much like a typical dinner in the U.S. After lunch, a small nap might be in order before returning to work. Then dinner, which is a fairly small meal, is eaten sometime between 10PM to 12AM. It’s usually comprised of a small tasting platter of various dishes; it could be any combination of leftovers, assorted dips, salad or raw vegetables (such as wedged tomatoes or sliced cucumbers), luncheon meats, eggs, olives, etc., or sometimes even steaming hot fresh falafel from a local vendor. Of course flatbread is present for scooping everything up.
As is the case anywhere in the world, food is very much symbolic in the Middle East. Big, impressive rice dishes like Maqluba (Upside Down Rice Casserole) or Kebseh (Red Rice Pilaf) are for celebrating big family occasions. Showing hospitality to your guests is of utmost importance in Middle Eastern culture. Because it often the most expensive component of a meal, meat is typically what is served to guests to demonstrate your generosity. Since stuffed vegetables like Kousa Mahshi (Stuffed Marrow Squash) take so long to prepare, they are also commonly made to honour guests. Sweets abound on any happy occasion, and a pot of Turkish coffee at the end of a guest’s visit signifies in a polite way that the host is ready for the visit to end.
Certain foods are always associated with certain holidays. Adas (Red Lentil Soup) is a common dish to start meals during Ramadan, the month-long fast in Islam. And then the Eid (Festival) marking the end of Ramadan hails beautiful filled cookies called Ma’amoul; for me, this is very much reminiscent of the Christmas cookies I grew up baking with my mom every year during the holiday season.
I definitely feel like my bond with my mother-in-law was strengthened by her passing her culinary knowledge on to me. Although I don’t speak much Arabic and she doesn’t speak much English, we found a commonality in the kitchen that made it much easier to communicate. It’s almost as if the art of cooking is like music, transcending the boundaries and barriers of language.
In your opinion, what makes Middle Eastern food/cuisine so appealing and unique?
For me, it’s the magic of Middle Eastern cuisine that makes it so special. Knowing what ingredients to pair together to keep a dish as simple as possible so the true flavour of the ingredients being featured can really shine is almost like alchemy in a way. For example, which herbs to pair with certain vegetables (such as mint and cucumber), which spices compliment certain meats (used judiciously, cinnamon and allspice paired with lamb are a match made in heaven), or what amount of sweetness will perfectly balance a savoury dish. But there’s also an art to this alchemy, and that’s where the magic happens.
Middle Eastern cuisine is vast and it varies from country to country as well as from region to region. Which Middle Eastern country you feel the most attracted to gastronomically speaking?
Once you’ve experienced Syrian food, it has a way of tying your heart forever to the country. The cuisine is all about local, fresh, top-quality ingredients, and eating them is as if you’re getting to taste the true essence of Syria. Ingredient lists for many recipes may oftentimes be deceptively simple, but the recipes are as addictively delicious as they are seemingly simplistic…and with each bite you take, it is as if Syria’s excitement, vibrancy, energy, and charisma take hold and become part of you.
Name a few of your favorite Middle Eastern ingredients and tell us why you love using them?
Sour black cherry pits (mahlab). This spice is beautifully scented of both cherries and almonds; it tastes slightly sweet with a pleasant nutty bitterness. Like many spices, it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes, and it is always added to the date filling of Ma’amoul. Since my mother-in-law first introduced this spice to me, I have used it religiously in any dish I make that has cherries. It highlights and brightens the cherry flavour in a way that nothing else can.
Rose water and orange blossom water. These clear liquids are made from distilling rose petals and orange blossoms, respectively; they both taste slightly bitter and are very fragrant. They are commonly used in tangent in many sweets, such as Muhallibeh, a rose and orange blossom-scented milk pudding. Rose and orange blossom water are also surprisingly delicious additions to a few savoury dishes, especially long-cooked braised lamb recipes. These floral essences remind me of walking through the jasmine-scented streets of old Damascus.
Cardamom. This spice has a unique warming flavour, with notes of lemon, pepper, and camphor. I love cooking with it because if it is used in moderation (a very small amount goes a long way!), it makes a very special addition to certain dishes. It’s incredibly versatile, and is wonderful in sweet and savoury dishes alike. In Damascus, cardamom is ground into the coffee that is used to make Turkish coffee, giving it a very distinctive flavour and aroma. Every time I smell cardamom I think of a coffee shop in a market in Damascus called Souk al Hamidiya. The beautiful smell of their coffee mingling with the aroma of cardamom permeates the whole area.
Pomegranate molasses. This is pomegranate juice that has been reduced down to very thick syrup. It has a sweet/tart flavour and I love using it as a secret ingredient in savoury dishes where you want to add a hint of balanced sweet/sour flavour and deep complexity to a dish. It’s fantastic in hearty stews with lamb or beef, and it’s the secret component of my favourite falafel sandwiches.
Tahini. This is a thick, creamy paste made of ground raw sesame seeds; it has a nutty, slightly bitter flavour. The first time I had tahini (other than in hummus), it was used as a dressing for a chopped Middle Eastern salad. The salad was served with Sayideh, a fish pilaf with caramelized onion; the salad is spooned onto the pilaf, as a sort of tartar sauce. My sister-in-law explained to me that tahini is often paired with fish in Middle Eastern cuisine because tahini not only adds a nice contrast, but also mellows the strong flavour that fish can sometimes have. Since discovering the beauty of pairing tahini and fish, it is one of my favourite combinations, and one of my favourite ways to prepare fish is to bake it with tahini sauce and a sprinkling of lemon on top.
What are your most treasured food memories, and why?
My most treasured food memories all revolve around family; because of the deep emotional connection linking the food with the feeling, eating the food always conjures up happiness. This is perhaps my favourite food memory...
A few years ago I was in Zabadani, a rural area north of Damascus in Syria. My husband and I were staying with his family in their country home for a few days, and another family had come to visit. Of course a feast was in order.
My mother-in-law and the other ladies were busy all day making a variety of many different dishes. Out of all the foods served that day, a very simple fried eggplant dish with garlic and parsley dressing was by far my favorite. I had tasted eggplant before, but this was the dish that made me fall in love with it, and it was at that moment when my mother-in-law realized that my husband and I truly were perfect for each other. You see, my hubby hates eggplant in any form and my mother-in-law has always hoped he’d marry someone who loves it!
As I sat there ignoring almost every other dish on the table and gushing about this simple eggplant dish, Sahar sat there beaming. Reliving that memory in my mind every time I eat this dish is what makes it so meaningful for me.
One winner will receive a copy of "An Edible Mosaic - Middle Eastern Fare With Extraordinary Flair" sent directly from Tuttle Publishing.
- Giveaway starts on the 7th of December 2012
- Giveaway ends on the 14th of December 2012
- The giveaway is open worldwide, but you must be 18 year of age in order to enter the giveaway
- The winner will be chosen using Random.org
- I will personally contact the winner. If he/she doesn't respond within 3 days, I'll choose another winner.
Answer the follow question: what is your favorite Middle Eastern dish (this is your mandatory first entry)?
Please note that if your comment does not post right away it’s because it needs to be approved by me first (comments will be approved within 24 hours, so don’t worry, all entries will be counted).
(Please leave a separate comment for each entry)
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