My parents were avid collectors of books. A few times a month a large cardboard box would appear at the door, and I could not wait for Mother to cut into it and retract the treasures I knew lurked inside. I would bury my nose in the middle of the book and inhale the smell that to this day makes me high. And, yes, if you are dying to know, there are distinct local differences in new book smells; I definitely recognize and prefer the books printed in Serbia, but will accept a new American book if I am in an urgent state of withdrawal.
One glorious day the plain cardboard box yielded a set of four beautiful books titled 1001 Arabian Nights. All four jackets were different, depicting mosques, luscious gardens, bazaars, and tables filled with platters of most inviting, albeit exotic food. Hard covers were ultramarine blue with intricate gold embossing swirling around the sides and I loved to run my fingers over the grooves. I don’t know how many times I read the tales of old Baghdad, dreaming of the days of caliph Harun al-Rashid, hearing the alluring sound of zithers, and wishing in my young, romantic, pre-teen heart that I could leave my pedestrian and boring reality and teleport to the Orient, roaming the souks and inhaling the aroma of grilled spicy kabobs wafting from around the corner.
A few days ago there was a plain cardboard box waiting for me at the door step. As soon as I saw where it came from, I rushed inside, trying to claw my way through the tape to get to the loot inside. When I finally liberated the book from the bondage of styrofoam popcorn, my heart fluttered a bit, remembering the excitement of years gone by. I opened it randomly and inhaled fresh-from-the presses smell, experiencing the high that sustained me for years.
An Edible Mosaic by Faith E. Gorsky brought me back to my childhood when I lived vicariously through the characters of 1001 Arabian Nights. Three decades later I still feel the allure of the Orient. This time I get to experience the streets of Damascus through the eyes of an American woman married to a Syrian man. I don’t have to book the plane tickets. I don’t have to pack a single suitcase. I don’t have to deal with any bureaucracy. All I have to do is open the book and explore.
I want to invite you to come along on this trip with me. I am a part of a group of bloggers who are promoting Faith’s book. We are hosting a virtual potluck and a book review on Monday. There is so much to learn and I hope you’ll join the fun of exploring the culinary culture that spans so many centuries.
Here is what Faith has to say about her cookbook:
My cookbook, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair, has over 100 Middle Eastern recipes. The recipes are authentic, but streamlined just a bit for the way we cook today, with unique ingredients demystified and approachable cooking techniques that anyone can follow. The book includes a few classic Middle Eastern favorites (like Hummus, Falafel, and Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves), but there are also a few dishes that might become new favorites, like Red Bell Pepper Walnut Dip (Muhammara), Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onion (Mujaddara Burghul), and Meat and Vegetable Casserole with Pomegranate (Kowaj). I also share my method for making the most tender and flavorful Chicken Shawarma at home without the need for any special equipment.
This cookbook is incredibly special to me because it holds a treasure of my in-laws’ family recipes. After marrying, I had the opportunity to spend six months in Damascus where I learned the ins and outs of Middle Eastern food from my lovely Syrian mother-in-law, Sahar. Watching her cook is like watching a ballerina perform a masterpiece.
The last thing I want to mention about my cookbook is that culture and the cuisine truly enrich each other, which is why I include cultural tidbits and stories from my Middle Eastern travels throughout the book. These snippets of culture help to paint a richer image of the recipes.
I hope you enjoy these Middle Eastern recipes as much as I do, and maybe they’ll become the basis for new traditions in your family!