Saturday 14 February 2009

Cooking the Books - The Language of Baklava

For the second Cook the Books Club, we were set to read The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber. What a lovely book! Growing up as a Jordanian American in New York State in the 1960s and 70s can't have been easy (although I suspect it might be worse now) but the story is told with a lightness of heart that carries you past that.

There were a lot of parts of the book that resonated for me - I guess it is the migrant experience. Some of the things that Bud says when he goes back to Jordan are the things my grandmother would say after going back to Switzerland. I also very much liked the bit in the foreward, thanking people for accepting her memories, however embellished they may be.

And always, at the centre is the food. All the meals she recounts are enticing. I wanted to make and eat all of it! I especially loved the story she told about when she was feeling very down about being Arabic and announced to her aunt that she hated Arab food. So her aunt says "Let's make baklava - it's Greek; baklawa is Arab".

But in the end, I went with savoury dishes. I would have loved to do some of the meat dishes, grilled over charcoal, but the weather just has not been conducive to getting out the barbecue. In the end I decided to make her "Lost childhood pita bread" because I bought my copy of the book second hand, and that was the one recipe where the previous owner had made a note against the recipe. I love writing in my cookbooks and felt drawn to this other person who had noted what quantity a sachet of yeast is.

So - pita bread (which needs some work!), roast lamb shoulder in the marinade for "distract the neighbours chicken" (absolutely delicious), yoghurt flavoured with garlic and some roast courgettes. Then the following day, the leftover lamb and pita was served at lunch with some homemade hummus.


Rachel said...

What a succulent feast! Your comments about the book were very perceptive. I also enjoyed the baklava scene with her venerable aunt. I loved the book too and am looking forward to rereading, at a much slower pace, soon.

NKP said...

You and I are on the same wavelength! I just posted CTB today too.
What a wonderful feast you have prepared - just lovely. Surely there is enough for me to pop by and sample some leftovers!
I am looking forward to BBQ weather so I can do some of the grilling from the book too.
It won't be long, enought snow has melted that I can at least see the BBQ!

kat said...

How wonderful! I just finished reading The Girl With No Shadow & it made me crave hot chocolate

Alicia Foodycat said...

Rachel - definitely worth a re-read! I was scooting through concentrating on the cook-ability of it, so absorbing more of the story will be good.

Natashya - sorry, we scarfed them all!

Kat - oooh, a good hot chocolate is so lovely!

Laurie said...

I'm reading "The Language of Baklava" right now, but I didn't finish it in time to enter the "Cooking the Books" contest! Double damn, since the same thing happened to me with "La Cucina."

I'm loving the book, though, and thought her description of lamb tasting like earth was so apt.

I had a few minutes to get caught up on all the yummy stuff you've been cooking and now I want to make marmalade too! I love marmalade! Do you think I could make it with blood oranges? I can find them here, and I think the color would be lovely.

hungryandfrozen said...

I love to write in my cookbooks too - and I LOVE it when I pick up old cookbooks from second hand shops and there are scribbles everywhere.

This book sounds gorgeous, that's cool that it had resonance for you. And now I crave baklava.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Laurie - you can certainly make marmalade with blood oranges (wouldn't that colour be amazing?) but you'll probably want to add a fair bit of lemon juice to give it the tart edge, since blood oranges tend to be pretty sweet.

Laura - I like writing in cookbooks. Reminders of things I did differently are very useful!

Laurie Constantino said...

Cookbooks are the only books I write in. I love coming across notes I wrote 10 years ago! I also like buying used cookbooks with spots and splatters on favorite pages. Good idea to use the chicken marinade for lamb!

Arlene Delloro said...

Isn't that marinade the best ever? I write in my cookbooks. In fact, I rate each recipe I try on a scale of 1-10 so I'll know if it's worth making again. I also fiddle with the ingredients and write my "deviations."

Arlene Delloro said...

Isn't that marinade the best ever? I write in my cookbooks. In fact, I rate each recipe I try on a scale of 1-10 so I'll know if it's worth making again. I also fiddle with the ingredients and write my "deviations."

Alicia Foodycat said...

Laurie - writing in other books reminds me too much of being at school!

Arlene - giving the recipes ratings is a good idea. My mother also notes when she makes thing to help remind her who she has fed things to!

Bettina Douglas said...

I have just started reading The Language of Baklava (thank you for sending me a copy). I love middle eastern food and am sure I will try many of the recipes.


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