Friday, January 30, 2009

Cooking a Book

For the past week or so, I've been immersed in a memoir for this month's selection for the Cooking the Books online food-themed book club, The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber. Abu-Jaber writes about growing up as the daughter of a Jordanian immigrant who lives with his more-or-less American wife and daughters near Syracuse, NY, desperately trying to both hold tight to his heritage while achieving the elusive American Dream. Not being a person who typically enjoys memoirs, I began to read this with more than a little skepticism. However, I soon found myself engrossed in the vivid, sensory language of the book and caught up in Abu-Jaber's sensual descriptions of cooking and eating with her Jordanian family both in the United States and in their country of origin.

This is not just any memoir, though. It's also a pseudo-cookbook. Every chapter contains at least one or two recipes that relate to surrounding events. Not being able to resist a sneak-peek, I flipped forward through the book the first night I opened it to read and perused every recipe. Some sounded interesting, but none really caught my eye. None, that is, until I encountered the recipes for a second time while reading in the usual way. Somehow, as I learn and understand why Abu-Jaber included each recipe in her memoir, the story behind each one, and the emotional significance each dish has for her, the recipes become much more appealing. Now the "'Stolen Boyfriend' Baba Ghanouj" and titular "Poetic Baklava" not only mean something to me, but I also want to trying tackling these and the other recipes Abu-Jaber weaves into her story.

I did try out one recipe -- the "'Start the Party' Hummus." There was a lunchtime potluck at the school where I work this week, and I decided that I would try to "start the party" Jordanian style. Unfortunately, I wasn't too impressed with the recipe as it tasted a little too tahini-y for me, although using black olives to dip in this hummus as Abu-Jaber suggests did help quite a bit. I did get a more favorable review from a coworker, though, so I'll leave you with the recipe, your own palate's judgement, and my five-star review for this memoir.

Diana Abu-Jaber's "Start the Party" Hummus

1 15-oz. can chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 tsp paprika
2 T olive oil (I omitted this)
juice of 2 lemons
3 cloves garlic
salt to taste

Puree all the ingredients to a thick, creamy consistency. Adjust texture by adding small amounts of water.

Serve in a wide, flat bowl with a streak of olive oil on top, along with a basket of warm pita bread for dipping. Black olives, sliced tomatoes, or radishes make a nice dippable garnish.

From The Language of Baklava, p. 125.


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. It's the best book I've read so far in 2009 and I think it may well stay on top for the rest of the calendar year. I usually leave out tahini in my hummus too, as I just don't enjoy the taste of tahini. It always seems a little bitter to me. Looking forward to Deb's Cook the Books roundup!

  2. Great entry for "cooking the books"! I don't like my hummus too tahina-y either.


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