I just came across a yellowing, newspaper clipping nestled well within my well-thumbed copy of Claudia Roden’s “A Book of Middle Eastern Food.” It was a 1989 New York Times article that featured my mother’s cooking and recipes and it was published with photos I took of my mother and daughter cooking together – a true family effort.
It’s a wonderful article, written by writer and lover of Middle Eastern food Nancy Jenkins, and has recipes for three of my mother’s signature recipes, Kibbee, Mouloukhiyah and Baklava. You can see them – but not my photos- at http://tinyurl.com/lh7yczw and I urge you to try them all.
A few years after the article was published I got a call from an editor who told me that they were preparing a New York Times Jewish Cookbook and they would like to include Malvina’s, my mother’s, recipe for Baklava.
“Great,” I said “I’m sure she’d be flattered and pleased to have you publish it. Just one thing, though – she’s not Jewish – she’s Lebanese Christian.”
After a short pause he replied, ” It’s okay. It’s about the food – we want the recipe.” And they published it. Check it out – it’s in the dairy category.
It’s the best Baklava you’ll ever have.
The book, edited by Linda Amster, is described as “a collection to cook from as well as to celebrate the history, culture, culinary creativity, and enduring tradition of Jews around the world.”
And my mother!
“All recipes are kosher and include dishes from dozens of well-known writers and chefs such as, Ms. Sheraton, Alain Ducasse, Joan Nathan, Daniel Boulud, and Wolfgang Puck.”
And my mother!
I’m proud of my mother – she’s in good company.
And hanging on my study wall study is a mint 1993 Roberto Clemente calendar from Azzi’s Bakery in Lawrence, Mass. In the early 20th century Lawrence was a center of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in this part of New England, lured there by jobs in the textile mills and shoe factories that lined the Merrimack River – and my father started out there.
I don’t know if Azzi’s Bakery [no close relation that I know of – although all Azzis are related] is still open – it’s been years since I passed by, but I remember its desserts – and the curious juxtapositions of Clemente with posters of Roman antiquities in Lebanon.
These memories surfaced last week when a friend offered an appetizer of Tribe Hummus – hummus made by Osem, an Israeli company.
I declined. I love hummus, but I declined.
Tribe Hummus and Sabra Hummus are owned by companies that support continued occupation and colonization of occupied Palestinian lands. Out of solidarity with the Palestinian people, I join those Israelis, Jews, Middle Easterners and all other global citizens who choose to boycott companies that profit from occupation. I turned down the
Boycotts and sanctions are tough. Sometimes they heighten tension while attempting to alleviate injustice. While challenging the powerful they often disproportionately impact the vulnerable. But they are essential. They have not yet brought regimes like Syria or North Korea to the peace table but because they don’t work everywhere doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used anywhere.
Boycotts and sanctions helped hasten the end of apartheid in South Africa and they brought Iran to the negotiating table to resolve issues over its nuclear program.
And now Israel is being targeted, not for its legitimacy or sovereignty, but for its illegal occupation of another people and land in contravention of international law. Not one country recognizes Israel’s occupation of territory occupied in 1967. Not one. Israel’s
problem is that the longer it continues its occupation the more likely the mainstream boycotts, sanctions and divestment movements will target Israel itself, and not just the companies profiting from or actively supporting occupation. An expanded boycott of Israel itself is something every friend and ally of Israel wants to avoid.
Last Fall CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown,” premiered its current season with a visit to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Not avoiding political issues – it actually reflected occupation – it was a surprisingly insightful program on the rich history, food – lots of food – and culture of Palestinians and Israelis. Bourdain’s approach was so respectful and even-handed that a Rabbi friend showed it to a class of Jewish students who themselves had no idea that Palestinians sustained a vibrant cultural identity of their own.
Last week I read a wonderful article about hummus in the Jewish Forward entitled “The World’s Best Hummus” naming restaurants in New York, Beirut, and Jerusalem that made my mouth water. There’s a lot of food out there. Wherever there is a place to break bread and eat hummus there is opportunity for peace.
“”The history of this food is that of the Middle East,” writes Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-Jewish cookbook author who has been credited with introducing Middle Eastern food to the West. “Dishes carry the triumphs and glories, the defeats, the loves and sorrows of the past.”
Food too is about dignity, solidarity and identity. Like picking our friends we have to pick our dishes and our battles carefully.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.