Cookbook Review: Suzanne Husseini’s WHEN SUZANNE COOKS

I first heard about Suzanne Husseini and her cookbook in an article in the National newspaper. What struck me were her stories of her Arab-Canadian childhood and her philosophy of cooking—it’s not about perfection, but the love imparted through food.

When her cookbook was released, I went to Magrudy’s and looked at its cover. I thought: Do I really need another Arabic cookbook? Honestly now? I already had a dozen in my kitchen, mostly collecting dust.

I opened the book and looked at every page. I scanned every recipe. I studied every photograph. When I reached the end, I decided I had to have it.

Now I’ve had the cookbook about six months. I’ve made about fifteen recipes from it, nearly all with great success. Some of the recipes, such as the Green Salad with Fried Halloumi and Pomegranate Dressing, are now part of my weekly repertoire. My favorite is the Knafe Pastry with Cheese, a dessert I’ve never been able to pull off until now.

This cookbook does not focus on a particular national cuisine, such as Lebanese. Husseini’s cuisine is broader, encompassing Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. Nor does the cookbook obey strictly traditional recipes. The cookbook’s subtitle is “Modern Flavors of Arabia.” Most of the recipes have a twist to them. For example, the Baba Ghanouj includes toasted walnuts. The Spicy Chicken Wings call for pomegranate molasses. The Date Pastries are made in the shape of hearts.

What I appreciate most about this cookbook is the photography. There is a photo for every recipe, and the food photography is simply stunning. For me, photographs are vital for preparing foreign foods. I need to see what the dish is. I need to know if I’ve achieved the right end result.  Most importantly, I need to feel inspired. After all, cooking is a lot of work, and I need motivation!

Did I mention that Suzanne Husseini is a Middle Eastern TV chef? She’s been a chef on various regional TV shows. I’ve never seen her on TV, but I finally got to see her in action at the Emirates Festival of Literature where she taught her recipes like a food ambassador. As she cooked, she told food stories from her childhood and taught the audience Arabic words. You can see Husseini give a short cooking talk in this video from The Gulf News.

One factor that helps Husseini succeed as a cooking teacher is her bicultural Canadian-Palestinian background. She gears her explanations toward the western cook who may not know what pomegranate molasses is or how to clarify butter.

My only concern with this cookbook is that I have trouble finding recipes in it. Sometimes I can’t remember the name of a recipe. Also, it’s a puzzle to me whether an Arabic dish is considered breakfast, mezze, lunch or what. And so, I’m forced to flip through the entire cookbook to find a recipe. I’m forced to look at every gorgeous, exquisite photo once again. And once again, I think, I wanna make that. I wanna make that…

When Suzanne Cooks is written by Suzanne Husseini with photographs by Petina Tinslay. It is published in Dubai by Motivate Publishers and is available in bookstores in the UAE. It is also available through Amazon via Lebanese Books. You can view some of Husseini’s recipes in the Gulf News.

Have you used this cookbook? What is your favorite Arabic cookbook?

  1. June 12th, 2011 at 19:13 | #1

    Looks like a great book! I wonder if it’s available in the US…

  2. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    June 12th, 2011 at 19:21 | #2

    @Amanda
    As far as I know, it’s only available in North America through Amazon.com. However, Amazon does not directly sell it, but rather lebanesebooks.com does. I think an Arabic food blogger as yourself would appreciate the food photography & Arabic-themed food styling.

  3. Francine
    June 13th, 2011 at 17:54 | #3

    I have this cookbook too. I bought it at her cooking demo at Bloomingdale’s and she signed it. We’ve enjoyed making a few recipes–so far our favorite is mutabbal. And I’ve discovered grilled halloumi-I love it!

  4. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    June 13th, 2011 at 18:11 | #4

    @Francine
    Oh, I’ve become addicted to grilled halloumi. I’m eating it almost every day now. It’s getting out of hand….

  5. June 14th, 2011 at 20:33 | #5

    Just made grilled Halloumi from my favorite Australian Women’s weekly series. The salad was great but the dressing was disappointing :( I think i will go get this book–although i really DO NOT need more cookbooks of any ethnicity!!!

  6. Maha
    June 15th, 2011 at 15:50 | #6

    Great read! Stumbled on your blog from Suzanne’s facebook page, she posted it today! I also have this book and it’s become a staple in my kitchen! As an Arab woman, I’m so happy that she’s bringing our cuisine to the forefront and making it just as “cool” as other cuisines. I’ve been a fan of her since she was on Fatafeat channel (Middle East’s answer to the food network), her show was so refreshing and fun. Anyway, thanks for the great read Holly, I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog from now on :):)

  7. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    June 15th, 2011 at 17:56 | #7

    @Maha Thank you for your comment. I agree, there’s a definite “cool factor” to Suzanne’s cookbook. Plus, it’s fun to cook the traditional dishes in new ways. Happy cooking!

  8. Beth Mahmoud-Howell
    June 17th, 2011 at 20:57 | #8

    Beautiful book. I have enjoyed my copy immensely Holly. Waiting for Ramadan to start cooking up a storm with it. Wishing you both lived in my neighborhood in Edmonds Washington so I could drop by for some yummy treats. Perhaps you can give me some tutorials soon eh? Nice review…all our tastbuds are watering now. thanks :)

  9. Joseph
    June 24th, 2011 at 08:26 | #9

    We went to Virgin Mega Store on a weekend here in the UAE where we saw Suzanne in action launching her book. The family and I were quite impressed and entertained with the cooking show … well spoken and eloquent lady. We could see true family values to have inspired her theme of “cooking with love”. Lucky us, got her signature on it… and since them my eldest daughter can’t stop asking every weekend wanting to try one of the recipes together. But I must admit, we have not tried any of the delicious recipes as of yet!!! Possibly very soon, as in today!

  10. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    June 26th, 2011 at 22:40 | #10

    @Joseph Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to have missed that cooking demo! She really is a good teacher. Happy cooking!

  11. jojo
    June 29th, 2011 at 05:34 | #11

    I tried many tapas during her demo and book signing in Kinokuniya recently. I have been looking for good Arabic food in the UAE but find it rare in restaurants. I was happy to see such variety and good twist that I can make easily.
    It’s a good start and anticipate seeing sophisticated dishes very soon.

  1. March 10th, 2012 at 23:12 | #1
  2. March 14th, 2012 at 22:59 | #2