Posts Tagged ‘When Suzanne Cooks’

Highlights from the Emirates Festival of Literature

March 10th, 2012 8 comments

This weekend was the fourth annual Festival of Literature in Dubai, and my fourth time attending. Yes, admittedly, the novelty has worn off slightly, and my level of enthusiasm wasn’t as high as in years past.

Even so, I left the event feeling inspired by the sessions, the books, and the people I met. Over a period of four days, I attended nine sessions, all at the Intercontinental Hotel at Dubai Festival City.

The highlights:

Day One: I attended Heritage Night along the banks of the creek “under the stars.” (In other words: outdoors and freezing) First up was David Nicholls, scriptwriter, novelist and author of One Day, the bestselling novel recently made into a film starring Anne Hathaway. The session was the right mix of thoughtful interviewer and hilarious speaker. David Nicholls entertained the audience with self-deprecating anecdotes about his days as a failed actor in London. He also discussed the challenges and pressures of following his previous success with a fourth novel. Even this best-selling writer has self-doubts!

Next was Mourid Barghouti, Palestinian poet and author of I Saw Ramallah, a tragic, poignant memoir, which I so appreciated (as did my Dubai-based book club). Barghouti read from his poems and discussed his latest book I was Born There, I was Born Here.

In the four years attending the festival, this was the first session I attended in Arabic. With a headset, I listened to a real-time translation into English. Okay, I realize the job of the translator is hard; they must listen to each word while simultaneous rattling off a translation. What I hadn’t realized was how weird, disorienting and funny it was to hear the translator’s breathless awkward translations overlapped with the Arabic on stage. (My apologies to Mr. Barghouti for giggling during his talk.)

Day Two: I attended two panel discussions on Identity, a theme of this year’s festival. The first panel was four men who read from their work and discussed their backgrounds. Most interesting to me was a British-Punjabi poet from London Daljit Nagra, who read a charming poem about Punjabi women traveling from London to India for shopping trips. So, now on my list of must-reads is his latest multicultural poetry collection Look We Have Coming to Dover!

The next panel addressed the theme “Identity Shaped by Heritage.” Of the three writers, I was most interested in Selma Dabbagh, a British-Palestinian writer and author of the novel Out of It. This book has been published in the UK and Qatar, and I was able to pick up a copy at the Lit Fest. However, the book is not out in the US until August. The novel is set in Gaza, London and the Gulf and follows the lives of two young men as they try to forge places for themselves in the midst of occupation.

Day Three: I attended a cookbook launch of a lovely new book on Persian cuisine: Pomegranates and Roses by Dubai-based writer Ariana Bundy. Seduced by the beautiful food photography and exquisite styling of the book, I had to buy it. I look forward to trying some of the saffron rice dishes, as well as the yogurt soup and cucumber salad.

Later, I attended a panel of first-time novelists discussing their journeys to publication. Also on the panel was British literary agent Luigi Bonomi. Most noteworthy was to discover how many aspiring writers were in the audience, and I met a few of them afterwards, which was an extra bonus of the event.

Day Four: I attended a session with writer and journalist Rosie Garthwaite, author of How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone. I bought this book thinking it was a memoir about her experiences working as a journalist in Iraq for Al Jazeera. Silly me! The book is actually a practical manual of how to stay alive in a war zone (just as the title says) with chapters on car bombings, kidnappings, and checkpoints. Who knows?! Maybe the book will come in handy.

Finally, I attended two cooking demonstrations. The first demo was conducted by chef, restauranteur, and writer Giorgio Locatelli, who did more talking than cooking, but it was still fun nonetheless to hear him discuss both the tomatoes and mafia in Sicily.

At last, the grand finale: Suzanne Husseini demonstrated recipes from her cookbook When Suzanne Cooks, which, as my friends know, is my all-time favorite Arabic cookbook. In her typical high-energy fashion, Suzanne worked through six recipes, each with her own modern twists, all while generously offering her tips and techniques, as well as mini-Arabic language lessons. And the best part—everyone in the audience got to taste all six dishes she prepared, from the baba ghanouj crostini to the mou’sakhan tart and to the homemade pistachio ice cream, all beautifully presented.

Take note: Just released is a new version of her cookbook, Modern Flavors of Arabia, which was created for various English-speaking markets. This new version is equally gorgeous with the same photos and recipes as the first edition; however, it’s a slightly different format and therefore less in price. Keep an eye out for this cookbook!

Question: What were the highlights of the festival for you? 

Cookbook Review: Suzanne Husseini’s WHEN SUZANNE COOKS

June 12th, 2011 11 comments

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?