Monday, 24 March 2014

Come Dine With Me: Middle East

After seven posts with almost consistent reference to war, it is time to lighten the mood and wrap things up with homemade treats, family and friends and ultimately what I have been writing about these past few weeks, peace. Peace through cooking, feeding and socialising with those I love.
    As promised, I will embark on preparing and cooking some classic Middle Eastern dishes to wrap up the blog thus far. Hummus and flat bread play a central role in Middle Eastern meals as well as in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisines so I concluded that they will be familiar, and hopefully enjoyable, to all who will be sharing my feast. Along with this I will make date and cinnamon cakes, which are not as popular in Middle Eastern tradition as the honey and almond cake doused in syrup, but I'm not one for overly sweet and sticky desserts.   

Hummus Recipe:

One tin of chickpeas
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
2/3 tbsp tahini paste
2 large garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 tsp salt- optional
1/2 tsp sugar- optional 

Combine ingredients in a blender and alter to taste. The consistency should be a smooth, thick paste.

My mother contributed by making the flatbread (since mine always resembles a hard rock):

Flatbread Recipe:
100g plain flour
100g spelt flour
1tsp salt
1tsp ground coriander
water to bind

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and then add the water slowly until a dough has formed. Split the dough into 4 or 6 depending on how large or small you want the individual bread to be. Roll the dough out thinly. Cook both sides on a dry, non-stick pan on a high heat. When brown bubbles appear, remove the bread from the pan.

My mother topped the bread with freshly chopped onion, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese, forming a hybrid bruschetta. Her choice in doing so endorses some of my earlier posts about Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines sharing dishes and tastes, which unifies East and West in an important way. After all, what is more important than food?

Cinnamon and Date Cake Recipe:
(I converted the large cake into cupcakes and made 12-14 with this mix. I was also incredibly lazy and put everything into a blender rather than using an electric whisk, but for the perfect sponge follow the written method)

100g Self raising flour
50g sugar
3 eggs
100g butter
3 tsp Cinnamon powder
30g Dates
(1 tbsp cocoa powder-optional)

Beat sugar and butter together in a bowl until pale and creamy. Add eggs and flour and whisk together until all ingredients have combined. Add the cinnamon and whisk it in. Fill the cupcake cases (or a large cake tin if you prefer) until 3/4 full. Finely chop the dates, add them to the remaining mix (and the cocoa powder if you wish to) and blend with electric whisk until evenly combined. Spoon the mixture on top of the cake mix that is already in the cases. Bake for 25 minutes. Check if the cakes are done by sticking a metal skewer through the middle and if the skewer comes out clean, then they are done. Leave on a rack to cool.


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Plenty of Hummus

Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born cookbook writer and deli owner. He has recently co-authored Jerusalem (2013) with Sami Tamimi which details the history on hummus and how it forges links within the Middle East. Although Jerusalem is considered more political than his previous cookbook Plenty (2010), I feel that the subtlety within the latter highlights how the format and syntax within the cookbook makes it literary as it is multifaceted in its message, although not so overtly as within Jerusalem.
       The Hummus and Ful recipe is exemplary of Ottolenghi's intentions. The brief introduction to the recipe is brimming with references to the Israeli-Arab conflict, as Ottolenghi explains that a tiny eatery in Israel is "unique" (Ottolenghi, 210) due to its ability to accumulate an "endless queue of Arabs and Jews standing at the door" (Ottolenghi, 210). Abu Hassan's eatery to which Ottlolenghi refers specialises in hummus, a dish bringing the Middle East together as well as creating tension when its country of origin is discussed. In Ottolenghi's interview with The Guardian they are known as the "hummus wars" ( However, Ottlolenghi diffuses any angst through his lexical field. The words "love" and "hearty" (Ottolenghi, 210) ring through the sentences to describe the dish, and connotations of the desire for peace between the Arabs and Jews is apparent. The readers are told that the hummus and ful combination "isn't the lightest affair" (210), which also alludes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasised in the recipe's introduction.

Please click image to enlarge. This picture of the Hummus with Ful recipe displays the layout of the cookbook.

      Similarly, the 'Burnt Aubergine with Tahini' recipe endows the Middle East with positive traits much to the contrary of its mainstream image. Ottolenghi attributes the Middle East with characteristics such as "gloriously refreshing" (Ottolenghi, 122). The introduction to the recipe explains that the dish can be a "potent dip or condiment […] Or […] salad" (Ottolenghi, 122). The last sentence is a short standalone comment: "You choose." (Ottolenghi, 122), the reader is provided with a democratic approach to cooking, juxtaposed with the concept of the Middle East, which in the West is portrayed as a place overrun with dictators removing choice from anything. Ottolenghi further marries politics and food through literature. The format of his work reinforces notions of peace. Unlike the common layout, ingredients preceding the method as introduced by Isabella Beeton, the two lay side by side in Plenty. The format promotes equality and unity, specifically within the Middle East.
      The new cookbook, Jerusalem,has been released by Ottolenghi and his Palestinian business partner Sami Tamimi. The very partnership that Tamimi and Ottolenghi have forged has become central to the essence of their food and of others interest and opinion with regards to their recipes. Through the unlikely partnership between an Israeli Jew and Arab Muslim, the political strains addressed by the cookbook appeals to a wide range audience, not merely people who wish to follow a recipe. The book provides insight into a culture and a history which affects people worldwide.
      Ottolenghi and Tamimi mention that the cookbook entitled Jerusalemwas conceived after their business partner "suggested it was time for a more personal project, looking back at the food that had shaped them" (TheGuardian). The cookbook transcends simply being a compilation of recipes; it spills into other literary genres, specifically the autobiography. In its intentions of being a personal recount, it already becomes a piece of literature as opposed to simply a cookbook. "Food is a powerful thing," says Tamimi. Ottolenghi nods. "People can sit around a table and…",Tamimi completes the sentence: "It gives people hope." (TheGuradian).

Ottolenghi, Yotam. Plenty. London: Ebury Press, 2010. Print.
Day, Elizabeth. OFM awards 2013 best cookbook: Jerusalem. The Guardian, 20 October 2013. Web. <> 6/3/2014.


"Djuha Fries Quails"

Continuing with the charming oral anecdotes that have been documented in Inea Bushnaq's Arab Folktales, "Djuha Fries Quails" offers itself to multiple interpretations and acts as an example of how old wisdom lends itself as useful advice in modern warfare.

Please click the image to enlarge

      This folktale is an alternative to the common idiom ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. This particular folktale acts as a metaphor for how the interference of others results in chaos. The message can extend itself to become a political one and it makes itself applicable to current affairs in the Middle East. The interference of other governments within the Middle East has caused turmoil. The quails in “Djuha Fries Quails” are the main part of the meal yet they are spoiled by Djuha’s companions. Djuha's visitors criticise the quails and suggest betterment, not realising that now there is nothing to improve as the quails have been eaten. Their actions are reminiscent of those politicians claiming that Afghanistan, Iraq and so on need improving and interference. Only, the result tends to be ruining what was good about those places, specifically the fertile lands and their resources.
     Bushra Ali Ahmed, director of the Radiation Protection Centre in Baghdad, told The Guardian: "We can no longer in good conscience call ourselves the land between the rivers, [...]That water which is used for agriculture is often contaminated. We are in the midst of an unmatched environmental disaster". She continued explaining that a "big problem for [them] is when [...] a tank has been destroyed and then moved, [they] are finding a clear radiation trail. It takes a while to decontaminate these sites." This article provides examples of how war has necessitated the use of tanks and weapons which destroy the land and long term living circumstances, just as in the folktale unwanted actions result in undoable situations.

Bushnaq, Inea “Djuha Fries Quails”, Arab Folktales, New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.

Chulov, Martin. Iraq Littered With High Levels of Nuclear and Dioxin Contamination, Study Finds. The Guardian.January 22 2010. Web. <> 20/3/2014

"The Talking Turkeys"

As previously mentioned in my blog post "Food Peace", cooking large meals and engaging in communal dinners is encouraged within the Middle East. In the older Middle Eastern traditions, particularly in the Bedouin practices, eating around a table or on the floor in a large circle with extended family or members of an entire tribe was common. Accompanying these fire-lit feasts would be folktales providing entertainment and moral guidance. Through an oral history, compiled into Inea Bushnaq's Arab Folktales, society witnesses the use that food had in providing moralistic instruction through quirky anecdotes. "The Talking Turkeys" provides an interesting insight into the social structures of the past that in fact remain today, making the folktale relevant in modern times.  

Please click on the pictures to read the text

The type of food being eaten distinguishes the rich from the poor. Being able to have meat implies wealth. A meat such as Turkey is often an intended centre piece on the dinner table; it entails a sense of grandeur. Being able to have turkey for dinner already acts as a status symbol within the tale, but having hundreds surpasses simply conveying an upper class identity and instead expresses excess and gluttony. It is implied that the old woman is of no status in her namelessness and opportunistic demeanour.
      Being of a royal family exceeds simply being upper class; they are the pinnacle of the upper class. So, the queen and her family come to represent the figures of a great class divide and injustice, contrasting her abundance of turkeys with the old woman’s lack of anything at all, besides her wit.
      Having the turkeys in her possession gives the old woman a moment of luxury. The turkey as food is used to transgress social boundaries. The folktale displays the ignorance embedded into the bourgeoisie. More belief is given to the notion that talking turkeys can be produced, as opposed to understanding that the old woman may simply want and need food, and has resorted to trickery.
      Although comedic in its absurdity, the folktale highlights the sad reality that the old woman needed not only to provide for her family, but wanted to provide a social ceremony so her son did not have to experience the social trauma of having a feast-less wedding. “What is eaten, who prepares the food, who gets whom to eat what, who insists everything is eaten up, is a matter of material and social relations, integrally located in a hierarchical social structure, where power wealth and freedom of choice are unevenly distributed” (Cline, 145). The folktale exhibits the endurance that the implied peasant has when it comes to providing for her family. Not only is her quest about feeding her family for survival's sake, but also there is a need to partake in ceremonious activities centred on food. Although she is described as "sly", her behaviour not only comments on the class systems that leave her at a disadvantage, but also the human need to have a social event marked by a feast, which provides her with some sort of validation as a mother and as a person.

Cline, Sally. Just Desserts:Women and Food, London: André Deutsch Limited, 1990. Print.

Bushnaq, Inea. “The Talking Turkeys” Arab Folktales, New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.Print.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

When Fat Women Fear Famine

"When Fat Women Fear Famine"
When fat women fear famine,
they arrange their canned goods
Stacking soups after sauerkraut
Butter beans before beets.

When fat women fear famine,
they stock their freezers
with sides of beef and butchered lamb.
Packages gleam white as snow banks.
The red ink states:
stew bones
lamb chops
knuckle roast.
It splatters across each pristine surface.

When fat women fear famine,
their kitchens spew forth
stewpot after frying pan after casserole
of long-remembered recipes for
and 101 ways to prepare ground beef.
Their families flee from the flood of foodstuff.

When fat women fear famine,
not even children are safe.
Their babies are coddled like three-minute eggs.
Their toddlers are wrapped like the breading
on fat, juicy sausages to protect against
the first cold winds of October.
As they grow, fussed over
like the Holiday turkey.
They are watched like the pot
that never boils.

These women are vigilant
against the threat of wanting.
They are full-fleshed warriors
waging war against an enemy
they cannot see
they cannot hear
they bear the battle scars.
They know the pain of the gnawing heart,
the ache of the hollow bone.

Brenda J. Moossy.
The poem uses the food to symbolise the blood shed within the Middle East often leading people to flee. However, another concept is being presented to the readers; the eating habits of the Middle East are revealed. Through all of the strife, food plays a central role in creating humour and a lively atmosphere whilst incorporating the atrocities that take place within the Middle Eastern society. The poem highlights a way in which women occupy themselves and try to maintain stress on familial importance through hyperbolic meal gatherings during a time of upheaval and loss. This type of woman presented within the poem also bears resemblance to the Mediterranean maternal figure within Western media. For example within the Dolmio (Italian cuisine food range) television adverts, the Italian mother figure is always preparing a meal to which the whole family rushes to sit together and enjoy. It adheres to the stereotype on Italian and in general Mediterranean eating habits and familial set-up, which mirrors the Middle Eastern image portrayed in Moossy's poem.
    The stanzaic structure emphasises an irregularity in the lifestyle of Middle Easterners, with the constant threat of upheaval and bloodshed. The five stanzas are not comprised of an equal number of lines, again moving away from the notions of regularity and simplicity that comes with uniform stanzas, and rather continues with the theme of war.
    The alliteration within the poem creates a tone that is reminiscent of a nursery rhyme, adding a light hearted and infantile quality to the poem which is juxtaposed with the underlying theme of war. The poem expresses a need to continue with normal everyday life through food yet also brings attention to the fact that children must live in a war torn environment, knowing nothing better. "Their babies are coddled like three-minute eggs" (25) Moossy writes, this simile addresses the maternal instincts that kick in not just in general but in a mother who has to constantly fear refugee status and violent deaths.
    Moossy incorporates Western culinary references within the Middle Eastern setting: "As they grow, fussed over/ like the Holiday turkey" (29-30), simultaneously uniting the two cultures through mass dinner habits and expressing the disparity between the living situation between East and West. The Middle Eastern mother is depicted as having to over protect her child, whilst the Western familial set up enjoys "Holiday[s]" (Moossy, 30).

The maternal habits entailing over feeding, with particular relevance to the Middle Eastern culture, are parodied through the popular internet memes:

Moossy, Brenda. "When Fat Women Fear Famine", The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, Ed. Nathalie Handal. New York: Interlink Books. 2001. Print.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Wanton Women and Belly Rolls.

Shakira being caressed whilst preparing food in the video for "La Tortura"

Women are often sexualised through food, from literature and poetry to advertising, films and music videos. The common trope of a woman eating seductively appeals to the notion that women are bearers of the human race, continuing our survival, something which food also does. Although meal times and eating out have become moments of pleasure and socialising, food is ultimately a focal point in our everyday lives because of the simple fact that it is our source of life.
       Song lyrics are often considered a form of poetry and within Shakira's "La Tortura" the lyrics are meta-fictionally introduced as a poem: "Keep your poems and cheer to yourself/ Save your poetry" croons the male vocalist before Shakira overtakes with nothing but poetic devices, particularly parable: "Man doesn't live on bread alone/ Nor do I live on excuses […] I can't ask an elm tree to bear pears". The implication is that a woman receives no fulfilment from a man concerning matters of love and relationships, which is metaphorically discussed through food. However, the female feeds the man in many ways, with love and with food. Within the video, whenever Shakira is present with her on-screen lover, there is an abundance of food which is produced and prepared by the female yet only consumed by the male, highlighting an inequality between the sexes. Shakira's use of food with her lyrics paired with the visual interpretation of the song, from a literary perspective, reveals a message on gender politics. The video for "La Tortura" can be read as a visual poem. Her music video sexualises the woman as Shakira belly dances provocatively whilst surrounded by food. The man's gaze on her is synonymous with his gaze on the food on the table as she serves herself up to him, as she writhes around on the same table. He eats the food as eats his lover with his eyes. This imagery metaphorically enforces the idea that a woman nourishes and fulfils the man, as food also does. This opens up the argument that women are portrayed as 'a piece of meat'. 
      Shakira also highlights the theme of the exotic through sexualising herself in relation to the food. Through her choice of belly dancing, shaking her hips, skilfully executing sexy belly rolls and considering her cultural background (being half Lebanese), Shakira's work becomes relevant to the issue of Middle Eastern women being eroticised through food. The belly dance associated with the Middle East has been described by Maytha Alhassen as a fetish and used in the West as erotica (62). "Female artists […] voluntarily participate in the neo-Orientalist sexualization of their bodies (Alhassen, 62) and also "locate the man in a dominant position of sexual power by objectifying the female form […] resulting in an overly sexualised exotic East" (62). The woman represents "unlimited desire" (Alhassen, 65) and paired with the lyrical focus on food within Shakira's work this notion of desire is hyperbolic as everyone has the desire everyday to eat, which makes food as well as the woman an unlimited desire, again making them synonymous.
       Other Middle Eastern females use food and their Eastern status (entailing what are considered in the West as "exotic" features) within their work. For example, songstress Haifa Wehbe also uses food in her music video to compliment the imagery within her lyrics: "My nights are sweeter staying up in love" (Boos el Wawa). Similarly, Nadine Lebaki makes caramel wax a focal point within her film Caramel (2007). The trailer for the film explains that it is about "love" and sexual endeavours, again amalgamating food and the sexual woman. Within Western literature, before the Seventeenth Century, the "wanton" sexual woman was always depicted as being from the Middle East, but "bit by bit [this] model drops away and a very diminished figure emerges [along with] […] the veil" (Kahf, 5) during the sixteen hundreds. The images of Haifa, Shakira and Nadine couldn't be further away from the media portrayals of the oppressed Middle Eastern women in modern times. It was during "the Seventeenth Century the […] harem entered the representation of the [Arab] and Muslim woman" (Kahf, 4) yet the named media stars abide by the hyper-sexual image through their use of food, which was an image made popular in the West during Medieval times (Kahf, 5). Although it seems liberating for women to remove themselves from the demonised behaviour code and attire attributed to Middle Eastern women, the hyper-sexuality also serves to demean women. It seems that either end of the spectrum provide mainstream images of Middle Eastern women, with nothing in between.

       Nadine Lebaki in Caramel 

                                                                               Haifa Wehbe in her  "Boos El Wawa" Music Video

Nadine Lebaki leaning over her admirer, revealing her cleavage and, like Shakira, making his gaze on her synonymous with the caramel she uses to wax his facial hair.

"La Tortura"

Related Posts:

This link leads to a series of images of sexualised food, rather than women being sexualised with food. The page is overrun with the food being represented as a woman, which although conceptually inverted , makes the same point as this blog post. The visual concept is interesting, if not at times disturbing. From a literary aspect, the tag lines reveal the representation of women in the mass media. Food is central to our survival so such advertising is targeted at anyone and everyone who can be roped in to eat food, which we all do, resulting in these images becoming the norm.

Alhassen, Maytha. Bellydancing, Bombs, and Back Beats: Representation of the Middle East in Hip Hop. Northridge: California State University. Web. September 2011.<> 6/3/2014.

Kahf, Mohja. Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. USA: University of Texas Press. 1999. Print.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Food Peace

 The Middle East is not known for its strong relations with the West. However, just as in any conflict, there are the civilians having to live day to day trying to maintain peace and normality in their personal sphere as opposed to becoming the faceless, violent mass synonymous with the 'Middle East' in the Western media. Through food, people encourage the strengthening of societal ties amidst the ongoing animosity encouraged by political motives. Focusing on two cookbooks, I will be looking at migration and the positives of communal eating.
      Egyptian Cooking: A Practical Guide (1984) written by Samia Abdennour does not disappoint in its practicality. Whether "you are a gourmet cook with a taste for experiment, or the disconcerted new arrival in Egypt faced with a hungry family and unfamiliar ingredients, this book is for you" (Abdennour). The book is concise in listing ingredients and methods. Only very few recipes have contextual information such as the aubergine section: "There are three types of aubergine, purple-brown round […] ones called "Roomy" (Greek), purple-brown slender ones called "Aroos" (Bride) and white, slender […] ones called "Abyad" (White)" (Abdennour, 54). Every ingredient shared is seasonal and widely available, again highlighting the book's practicality. The simple layout and non-digressive lists evoke images of a busy hustle and bustle, this book is for the everyday person with no time to waste, and the food is not presented as high standard specialty dishes. The dishes are easy family meals, suggesting more time left to sit with others and eat the meal, as opposed to spending a ludicrous amount of time preparing the food. Its fast pace and simplistic syntax makes it suitable for a new migrated family who need to adapt to their new life as soon as possible, as Abdennour mentions. 
      The notions of migration are further reflected in the Egyptian cuisine which is a combination of Mediterranean and Eastern foods: "mainly Turkish, Palestinian, Lebanese, Greek and Syrian" (Abdennour, 9). The hybridity of the Egyptian cuisine demonstrates that it is easy to integrate in to the Egyptian community because ultimately, there really is no major difference between anyone. The cookbook conveys a humanistic outlook. With a neat glossary consisting of Arabic and English terms, the book is highlighted as a uniting text, helping people integrate through food. Emigrants are encouraged to meet local inhabitants by buying "locally [grown] and sold" (Abdennour, 9) vegetables. The "recipes mentioned are those prepared by the average middle class Egyptian and do not reflect the more sophisticated recipes copied and adapted from Western recipes" (Abdennour, 9). The book is flimsy and yellow-papered, bound by plastic rings, exuding its intention of being used as opposed to simply displayed. 
      Arabian Flavours: Recipes and Tales of Arab Life written by Salab Jamal is interesting because not only is it an Arab cookbook targeted at a Western audience but it has been written by a male cook which is a rare occurrence within the Middle Eastern cookbook range. Already the book represents the breaking down of stereotypical barriers and highlights the accessibility of becoming a cook. The book provides the readers with enchanting dishes that are simple to produce yet are so large, the equipment needed seems impossible for today's average wage family. For example a dish intended to serve "nineteen people" (Jamal, 1) requires an oven equalling the size of a range oven if not bigger. In the sizes of the dish the reader can infer a sense of unity and community. The author reminisces about his childhood in Nablus, Palestine, which is now overrun with conflict. The recipes serve almost as a rewriting of current events in the Middle East as they force people to eat together and in general, to be together. As well as suffering international invasions, the Middle East is rife with civil wars which are discouraged by the harmonious food of Jamal's book. The very title incorporates a folkloric element which invokes images of community spirit: "Tales of Arab life".

Abdennour, Samia. Egyptian Cooking: A Practical Guide. American University:Cairo, 1984. Print.

Jamal, Salab. Arabian Flavours: Recipes and Tales of Arab Life. Souvenir Press Ltd: London, 2005. Print.