I weary of war.
I, an American, born in a town far from any war torn territories, weary of war. I don’t understand the need for dominion and the desire to wield power. As a non-land owner, I don’t understand the need to own land. But it doesn’t matter what I believe or understand. That desire and movement to possess and to own continues. My dominion of ownership extends shallowly to whether or not I’m going to serve polenta at dinner or need another book of poetry.
My world is so very different from those in the Middle East.
And yet, I believe in love. Love cures so many ills and evils, yet we regale it to a four letter word bound for the trite cliché likes of words like “nice” or “delicious”. We forget it is a verb and as such must work in the past, present and future to exercise the inevitable power latent when those four letters combine.
This may seem like an odd place to start a cookbook review of “An Edible Mosaic” by Faith Gorsky, but I can’t separate our cooking through a book of Syrian recipes without considering how much tragedy has befallen the country itself. We read articles, watch the tweets come and go and find ourselves comfortable. Fed. Safe.
It’s important to note that this cookbook and the recipes therein give me such hopefulness for the future. Again, perhaps an odd commendation to give a cookbook, but love plays a central figure in the collected recipes. Had it not been for love, Gorsky might not have met her Syrian husband and learning a cuisine from a culture so very different than her own. She might not have been self-charged with months of shadowing her mother-in-law in the kitchen, neither speaking the other’s language.
So, I would posit that this is an important book, not only for the pleasure the recipes will bring to recipients, but because it brings Syria into the home. It makes those headlines closer as I wonder if someone else ate Maqluba (upside down rice casserole) tonight too and in that small act of eating a specific dish, I am connected with someone in Syria. In the act of cutting the onions and lopping off the cauliflower florets or slicing the potatoes, I am reminded of the violence that sweeps across that country. This leads me to keep Syrians in my prayers even as I welcome their food to my table. It makes me want for them to know peace.
And shouldn’t all people come to know peace?
When I consider intercultural communication classes and the role culture plays in food, it makes me curious to know if Syrians are bold like their spice combinations (nine-spice, anyone?) or pithy and bright like the accents of lemon and yogurt in much of the cuisine. It makes me think they are rich in the love they lavish upon friends and family like the tahini that makes a common appearance in sauces.
I could yammer on about how much we enjoyed the recipes in this cookbook and believe me when I say, every meal was a feast of flavor, texture and complementary contrasts. I could tell you how my falafel looked more like fritters bursting with garlicky goodness or how a drizzle of pomegranate molasses over the sesame sauce made those falafel something revelatory. I could tell you about the evening we made the Meat and Vegetable Casserole and my husband helped himself to thirds, something as rare as catching a jackalope in the Texas wilds. I could let you in on the secret that is sprinkling salt over eggplant slices to extract their moisture before pan-frying them into a simple addition to a maza (appetizer platter).
But somehow using all those words in that way might feel like a cheat. Instead, I will tell you that combining the spices to make the Nine-Spice Mix slowed me down to smell the cumin, the coriander, and ginger, letting me get a feel for how they might play nice with each other. It made me wonder how countries fighting internally and fighting neighboring countries might find a way to play nice. And just as the flavor of a nine spice mix is complex, so too is the pathway for the Middle East. But I wonder if somehow food, the table, a meal could be the place where peace starts. Where all the so very different ingredients work together to make a dish that makes me want to swoon like the Fish Pilaf. And really, that Fish Pilaf doesn’t come easily. But some of the best things in life are not easily won, right?