Diana Abu-Jaber's 'The Language of Baklava'

Diana Abu-Jaber and her father, Gus.

Diana Abu-Jaber and her father, Gus (also known as Bud) -- the cook in her family. Scott Eason hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Eason
'The Language of Baklava'
Pantheon

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When Diana Abu-Jaber was a young girl, a waiter at a Chinese restaurant watched her savoring a meal — discovering radical new tastes and sensations. He observed, "So you come from cooking."

And she does.

Her father is Jordanian-born; her mother American. Abu-Jaber's new book, The Language of Baklava, is a memoir told through food. It explores the larger lessons that food can bring about cultural identity, faith and love.

Following are a few recipes from The Language of Baklava:

Subsistence Tabbouleh

 

For when everything is falling apart and there's no time to cook.

 

· 1 cup cracked wheat (bulgur, fine-grain)

· 2 small bunches flat-leaf parsley, minced

· 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and chopped

· 3 medium tomatoes, chopped

· 2 tablespoons olive oil

· Juice of 1 small lemon

· Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Wash the bulgur and let it soak in water to cover for 1/2 hour. Drain thoroughly and add the vegetables. Add the oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cover, and let the tabbouleh marinate in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

 

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 

 

 

 

Poetic Baklava

 

For when you need to serenade someone.

 

Syrup:

· 2 cups sugar

· 1 cup water

· Splash of lemon juice

· 1 teaspoon orange blossom water

 

· 1 pound walnuts

· 1 cup sugar

· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

· 1 box phyllo dough, defrosted

· 1 pound butter, clarified (melted and with the top layer skimmed off)

 

In a saucepan, boil all the syrup ingredients until the mixture turns clear. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator to cool.

 

In a food processor, grind together the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon to a fine, sandy consistency. Set aside.

 

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

 

Carefully unfold the phyllo dough, making sure not to crack or tear it. Keep it covered with a piece of waxed paper to help prevent it from drying out.

 

Butter the bottom of a shallow baking pan. You can also use a cookie sheet that has at least an inch-high lip. Carefully unpeel the first sheet of phyllo and lay it flat and smooth in the bottom of the pan. Brush with the clarified butter. Continue layering sheets of phyllo dough and brushing each sheet with butter until you’ve finished half the dough.

 

Spread the nuts and sugar mixture over the dough.

 

Place another sheet of dough on the mixture and butter it. Continue layering and buttering dough until you’ve used up the rest.

 

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut through the baklava in long, straight lines to form diamonds or squares (about 2 inches long).

 

Bake for about 50 minutes or until golden brown. Pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. Eat when ready!

 

 

'Eat It Now' Shish Kabob

 

· 4 tablespoons olive oil

· 1/2 cup red wine

· 2 tablespoons red vinegar

· 4 cloves garlic, crushed

· 2 teaspoons dried oregano

· 2 teaspoons dried rosemary

· 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into small cubes

· 1 large onion, cut into chunks

· 1 large tomato, cut into chunks

· Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Whisk together the oil, wine, vinegar, garlic and spices in a large bowl. Add the meat and stir to coat it thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate overnight; turn occasionally.

 

Thread the cubes of lamb on skewers, occasionally adding a piece of onion or tomato. Grill over hot coals, turning once. Cook to medium rare and eat while still sizzling.

 

Serves 6.

 

 

Nostalgic Chicken Livers

 

· 1/4 cup butter

· 1 clove garlic, minced

· 4 medium onions, sliced thin

· 1 pound chicken livers

· 1/3 cup lemon juice

· Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté the garlic and onions until they are golden. Add the chicken livers and cook for 10 minutes. Bud (her father) recommends that you sing softly to the livers as they're cooking, so you don't rush. Stir in the lemon juice and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a nice loaf of warm pita bread.

 

Serves 6.

 

 

Comforting Grilled Velveeta Sandwiches

 

· 2 tablespoons butter

· 4 slices Wonder bread (or other soft white bread)

· 2 thick slabs of Velveeta (this doesn't work as nicely with cheddar, trust me)

 

Melt the butter in frying pan. Place the cheese sandwiches in the hot butter. Cover and fry until golden on one side, then turn and fry on the other side. The cheese should be oozing and hot. Cut the sandwiches on the diagonal.

 

Serves 2.

 

From The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber, Published by Pantheon.

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A Memoir

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