Memories, Meals, and “Aromas of Aleppo”
With the exception of Yom Kippur, the past few weeks, for many of us in the Jewish community, have been bountifully full of food. I’ve been happily partaking in pumpkin bread/pumpkin muffin production (baking three loaves, and two tins of twelve muffins over the course of two days) and enjoying my friends’ seasonal culinary creations on a chilly evening in their sukkah. The first floor of my home—occupied by my landlord, an Iranian Jew with a very large family—has been full of pre- and post-holiday food aromas; all appealing, and yet nothing like the ones emanating from my own family’s kitchen during the autumn holidays. Though I’m not a particularly adventurous cook (I’d be perfectly satisfied subsisting on steamed kale and Trader Joe’s whole wheat couscous three meals a day), I’ve begun taking a deeper interest in unusual recipes, particularly those that have never been part of my family’s exclusively Ashkenazi spread.
So, during this time of food-overload, I was pleased to stumble upon an article in the Forward about Poopa Dweck, a first-generation Syrian American Jewish woman who just published a new cookbook: Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews. The book contains 180 recipes (and many vibrant photographs) that have existed only in the minds of an aging population of Syrian women and, up until now, were at risk of never being transmitted to a broad public.
Until Aromas of Aleppo, Syrian recipes could scarcely be found in the cookbook “canon,” and there was not one published book about the Syrian Jewish community and its food! But Aromas of Aleppo isn’t only about preserving the recipes themselves. As the art director of the book, Michelle Ishay-Cohen (of Syrian-Jewish ancestry), explained: “more important than writing down old recipes, more important than presenting them to a younger generation of Syrians, is putting all of the information into a historical and religious context that would explain the foods they eat unquestioningly each day.” Indeed, recipes serve as important pieces of history. Thanks to Poopa Dweck, I’m glad that the Syrian Jewish community now has some of their own culinary history documented for their community and accessible to the world. And I’m certainly looking forward to trying kibbeh hamdah, a garlicky lemon-mint broth with mixed veggies and meatballs “viewed by many as an aphrodisiac.”