By Eduardo Stanley
This past summer, in Fresno, we assisted at the presentation of an original book of recipes, Syrian Recipes From Home, by Syrian refugee Nour Al Mshantaf, produced by the Pan Valley Institute of the American Friends Service Committee.
This book was a journey of two years, in which a few handwritten recipes in Arabic turned into a well-designed book, organized under breakfast, lunch, appetizers and side dishes, and desserts, for a total of more than 30 mouth-watering dishes.
But there is more than recipes in this book; it is the touching story of Nour and her family flying from a war-torn Syria to Jordan and later coming to the United States, where they ended up in Fresno in 2016.
“Nour is not an activist or politician, she was part of a large, close-knit Syrian family who was simply living her life when a war completely disrupted it,” reads the foreword of the book written by Myrna Martínez Nateras, program director of the Pan Valley Institute. “As you read Nour’s story, my hope is that it will open your heart to the plight of those whose lives took them on a journey they neither expected nor wanted. Their voices matter, and while we can’t bring you each of their stories, we are proud to bring you this one.”
The book was printed at the time the current U.S. administration reduced drastically the number of refugees coming here, while current wars and violence around the world are producing massive waves of refugees—wars in which the U.S. government has usually some degree of responsibility.
Refugees barely escape violence with almost nothing but their clothes on. However, their memories and culture, their stories and feelings, are an invisible part of them. And when they settle—those lucky ones—those memories are still with them and they become a crucial part of their identities in their new society.
“[My story] is the tale of an unplanned life—one that has earned us the label of ‘refugees’ and has taken us to a foreign land far away from our family and friends,” writes Nour in the book’s introduction. “My hope in recording the recipes and stories in this book is that it will help keep Syrian traditions alive for my children and fellow Syrians who flee our homeland with nothing but our memories.”
Food is an important element of most cultures. By sharing her recipes, Nour gives us not only the opportunity to prepare delicious dishes but to take a glance at a little-known culture.
Syrian Recipes from Home offers a wide array of Syrian and Arabic dishes, from the traditional hummus to the sophisticated mahashee, or from grilled chicken to burghul bedfeen.
Like most cooks, Nour cooked by handling the spices naturally without looking at recipes or measuring them. However, for the book she had to take all measurements and write them down, which added to the time frame of producing the book.
Don’t worry about the correct pronunciation of the dishes’ names, you’ll enjoy both cooking and tasting them.
For book inquiries, call the Pan Valley Institute at 559-222-7678.
Eduardo Stanley is the editor of Community Alliance newspaper.
Recipe: Hummus with tahini
3 cups boiled hummus (garbanzo)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 seedless lemon, chopped but not peeled
1 cup tahini (found in most Middle Eastern stores)
1/2 cup cold water
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin
A few garbanzo beans, not crushed
1/4 cup olive oil, poured into the dish before serving
Place the boiled hummus, chopped lemon and all other ingredients into a blender, and blend until smooth and creamy. Additional salt or lemon can be added to taste.
Garnish with chopped parsley, olive oil, cumin and some whole garbanzo beans.