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.