One of my favorite things about traveling and exploring different cultures is trying new foods. Cooking and eating are a staple of every way of life, and yet the endless ways in which ingredients and spices can be combined fascinates me. Things get even more interesting when cultures meet: a chef moves from Syria to Germany, introducing her homeland’s recipes and flavors to a new audience. This is the story of Malakeh Jazmati, who tells her tale through her self-titled cookbook.
Malakeh is colorful, both the book and its namesake. One of the first things that grabs you when flipping through this cookbook’s pages are the images: of the dishes, of stunning Syrian markets and architecture, even of the rich backgrounds and patterns used to highlight chapter beginnings and other significant text. The second thing that may grab you is the vividness of Malakeh’s writing. Her descriptions of Syria are passionate and precise, making it clear that leaving it behind due to the ongoing civil war was no easy decision. Fortunately, she and her family were able to find a new home in Berlin’s Sharehaus, a wonderful community of native Germans and refugees established by Sven Lager.
The heart of the book, the recipes, are also delightful to peruse. Being more familiar with other varieties of Middle Eastern fare, it was comforting to recognize some dishes (ex. hummus) and exciting to find new ones to try (ex. Batata Hara – chili-seasoned potatoes). The entrees are divided into vegetarian and mit Fleisch (with meat), ensuring something to please both types of eaters. Some recipes include a brief quote from Malakeh, offering an anecdote or other additional context for the dish at hand. A glossary near the end of the book provides further explanations for select ingredients, from tahini to Akawi (a type of brine cheese). Some recipes assume the reader has a preexisting grasp of certain cooking techniques: Fasuliyeh Set (Syrian-style green beans) instructs one to quickly blanch the beans, but does not provide further instruction on how to do so. Otherwise, each set of directions is straightforward and precise, clearly listing the required ingredients, the prep and cooking times, how many people each dish serves, and so on.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to test any of these recipes, I have no doubt that when I do, the results will be nothing short of delicious. It’s impossible to skim through this cookbook without noticing the love with which it was assembled: the carefully staged and framed photos, the handy “Tipps” appended to some recipes, the tenderness used in describing Syrian landmarks and memories. As the credo in Malakeh’s biography states, the language of food is universal, and the author speaks it eloquently and beautifully. Malakeh’s book has not been translated into English yet.
Chrissy Bellizzi is a public librarian working and living in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her career path has included experience in classical music marketing, school librarianship, and special collections. In her spare time, she enjoys playing percussion in community orchestras, gardening, and annoying her monolingual husband by conversing in German with her brothers.