United by Food

EatingWell - - DEPARTMENTS -

For many Amer­i­cans the Mid­dle East evokes un­ease. The food is dif­fer­ent—we’ve in­creas­ingly em­braced it. And with this special Mid­dle Eastern-themed is­sue, we aim to open the door a lit­tle wider and give a more nu­anced taste of what the re­gion has to of­fer. But I also want to throw out a grander hope: that in some small way this is­sue might build un­der­stand­ing.

Each story in this is­sue brings us dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Ira­nian-amer­i­can au­thor Louisa Shafia talks about why she vis­ited Iran de­spite her fa­ther’s ob­jec­tions. She yearned for a con­nec­tion to her roots and culi­nary her­itage. In Le­banon, we meet Ka­mal Mouza­wak, who was in­spired by the way a neigh­bor­hood cul­tural cen­ter brought peo­ple to­gether af­ter the coun­try’s bit­ter civil war. Part en­tre­pre­neur, part vi­sion­ary and ad­vo­cate, he has cre­ated farm­ers’ mar­kets, restau­rants, inns and other en­ter­prises that pre­serve food tra­di­tions, pro­vide jobs for women and strengthen com­mu­nity.

The recipes that fol­low are a great ex­cuse to in­vite your neigh­bors, friends and ac­quain­tances over to share a meal. They are ex­traor­di­nary. You’ll find: crispy phyllo pas­tries filled with spiced lamb and wal­nuts from Istanbul. There’s the elec­tric-pink beet, yo­gurt and gar­lic dip that’s on the cover, which hails from Iran. From Le­banon, we share new ways to love veg­eta­bles, in­clud­ing stewed okra with pome­gran­ate mo­lasses and cilantro, and chard stems driz­zled with tahini sauce. You’re go­ing to want to have plenty of good olive oil and pita bread on hand for this is­sue!

My dad spent a year at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut in 1969, so I grew up hear­ing his sto­ries about Le­banon and his trav­els through­out the re­gion. He and I oc­ca­sion­ally talked about vis­it­ing, but we never got around to it. I was ner­vous. It seemed sketchy. But as I read the sto­ries and tasted the food in this is­sue, I knew I wanted more. I wanted the per­spec­tive that only first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence from travel can bring. So I’ve booked a trip for Novem­ber. My dad’s go­ing, too, for the first time in nearly 50 years.

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