United by Food
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.