Recently, a friend told me about his relatives who chose to remain behind in Aleppo, Syria. It was the only way of life they knew and they could not imagine abandoning everything, thus signaling that they had given in to the rebels. When the matriarch died, she was buried in a rebel-controlled cemetery and had to be transported early in the morning, accompanied by only one son. Such is the courage and the struggle to survive.
The recipes in both books are simple. It will interest Nonyas to know that Aleppian Jewish cooking uses tamarind juice - a fundamental ingredient for many of their dishes. Along with cilantro, semolina and even coconut, suddenly the world seems small enough.
And while we're zeroing in on the Middle East, there are two other books not to be missed. "Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies" (Najieh Batmanglij) is a comprehensive study of a rich culture. The book is one of those epic documents, complete with ancient paintings, history, customs and folklore. The recipes span almost the entire culinary repertoire. Additionally, there is a useful section on 'How to make and store kitchen ingredients' which includes how to make Persian noodles, caramelize raw nuts, remove bitterness from orange peel amidst other tips. I have collected a few other Persian cookbooks but this is by far, the most impressive one yet.
In case, anyone feels like Middle Eastern food is too traditional, there is the "Modern Flavors of Arabia" (Suzanne Husseini) which would appeal to the modern Arab woman. Some of the most stylish and sophisticated women I've met are Arab and they remind me of who the book would connect with. Husseini hosts a successful cooking show in the Middle East. Gladly, her existence comes to show the rest of the world that the Middle East should not be portrayed as simply a war- torn region stagnating in ancient history but one of a progressive society striving to move with the times.