Anas Atassi didn’t got down to be a cookbook author, however his Syrian heritage made the feat an inevitable a part of his life. The Amsterdam-based engineer-by-training is an equally proficient dwelling prepare dinner and storyteller, and his first cookbook, Sumac: Recipes and Stories from Syria, named for the daring purple Syrian spice, illuminates these presents.
Although Atassi hasn’t traveled to Syria in additional than ten years, recollections of consuming eggplant jam along with his sister, spooning wealthy soups throughout Ramadan, and the smells of khebzeh harra (flatbread with spicy tomato sauce) cooked at native avenue stalls permeate his thoughts in addition to his kitchen. When he began college in Europe, he missed the flavors and spices of his tradition, like Aleppo pepper, za’atar, and, sure—sumac. He started making ready his instructive mom’s recipes, swapping pictures and feedback together with her. Quickly sufficient, Atassi grew to become a talented prepare dinner and extra deeply linked to his tradition. As he navigated being a Syrian prepare dinner in his newfound dwelling in Amsterdam, he determined that he wished to share this reference to the world.
A part of that want was to point out the world a aspect of Syria they hadn’t seen earlier than. An ongoing civil struggle has compelled 6.6 million Syrians to seek refuge in other countries, and up to date photos of destruction, grief, and terror are inclined to overshadow the huge historical past and tradition of Syria and its folks. “We’re such a beneficiant folks, with a lot tradition and historical past, however you don’t see that story on tv,” Atassi tells me over WhatsApp. “I wished to inform the story I do know by way of this cookbook, and thru the flavors of the delicacies.”
Although Atassi was born in Homs, Syria, his dad and mom’ work took his fast household to Saudi Arabia when he was a toddler. Nonetheless, Syria was dwelling, and Atassi grew up spending summers within the nation with household and family members. Atassi has lived in lots of locations since—Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Amsterdam, to call just a few. But Syrian meals has been a continuing in his life. As is the case for a lot of Syrian households, the women-only dinners and sturdy breakfasts he describes in his e-book are items of the previous. Atassi lives on his personal within the Netherlands, and his household is dispersed all over the world. Atassi and I linked by WhatsApp, discussing every thing from the important substances that may make most any dish a Syrian meal, to how cooking can reshape painful narratives of a nation that has a storied historical past and tradition, predating incessant struggle and turmoil.
What motivated you to jot down this cookbook?
I'm on no account anyone who was a skilled chef, however I really like meals and cooking, and I particularly like Syrian meals. I grew to become extra acutely aware of that reality after I left my household home and moved out for my research and principally began actually lacking the nice meals of my mother. That is after I began studying utilizing Skype and commenced sending footage by way of WhatsApp to my mother as a way to study extra about cooking and recipes.
After all, my mother, my auntie, and my grandmother contributed to this. And I believe, at a sure level, throughout my work, I used to be talking with my colleague subsequent to me (she’s Italian), and we'd discuss meals, I believe, half of the time, and the opposite half is simply about work, and that’s after I realized, “Okay, I must do one thing about it.” And I made a decision to do a cookbook, however I actually wished to don't only a cookbook. There are such a lot of tales and historical past and other people linked to these recipes that I wished to verify these tales resonate and are surfaced for others. The intention was actually to share the recipes and the tales of my household, but additionally the tales which can be each my story and tales Syrians may relate to.
Are you able to describe “nafas,” a part that you simply state is crucial to Syrian cooking? Why is it so vital, and what does it imply to the delicacies?
“Nafas” is actually the final word recognition or praise you can provide to a Syrian prepare dinner. I bear in mind, every time we’d go to pals for dinner with my mother, we'd get again dwelling, and my mother would say, “This woman, she actually has nafas.” Which meant, she has the correct approach of blending substances and bringing the perfect of the straightforward substances to make it very particular. And that’s the essence of cooking: mixing the spices and having the correct timing and the correct substances. I believe nafas is unquestionably one thing that's important to Syrian cooking.
“Nafas” is actually the final word recognition or praise you can provide to a Syrian prepare dinner.
Sumac is the second important ingredient you listing. What are some dishes within the e-book that you simply assume showcase the significance of sumac rather well?
If I might select one dish, it could be the hen wrap [page 202 of Sumac], which is named “Musakhan wraps.” It’s really initially Palestinian, and Syrians have adopted this dish and made a small twist to it. “Musakhan” is initially Palestinian, the place they put a loaf of bread with quite a lot of onion and sumac and roasted hen. Syrians type of tailored this dish. We cherished the Palestinian Musakhan, so we made a wrap utilizing flatbread, and with the identical substances, toasted it on a sizzling frying pan. As a result of there are very restricted substances to it—principally hen, sumac, and onions—it actually brings within the style and the great thing about sumac. It’s very distinguished, but so easy, and actually scrumptious.
What ought to dwelling cooks learn about sourcing sumac?
Normally Turkish or Center Jap outlets have sumac, in addition to most of the substances which can be frequent within the cookbook, like pomegranate molasses or tahini, that are one other two important substances if you wish to have a Syrian meal.
You talked about a want to return to the flavors of your homeland. How did cooking Syrian meals as an grownup let you do this?
For me, I grew up exterior of Syria. However I used to be fortunate sufficient to have the ability to return for 3 months yearly in the course of the summer season for vacation in Syria. It’s solely when the struggle began in 2011—the ten-year anniversary of the Syrian disaster is definitely this month—that I finished.
You talked about that you simply’re an engineer, not a classically skilled chef but—although I wouldn’t know that from studying your e-book. It’s simply so beautiful! And there are these intricate recipes which can be so thoughtfully crafted. So, for somebody who’s new to Syrian cooking, how can they turn into extra snug with utilizing new flavors, new instruments, and a unique method to cooking?
I might begin with having the actually fundamental, easy substances. I believe these easy substances are important seasonings that may make any of your dishes Syrian. It could make a burger Syrian! For instance, these embrace sumac, seven spice mix powder, pomegranate molasses, and tahini. These are the primary substances that may rework Syrian cooking and switch a dish right into a Syrian dish. I do have recipes, and I do have measurements, however I inform readers: Don’t simply belief my measurements; you do it to your personal style, you do it to your personal liking. Syrian cooking is all about placing some, tasting somewhat bit, placing some extra, tasting, tasting once more. It’s all about placing your personal choice and flavors into it.
Syrian delicacies is historic, but it has been tailored throughout time, area, and household. Are there variations particular to your loved ones that present up on this cookbook?
I believe one of many issues about my household is that we like issues to be quite simple and delicate. So, when you've got a dish, don’t overdo it; that’s from my mother and my dad. And I additionally like this. To a sure extent, I prefer to go to all extremes generally, however having it easy and delicate, by attempting to guarantee that the primary ingredient’s style, for instance, is actually extra distinguished. It offers the correct integrity to the primary ingredient of the dish, relatively than overflowing it with a lot spice and a lot taste round it. In order that’s Damascus, for instance. Damascus could be very recognized for its easy and delicate tastes. However different areas inside Syria—like Aleppo could be very well-known for his or her extra adventurous sorts of flavors, particularly because it was on the Silk Route. It has adopted many flavors coming from China all the best way into Aleppo; it’s adopted quite a lot of flavors from all over the world, making it a extra adventurous and spicy delicacies.
Cuisines throughout the Center East are sometimes conflated with each other. What are some traits that make Syrian delicacies completely different that these of its neighbors?
It relies upon actually on the place you might be in Syria, as a result of Syrian delicacies by itself can also be very regional. For instance, the world across the area of Syria that's neighboring Iraq could be very a lot influenced by the Iraqi folks, after which Iraq can also be very a lot influenced by the Syrians. So it offers a really particular sort of mixing of two cultures inside a small space between Iraq and in Syria. And the identical goes between, for instance, Turkey and Syria, neighboring Aleppo, the place they've additionally fairly a extremely particular mix of meals tradition and flavors. Cities alongside the Mediterranean are very a lot by the ocean and by Cyprus and have that quite simple, delicate style. So it’s actually relying on the area. I might say that there isn't any one Syrian delicacies solely, or Lebanese delicacies, the best way we all know it. There’s a lot affect inside all of these international locations that makes it actually its personal, relying the place you might be within the area, but additionally relying on which household you’re coming from.
Have been there any particularly memorable moments in the course of the e-book writing course of?
For me, it was actually attention-grabbing, the engagement that I had from my mother and from my sisters and from my auntie and from my grandmother. They had been so engaged and so fascinated that I used to be doing this mission, and so they wished to contribute in any approach—whether or not giving a recipe feedback or criticizing, no matter it's, and even bringing me a few of my grandmother’s cutlery and plates from Syria to Amsterdam to characteristic them within the e-book. Additionally, with my grandmother and my aunties, they chipped in and introduced a number of the most stunning presents for the pictures, like a tablecloth that could be very typical to Syria known as Al-Aghabani. They introduced it so I may characteristic that within the e-book.
Your e-book represents a Syria that isn’t outlined by the darkish fingers of struggle and despair. Why is that illustration vital for readers?
I believe that this is likely one of the most vital messages of the e-book. I hope that it exhibits the completely different perspective of Syria, completely different from the one which we hear on a regular basis from the information. I hope it actually exhibits the generosity of Syrian meals and the wealthy meals tradition, the meals tradition that we grew up with in any respect the celebrations. Even at funerals, you had been surrounded with meals all the time. As well as, all of that is in regards to the wealthy, form folks. Sadly, the information solely exhibits the destructive, and I believe that the sort folks of Syria deserve a greater narrative. And by this, I actually hope that we type of management and change the narrative to the opposite, and extra to what folks in Syria relate to.
Your cookbook weaves tales of previous, current, and an unsure future in Syrian tradition. What would you like readers to take from that method?
After wanting into the e-book, and studying the tales, and searching on the scrumptious meals, I need readers to place Syria on the subsequent to-go and to-travel listing, as soon as all of the turmoil is over. I need them to share these tales and share this attitude that they realized from the e-book on the wealthy Syrian tradition. I believe that’s actually a very powerful message: that this e-book can assist form these tales about what it means to be Syrian in folks’s minds.
This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.
THREE EXCITING RECIPES FROM SUMAC
Lamb Kebabs with Cherries
Lamb is combined with heat spices like allspice and cinnamon and stewed with recent cherries for a savory summer season dish.
Get to know the candy aspect of eggplant with this jam that’s good for spreading throughout a slice of buttered bread.
These wraps filled with shredded hen are an ideal ode to sumac.
MORE BOOKS TO BUY, READ, AND COOK FROM
Additionally, don’t miss our latest interview with author and chef Sheldon Simeon, who’s remixing classics like mochiko fried hen, butter mochi, and extra.
In Greenfeast: Spring, Summer, Nigel Slater takes on the greenest months of cooking, from broad beans to orange blossoms.
Foodheim, by Eric Wareheim and Emily Timberlake is on the market for pre-order, and it’s certain to infuse your future events with laughs and hen parm.
When you’ve been having fun with the present season of Prime Chef, you’ll love Everyone’s Table, by Gregory Gourdet, which is stuffed with elegant, restaurant-worthy methods to eat healthily.