DUBAI: “I long for my mother’s bread, my mother’s coffee, my mother’s touch,” Palestine’s poet par excellence Mahmoud Darwish once wrote.
Given the notable Canadian-Palestinian chef Suzanne Husseini’s choice of Darwish’s simple yet meaningful words in the epigraph of her first cookbook, “When Suzanne Cooks,” the act of cooking is a personal one, taking the longtime culinary consultant back to her childhood days.
“The reason why I love to cook and share is probably most profoundly connected to my mother,” said Husseini, who immigrated with her family to Canada in 1967.
“What my mother did was she continued from day one to keep us connected to our heritage through food and stories,” she told Arab News.
Proud of her Arab roots and known for sporting her quirky spoon and fork silver earrings, Husseini described food as her “language and vehicle.” And this month, she celebrates the 10th anniversary of launching her five-chapter cookbook that pays homage to the diversity and deliciousness of Arabic cuisine.
In her book, Husseini takes the reader through an accessible, step-by-step process to whip up speedy dishes and master home cooking feasts.
Explaining the vision behind her book, which is also published in Arabic, she said: “I wanted to set the bar high in producing a book that shares recipes, where people weren’t intimidated. I wanted to reconnect people back to their food and show them the simplicity and refinement of a cuisine that sometimes get taken for granted in our Arab population.”
In addition, Husseini aims to cordially educate those who are misinformed about the fundamentals of Arabic cooking of which she occasionally includes a few twists here and there.
As revealed by the book’s beautifully photographed snapshots, the savory Arabic classics are presented in a modern way, along with delightful sweet surprises, such as baked baklava cheesecake and A Thousand and One Nights pistachio ice-cream.
After establishing her career in Dubai for 20 years, Husseini recently returned to Ottawa from where she continues to spread the joy of cooking through cooking classes and television appearances.
“My cooking is my sanctuary as it always has been,” added Husseini, who is working on her second book about cooking. “It’s funny how the world now has woken up to cooking and people are back in their kitchens. This, for me, is like music to my ears.”
Recipe for maamoul (pistachio, walnut, and date pastries)
Derived from the Arabic term aamala – meaning, to make – the maamoul pastry is a quintessential Levantine treat served for special occasions, such as Eid and Easter. Husseini has provided Arab News readers with a recipe of three-flavored sorts.
“It takes a little time to prepare and make these pastries, but it is well worth it,” she said. “I usually make a big batch, bake them and freeze some in an airtight container. They keep well in the freezer.
“I have given instructions to decorate the pastries with the decorative pinchers. After a couple of attempts you will get the hang of it. Alternatively, you can use special molds that can be found in Middle Eastern supermarkets.”
To virtually cook with Husseini, follow her on @SuzanneHusseini, where she is always cooking up something tasty in her kitchen.
Makes approximately 100 pastries
1 kg (6 cups) fine semolina
2 tablespoons mahlab, ground
3 cups clarified butter, melted
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups full-fat milk, lukewarm
1 cup pistachios, chopped
5 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon rosewater
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
2 cups dates, chopped and pits removed
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup walnuts, chopped medium fine
5 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
Zest of half an orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Prepare the three fillings by mixing the ingredients for each in a bowl and set aside.
For the date filling, knead the dates with the butter until soft. Break off a piece and roll into a log about 10 cm long. Bring the ends together to form a ring shape of about a 4 cm diameter. Proceed until all are done and set aside.
In a large bowl put the semolina, sugar and mahlab and mix well. Pour in the melted butter and mix in with your fingertips coating completely. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar to incorporate. Gradually pour in the slightly warmed milk and mix until it forms a dough. It should be soft and pliable, and not sticky. You may not use all of the milk.
For the nut-filled maamoul, take a piece of dough of about the size of a walnut and cup it in one hand. With your thumb poke a hole in the center to make a well. Using your thumb on the inside and your index finger on the outside, work the dough upwards to thin it out gradually into a shell.
Place a teaspoonful of the nut filling in the well. Bring the edges together to cover the filling completely. Smooth out and turn over the filled pastry. With the pincher proceed to decorate the shell without piercing and exposing the filling. Make your pistachio-filled ones oval and your walnut-filled ones round. Place on a baking sheet.
For the date-filled maamoul, take a walnut-sized piece of dough and flatten in the palm of your hand. Place a prepared date ring in the center and fold the edges over to enclose completely toward the center. Follow the shape of the date ring and pinch the center to make a hole in the middle. It will look like a filled doughnut. Turn the seam side down. Grab hold of the pastry in one hand and proceed to use the pincher to decorate. Place on a baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 190 C.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes. The maamoul should only be slightly colored.
Remove and cool completely before dusting with icing sugar.
Store cooled pastries in an airtight container without the icing sugar.