I’m going to rewind to 2010 when the reality of writing a cookbook found its place on my stove and my hand was on the gas ignition switch.
Two years ago exactly this February, I was approached by Grace, the managing editor at Duncan Baird Publishing to write a cookbook on Middle Eastern cuisine. That same month, I had been pitching a cookbook idea which would, soon after, receive a couple of ‘too niche’ responses declining it. So, as you can imagine, I was thrilled that such an opportunity had made its way to my table. It was the culmination of a dream I’d had since my early twenties, back then an idea so distant it seemed only possible when I retired from my ‘real’ job.
Photography by Sarka Babicka.
DBP’s initial idea for the book was to feature classic dishes from the region and assign them into chapters based on country. Middle Eastern cuisine is rooted in history and tradition and a slice of politics always finds its place on a plate. Geographic boundaries for these Levantine areas have changed in the last century and many of “our” dishes are shared and the similarities are more than the differences. Naturally, my first thought was which country would I assign hummus to? We all eat it and if I even dare call it Lebanese, well then, what would my Syrian and Palestinian friends think of me? And so, such a proposal felt like hot oil had been thrown at me sans French Fries to help soothe the burns.
Photography by Sukruti Stanley.
I signed the deal a few months later, and though I was feeling rather intimidated by the task of assigning dishes to countries, I decided to bite into the challenge nevertheless and turned the ignition switch on full blast. There was researching, developing and writing, followed by stuffing it down the garbage disposal because it couldn’t possibly be good enough for a cookbook. Could anything possibly be good enough for a cookbook? Was I good enough to write a cookbook? In hindsight, they were perfectly delicious recipes as I was often assured by family and friends, but I guess when you’re working on something you’ve dreamt about for so long, nothing seems to be good enough.
At times, we were living in what we called “the kabutz” (this being my home in the West Country), with my sister Joslin and friend Sarka (who would later bring the cookbook to life) moving in for a few months as we worked away at all these projects together. They were fun times and I have them and Chris to thank for making sure nothing was burning on that stove. But a year and a half of juggling FBC, TL, The book and everything else that comes with day to day living would eventually brew a whirlwind of emotions (I’m not dramatising!) I was thrilled, I was melancholic, I was tormented, I agonised over this and over that, I was exhausted. I wanted it to end but then I couldn’t bear to submit my manuscript. “It’s not ready! It’s nearly there but it’s just not ready. Two more weeks!”
And so one cold weekend, Grace paid me a visit in the West Country and, as I used her shoulder as a tissue box, she assured me in her sweet, gentle and motherly tone, that it would all be ok and that she was now going to take care of my sweet little baby. And I am grateful, for she did just as she promised, working with me to ensure I was finally at ease with the format and layout.
So, for the last year and a half, I’ve been writing a cookbook on Middle Eastern cuisine and on Friday evening, March 15th, I pre-ordered my cookbook on Amazon. It was the 130th cookbook I’ll have bought to date but this one was actually mine.
In this cookbook, entitled The Jewelled Kitchen, the title taking inspiration from the jewel-like ingredients such as pomegranate arils, pistachios and mint, you’ll find Middle Eastern recipes that are rooted in history with a little touch of contemporary. My hope with this book is to get more people cooking Middle Eastern food and hopefully offer a taste of our rich culture in the process too.
UK and Australia Publication: The Jewelled Kitchen, July 4th, 2013 on pre-order now on Amazon
US Publication: Pomegranate and Pine Nuts, October 1st, 2013 on pre-order now on Amazon and with Barnes and Noble
Stay tuned for more updates on the book, distribution and so on. There will be an e-book available for pre-order soon too!