Yasmin Khan: Stories of Recipe in a Cookbook


Yasmin I'm so excited to be talking to you today thank you for being here thank you for having me I love your book Zitouni we had it as part of our book club a few months ago and I read what about it then and I wrote about that and I'm still raving about it I find it just to be Such a great mix of cookbook that also tells a lot of really incredible story okay so I wanted to talk to you first about your own story you have a little bit of a unconventional background for food writer and I'd love to he's here a little bit about how you found your way to food from was it a law degree that you have to begin with yeah I mean it's about as dry as you can get saying they're studying you know treaties and laws it's about as far away as you can get from like the creative intensity of of a kitchen but I think that in a way my you know connection to the food world just started from such a young age because my family grandparents were farmers and think anyone who's grown up around fresh produce it just installs in you from such a young age real reverend of I mean definitely vegetables and you know when we were you know my my family would grow rice but then also all kinds of plants they eh clients and peppers and tomatoes and cucumbers and so you know cooking a meal you know would would very much be about going off getting eggs and getting beans and getting vegetables I'm getting rice all from the land we had chickens and we had cows soya milk cow like when I was like four years old so I think that's what is my love food but it wasn't until I was older when I was around thirty that I decided to make the the the real shift I was working for a British charity in London I'd been working for nonprofits throughout my twenties for different kinds of human rights campaign groups and you know often happens for people working on this quite intense subjects I mean I was working on stuff light deaths following contact with the police or Israel Palestine or the you know the continuing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan so I mean you know pretty heavy stuff I just ended up having like a classic burn out like I just yeah you're still pretty young at that time rate thirty yeah that's pretty young really young but enough time to start a new career yeah absolutely and go diagnosed with chronic fatigue which kind of basically leaves you with very little energy to do anything but I could cook and it was during that purser healing from the illness and recovering the I. Refound my love of food and as part of my time off for my job going to Iran to spend some time with my grandmother my grandfather recently passed away and and while I was there I set myself this task of asking different family member is what their favorite recipes were and if they would show them to me and while we were cooking together I just stick my iphone down and record what we were saying and and I did the opportunity when we were in the kitchen you know chopping onions or you know at an making dumplings I do not opportunity to ask them about their lives in the history and and probably the kind of conversations you'd be wanting to have even if there weren't a recorder exactly yeah when I came back to the UK after that time I suddenly realized I sitting on a treasure trove of recipes and stories that would really enable you know someone in the asked you know someone like my friends just to kind of get a glimpse of what life in Iran was like and Iran is a place with just like the most incredible Zine which I'm so thrilled in the last is you know he's been getting lots more attention but you know when the Saffron Tales came out you know which is only three years ago that you know it didn't you know it was part of that that trend I think the Saffron Tales your first book you wrote out of those stories and recipes from your time in Iran exactly and that was definitely like part memoir very much about your own lived experience and then you your second books they tune which which we're talking today is kind of much different in a way because it's not the experience that you grew up with but it's a little bit more of an anthropological look got a region So how is it different to be working on that book after your first one yeah it was it was both weedy different and really similar I mean in a thread that's run through all of my work over the last eighteen years has been a real love of storytelling and a real understanding that stories is how oh not only we better understand the world around us but we also better understand ourselves and when I was working for Human Rights Charity israel-palestine was my brief signed so I was really familiar with the place but also the food you know I was really lucky in London like I live incredibly close to the author Langi Cafe so like you know twelve hundred eighteen years ago I remember I e in kind of food and being like wow it's so similar to Persian food but then it's got so many differences and you know food from that region was already part of my culinary repertoire so when I was thinking about what book to write next you know what motivated me really clearly to write the saffron tales was deep desired to not only celebrate the incredible culture and Food Iran but also to challenge stereotypes of how people normally perceive Iran and I think the Palestinian kitchen another place where I felt I could use food to really share stories of a place I think too often when we see depictions of places is like Palestinian communities either through very narrow political prison or it's because something really bad happened and you know of course there are huge challenges is in that region but there's also a lot of beauty of joy and a lot of great food and so you had been going to that region for work previously so that was your first exposure to it and to the cuisine there yeah so I I went in two thousand nine which is about ten years ago and I really remember it clearly because it was July so it was really hot and we was dipping in our meetings with projects that we were going to whether it was visiting olive farming communities or kind of joint and Israeli Palestinian in community initiatives and it was quite heavy stuff because it's you know region which is just yeah fraught with human rights abuse But the reason I remember it was July hi it's because I really remember in times off kind of walking through the markets and just it being packed with all this color the color and abundance of of summer whether there's that was like giant watermelons sweet Jami figs incredible like berries as I mean it was you know the the produce fell so alive and as I often say like in a region that feels like it's dying that just felt so important and you Talk a little bit about how this book is laid out because I think it's really I think it's really interesting and I learned a lot just by reading about the different regions within this region I and n how vastly different styles of food are in a in a area the size of Delaware so small yeah so talk about how you decided to put the together and how you decided to highlight these different cuisines yeah so I really see this book as a travelogue I wanna take my read on real culinary adventure through listen in kitchens so I divided the book into different chapters kind of starting kind of in the north of Israel actor I and Haifa which of these incredible seaside towns the food like how how do you describe the food there yeah so the food that and actually the food of that region the North region which is the Galilee is perhaps the most traditional Levin teen type foods so you know the the things you might think of along it's on the coast they have lots of fresh seafood perhaps likes him seabream that smothered in a gorgeous like garlic Tahini saw a recipe for that in this book there is and then just so many stuffed vegetables like stuffed bell peppers stuff eggplants Zucchini stuffed with what kinds of thing yeah stuffed cows it's I mean just like I feel like if Palestinians can stop something like they will and what are they stuffing yeah well a real variety of stuff so it can be with Rice on minced Tom Flavored with maybe nutmeg cinema and kind of a warming sweet spices sometimes it can be you know plant based with kind of chick peas and rice and and sometimes it can just be kind of rice and herbs and I think one of the things that really struck me when I was doing the research for this book is just how plant based the food is from from the both it'd be really common just to have a whole Vegan meal but without any like purposefulness about it was just an abundance of vegetables and I love the the book do divide out a whole section on the Vegan and also dairy free and gluten free menus because it does seem like it this zine just naturally lend itself to diets are particularly kind of trendy here right now I know it's funny isn't it I wonder if you know that helped to some of the trend but I think all Middle Eastern diets of very I mean the Mediterranean diet is said to be one of the best for health in the world right and I really wanted to make the book very practical because I'm a home cook you know I want people to the is this isn't a recipe book which has got you know dishes in it I mean there are few like standout dishes but it's mainly stuff that I just want people to to get home from work and unlike quickly pulled together and part of that referencing was about that because so many people I know dairy free or plant based on you know perhaps just I wanna have that choice yeah so tell me about the other regions Gallery New Orleans the Galilee and then we've got the food of the West Bank which you know if the Galilee was really green you know the the West Bank is is not it is dry it's you know it's it's you know it's huge water supply issues in the region the food there reflect that so it's a lot more grilled meats a lot more bread based as opposed to rice so we're kind of thinking about dishes such as massakin which is this gorgeous kind of marinated chicken dish that's-that's made with with all spice and Su Mac and then roasted and and the big huge flat breads and the meat juices of pulled over into the bread and then you tear apart it with your hand so interactive eating yeah or Mansa which is this kind of really Halsey lamb stew made with Jimmy which is a bit of it's kind of a strange ingredient it's it's a kind of amended way Lexus is Kinda funky the milk product yeah but fermented or dried so it's a common ingredient throughout the Middle East so you know we're talking heartier dishes and Maumee Bay and then the food from Gaza is completely different as well so Gaza is a tiny strip of land and it's on the coast the Mediterranean Sea and there the focus is on lots of like see food but also lots of the flavor palate is different so the whole eternity of Gaza and cuisine is garlic and Green Chili and dill you or beef stew that you would add these flavorings into so again just really unusual so within such a small bit of like land there were three distinct culinary identities all right we're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor this week's episode of the bottom teeth food cast is brought to you by targets would gather when it comes to feeding families gooding gather believes that real life and eating well should go hand in hand that good food and good people are more important then when where and how we eat that's why they created good and gather favorite flavors in selected staples made for real life in many ways we gather made with high quality ingredients and carefully crafted recipes to create better tasting food that you can be confident is a good choice for you in your family that's good engaged her new and only at target so you spend a lot of time like just talking to people while you're there I mean it sounds like from reading the book you're constantly introducing the reader to new families to people who you cooked with and telling their stories so what was the is that might be through social media I'll call out for friends of friends does anyone know anyone in an area and luckily the way the world works now you can meet people that way other times you'd be at someone's House and then they'd be like Oh well you've got to try the bakery in this town like my aunt sisters cousin runs an incredible drier and she was like just this really likes spirited young Palestinian woman you know she had right head like pomegranate tattoos like a real kind of cool artists and she was such a big Foodie so we would just drive around in her car with the windows bled down listening to music and just like visiting friends there's all visiting people I've met through social media or people

Coming up next