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A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie's Kitchen

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

    "A Fistful of Lentils" is a Gem- A Collection of Recipes, Anecdotes and Photographs from a Syrian-Jewish Family

    "A Fistful of Lentils" is a wonderful book that is so much more than a cookbook. The author, Jennifer Felicia Abadi, has not only shared with us a collection of family recipes, but a history of the Syrian-Jewish community and their way of life. She chronicles the story of her family's transition from life in the Middle East to a new life in the United States using photographs and anecdotes from multiple generations of her family. One does not have to be Syrian-Jewish to relate to the story of Ms. Abadi and her family. She also writes of the special bond she shared with her Grandma Fritzie and how publishing this collection of recipes became a labor of love and a tribute to her grandmother and family. The recipes themselves are presented clearly and are very easy to follow. The recipes are divided into specific chapters such as Appetizers and Snacks; Soups,Sauces and Dressings; Fish and Vegetarian Dishes; Meat Dishes and Desserts. There are clear and helpful illustrations for techniques that may be new to some readers. There are also suggested menus for preparing an entire meal, as well as resource information to help readers locate some of the more uncommon ingredients in their own communities. I have personally tried many of the recipes and they are delicious. I have given this book as a gift to family members and shared it with friends. I hightly recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Syrian family recipes you'll crave

    A curious legacy of Syrian and Jewish recipes, riddled with photos and a meandering family history, A Fistful of Lentils is much more than a simple cookbook. It's part memoir, the family memories wrapped up in food as so many good things are, and part how-to, divulging the secrets of Abadi's childhood Syrian-Jewish cuisine.

    The book begins by relating the "secrets" of the Syrian cuisine: 42 heavily used ingredients. Most are common here in the U.S., like rice, salt, sesame seeds, tomatoes, though definitive of the region's cuisine. (A specialty grocery and spice store appendix is listed by state, making the few rarer items more accessible.) Abadi provides a glimpse at daily life with her thorough menu planning section, grouping recipes by meal, and then highlighting special occasion and traditional holiday menus. For example, this Jewish holiday menu for Yom Kippur dinner: Baba Ganush, Syrian Pita Bread, Tomato-Rice Soup with Stuffed Meatballs, Stuffed Squash with Lemon-Mint Sauce, Lemon-Mint Salad Dressing, Stuffed Date Candies and Mint Tea.

    Abadi's recipes have a strong sense of balance, heavy on the cinnamon and cumin for warmth, sweet-spicy and comforting, often with the Syrian tang of fruit appearing unexpectedly. Recipes run the gamut from breakfast to dessert with yummy-sounding vegetable sides and flavorful, brothy soups.

    Originally published in 2002, I find the paperback addition much more usable for cooking with its flexible spine. I was surprised to find so few Jewish recipes, though I can see the influence of the holidays and style of cooking in the dishes Abadi does include here. Simple Syrian recipes like Lebnah (yogurt cheese), Syrian Pita Breads, Eggplant Dip with Pine Nuts, look easy to make and seem refreshingly different than the hummus and baba ganoush typical of Middle Eastern restaurants here in the states. (Not that I don't appreciate a good hummus and baba ganoush!)

    Though the recipes don't achieve true hybrid status between the Syrian and Jewish cultures, with Abadi leaning almost entirely on Syrian flavors, A Fistful of Lentils showcases the balance and singular palate of the Syrian cuisine.

    More reviews like this one at www{dot}christinereads{dot}com.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2010

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