Saturday, February 8, 2014

February Arabic Authors Book Club

On Thursday we held our Arabic authors book club, where we gathering to discuss a book we had all previously picked as a group and read since the last time we met, six weeks ago. 

I always look forward to this evening on my calendar because of the wonderful conversation and amazing food.  Last night was no exception.

We meet to discuss The Girl with the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf.
It's always hard trying to decide where to start.
I had read the book when it came out in 2006 and attended a reading by Ms. Kahf at the Elliott Bay Bookstore.  I remember loving the book for its familiar similarity to my growing up Muslim in middle America. 

However, unlike Ms. Kahf, I have never felt the calling to put on a scarf.  There are two exceptions: out of respect when I enter a mosque for prayer, or when I wore one to visit the churches and monasteries of Italy on my honeymoon.

It was fascinating to hear how the stories of Ms. Kahf were transformed by the different women around the room who interpreted them in unique ways.

Our long table was full of women of various ages, some speaking Arabic as our mother tongue, while others had never heard the language because their parents were trying to assimilate at the turn of the century in America. 

It was also a mix of Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian, Libya, Egyptian and American women that had their own stories of immigration and their contact with Islam (we had a mixture of Muslim and Christians equally breaking pita bread together).

Because our book was about Syria, our magnificent hostess created Syrain dishes for us, staying up until 1am  to stir the Bolognese, which was devine.  Our main Syrain dishes consisted of .
Harrak Esba3o for the lentil pasta dish
Batersh for the eggplant bolognese dish
Eggplant and cauliflower side dishes
And simply baked chicken and potatoes with chili paste and lemon (not in the photo below because we ran out of room on our table)

A small table full of love and spices.
Leaving the best for last was our dessert, which included pies from a local bakery, sweets from a professional caterer, and a dish made in celebration of our two newest book club members: Dalia and Jenna.  These two beauties were born this past year to our book club members and we welcomed them in the Lebanese tradtion of eating meghli in their honor.

As you can see from the photo below, the dessert is made in individual dishes, then bowls of walnuts, crushed almonds, coconuts, and raisins are passed around to place on top.  If you would like to think in comparisons of American food, the closest combination is yogurt with granola, but meghli is so much more sweeter and even more yummy than you can imagine.

So, if you are expecting, make sure to make some Lebanese friends soon so they can bring you some meghli to celebrate your baby.

1 1/1 cups pounded rice
8 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp caraway seed
1 tbsp anise seed
1/4 tsp powdered ginger

Mix the ground rice to a smooth paste with some of the cold water.
Add the sugar, aniseed, fennel, caraway and cinnamon.
Bring the remaining water to the boil.
Add the ground rice mixture gradually, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Continue stirring until it comes to the boil again, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasion- ally, until cooked, approx 1 hour.
The mixture is cooked when it is thick enough to coat the spoon.
Cool it slightly, pour into individual bowls and refrigerate.
Serve chilled, decorated with some of your favorite nuts, raisins, or other sweet toppings.
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