Sitto’s Kitchen Cookbook started with a spiral notebook

Published September 22, 2017

My first cookbook began with my little spiral notebook. I jotted down Sitto’s verbal instructions as she cooked. And although there are so many of my grandmother’s recipes that I wrote down in that spiral notebook, there are still some that were not in either book. Those “unkowns” were the most important reason which prompted me to begin to record our 100-year-old family recipes.

I remember my Sitto Naima’s candied orange, grapefruit and eggplant…the baby eggplant was hollowed out, sugared and crunchy with a wonderful walnut filling. She made these delicacies when I was very young. When I asked her about it years later, she claimed it was too much work in the earlier years and then later said she had forgotten how to make it.

Other forgotten wonders of my grandmother’s #Aleppo kitchen were the wonderful dried meats she called Ehdeed. I never got the recipe, but I remember her preparing the meat with a spice rub, wrapping it in cheesecloth and then putting it on the clothesline to dry until the cured meat was ready to be sliced and eaten. My mother-in-law Mary’s damson plum preserves are another delectable memory. As much as I followed her around writing down recipes, this one I never got. And there are other terrific examples of ethnic cooking that I sampled at relatives’ or friends’ tables that are wonderful Syrian food memories.

There are even more unwritten Syrian recipes, like my husband’s #Syrian grandmother, Jaleela’s, elusive sponge cake. Everyone in the family tried to emulate it. I tried it several times because my husband had such wonderful memories of the simple, homey cake and wished for it many times, but to no avail. None of us could ever recapture it.

Years later, in talking to young Arabs, they too, mentioned that their grandparents weren’t always living with their generation, some of them were away at school, and so the cooking techniques and unwritten recipes were not necessarily passed on to them. They remembered and missed those Middle Eastern meals and wished they had followed their own Sitto around in order to learn how to make these wonderful dishes.

It was then that I concluded the need for a cookbook of delicious Syrian recipes for these younger Arab cooks and for those anxious to try authentic Syrian foods. I began writing those recipes from my notes with these goals in mind: The book should be simple to follow, with lots of tips for newer cooks, and it should have an adherence to tradition but with a modern, updated approach. It took a few years, because I knew that my own notes may not translate to something many people could easily read and use. As I refined and clarified, my first cookbook, “Sitto’s Kitchen” was born!