Interview with Reem Kassis | The Arabesque Table

Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She’s just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.

Reem Kassis: My name is Reem Kassis and I’m the author of The Palestinian Table and more recently The Arabesque Table.

Suzy Chase: I’m so happy you’re back. So the last time you were on the cookbook podcast was 2017 with The Palestinian Table where you use the power of food and storytelling to share the Palestinian narrative with the world. Today, I’m thrilled to chat with you about your second cookbook, The Arabesque Table, all about the evolving cross-cultural food of the Arab world. Let’s start off with you talking a little bit about doing three years of recipe research for this cookbook.

Reem Kassis: You’re right. It was very long, you know, the process of from getting the idea to researching it, to ultimately the end product but it was also fascinating because what I started out with was very different from the book that I ended up with. Um, you know, initially I think my desire was to capture this modern Arab table that was inspired by how we ate at home and all the cross-cultural interaction that I was seeing. But then it became clear to me as I started working on this, that you cannot understand this modern table with any kind of integrity, if you don’t know the past on which it’s based. And that kind of got me into the rabbit hole of the research you’re talking about, which involves a lot of digging through archival materials through medieval Arabic cookbooks. It also involved a lot of academic texts and research articles, but at the end, I had this picture in my mind that is so much richer and more fascinating than I ever imagined our history to be. I don’t know where to start and where to end telling you about it because it is so vast, but it’s extremely interesting and only a portion of it made it into the book, Suzy, because as you know, it’s a 250 page cookbook, so if I were to run with it and make it the thousand page tomes that I was aiming for, nobody would buy it. It would be too heavy and probably too boring so you ended up with the very interesting bits in the book that you have.

Suzy Chase: I want to start with the cover. So when I think of the word arabesque, my mind immediately goes to the ballet move the other definition of arabesque is, and I looked it up in ornamental design. So you had a long journey coming up with the title for this cookbook and the cover. Can you take us back to your childhood garden when you were drinking lemonade, talking about the title with your mom?

Reem Kassis: It’s actually funny that you mentioned the arabesque ballet move because it was also in the back of my mind when I was picking the title, even though I picked it more for the ornamental design and you’re referring to something I talked about in the introduction, which is I had submitted my first and then that draft went through edits and I submitted the second and final one. And we were doing the photo shoot at my parents’ home in Jerusalem. And still we did not have a title for the book. So naturally I’m stressed out. I’m talking to my mother, to my father, to my brother, you know, what is the title of this book going to be? And it really only hit me towards the very end after we spoke so much about what the book is, what the main topic of the book is, what I’m trying to convey. And one of the tables in our backyard, it has this ornamental design on it and Arabic pattern. And just seeing how those designs fit together, they’re woven, they’re infinitely woven in a way, you know, you can’t tell where one starts and one ends, you can see each one individually, but taken together as a whole. They formed this beautiful image in front of you. And I thought that’s what our cuisine is at the end of the day. It’s intertwined. It’s, cross-cultural, it’s stretches infinitely through time from the start of civilization to the present day. And national cuisines are like those individual patterns that you can point to, but you also cannot see where they begin and where they end because cuisine is regional. And it has been evolving since the start of civilization. So Arabic to me was the word that conveyed that the most. Um, but also the Arabic ballet moved to me was about having one foot firmly rooted in the past with your hand reaching for the future. So in order to reach for that future in front of you and understand the evolution and the excitement that can come from your dishes, evolving and changing, you also need to still be firmly rooted in the ground. That is the base of everything that you’re doing.

Suzy Chase: And it also kind of goes back to what you just said. You started out with an idea for this book, but it ended up something completely different.

Reem Kassis: Which is probably the case with many cookbooks and books in general. I mean, when I started out, I was looking at how we were eating at home. I have two young kids and our dinner table on a regular basis was just as likely to have a Palestinian dish on it as it was to have an Indian or Japanese or Korean one. And my pantry similarly had all different kinds of ingredients from across the globe. And it reminded me of my grandmother’s and my mother’s pantry, which were very uniform. It was just the Arab ingredients that we were used to cooking with. And I thought, Oh, this is great. This is fun. I want to capture this. I want to show how food evolves and how it can be exciting and how it can interact with other cultures. But as I started working on it, inevitably have to change because any dish that I wanted to talk about or explain, I realized there was so much more backstory to it than just, this is a mishmash of A and B you know, yes, it’s mixing those two things together, but where did those two things come from to begin with? And what ended up happening was most of that exploration often took me back to ingredients and crops, and that’s why the book ended up being also split by ingredient or ingredient group, because those are the things that tell that story of evolution in the neatest way.

Suzy Chase: So you celebrate the contemporary Arabic kitchen, but what are a couple differences between your grandmother’s pantry and Galilee and your modern pantry?

Reem Kassis: Well, for starters, hers was probably mostly made by hand. You know, every ingredient she had was probably one that she had grown in her garden and herself preserved or dried or fermented or what not. Mine unfortunately is mostly store-bought at this point, there are still a few things like za’atar, that, which my parents send me from back home and pomegranate molasses, which are handmade by family members, but mine is a lot more convenient, but also it’s a lot more global. So I have all different kinds of soy sauce and vinegar and, you know, different kinds of tins fishes from Europe. And it’s just, it’s a mishmash of things. And I have Indian pulses, you know, different lentils that are used for making Indian dishes and different kinds of pastas from Italy. And it’s just, so it’s almost like looking at this microcosm of the whole world in a very small space.

Suzy Chase: I’m curious to hear about the pomegranate molasses.

Reem Kassis: So pomegranate molasses really it’s just pomegranate juice that has been reduced to a syrupy consistency and the balance of sweet versus sour depends actually on the variety of pomegranates you use, unfortunately, what ends up happening with what you buy in stores is that, you know, it’s thickened with starch, it’s sweetened with sugar and you’re really don’t have that much pomegranate in there. My father does our own pomegranate molasses at home because we have a few trees in our backyard and he, every August we’ll pick them and he will spend weeks and weeks peeling them and then juicing them. And, you know, the kitchen becomes a factory. And my mother basically does not even want to go in there. It’s a nightmare for her. But at the end of the season, once you have all these bottles and they’re labeled and you’re giving everyone the bounty of the season, you suddenly remember why you do this every year and why it’s, it’s fun. And it’s useful. I mean, it’s a wonderful sour flavor that adds a little kick to different things. You know, we use it in certain traditional applications, but you could use it in place of lemon and place a vinegar in any dish that you do, whether it’s a salad dressing or a sauce for fish, it’s I find the balance of sweet and sour to be a lot more, they have a lot more dimensions than just vinegar or just lemon juice.

Suzy Chase: So with the recent spring cookbook releases, I’ve been hearing so many stories of authors making do during the pandemic and creating a cookbook in the middle of the lockdown. I’d love to hear your story of how this cookbook came to life during the pandemic.

Reem Kassis: You know, Suzy books are a very long process from start to finish. So when it first started out, everything was great and fine. And you know, you’re meeting with your publisher in person and you’re speaking to people in person. And I wrote majority of the book before the pandemic hit, but the photo shoot was supposed to start in March and we were supposed to fly out on Friday. And I think it was on a Wednesday or a Thursday that they enforced lockdown. So literally 24 hours before flying back to Jerusalem, we have to cancel our flights and stay in Philadelphia. And we had no idea like, would the photo shoot ever happen in time for a spring release? Would I ever be able to go back this year? Luckily enough, we were able to go back in may and we did do the photo shoot there. But the flip side of that coin is we got stuck there for three months and couldn’t come back. So, you know, it was an exciting journey, but it’ll definitely be a memorable one down the line. When I think about all the craziness that happened to bring this book to life.

Suzy Chase: Did you and your mom take the photos or did you just make the food that was in the photos?

Reem Kassis: No, no. We just cook the food. So there’s a photographer and it’s actually the same photographer who did the first book. And part of the reason I wanted to do the photo shoot back home is he’s such a phenomenal photographer that I really wanted him to photograph this one. And you almost cannot tell it’s the same one because of how different the two books are. And it just goes to show how, you know, when you set a certain brief for how you want it to look, you really can bring it to life. And my mother and I, we cooked all the dishes. We didn’t have a prop stylist. We didn’t have a food stylist. We didn’t have really anything. It was a very skeleton crew photographer, me and my mother. I love it.

Suzy Chase: How simple the photos are. You really focus just on the food?

Reem Kassis: Yeah, there’s no prompts. I mean, there’s no rusty spoons and thank goodness as you remember the first time around, I was like, is this normal? There’s nothing on this picture other than the food. And then I realized it’s actually good. You see the food, you know,

Suzy Chase: Really good. As you tell the story of a cuisine that emerges from what are now 22 countries between the Atlantic ocean and the Arabian sea. You put the focus on key ingredients. You mentioned a little bit of that, but can you talk a little bit more about why you focused on key ingredients in the country?

Reem Kassis: So, one thing when I’m writing that I’m always conscious of is I want to make this as easy and as accessible as possible to the person reading it. And chances are, if you pick up a book, you’re not looking to cook based on an ingredient, or you’re looking to cook based on an occasion, right? Is it breakfast? Is it dinner? Is it lunch? Is it a large gathering? Do I want meat? Do I want chicken? So I hesitated to break it up by ingredient. But then I thought back to the greater mission of the book, which was to tell a story and a history traced throughout time and ingredients were the best way to do that. Because at the beginning of every chapter, there’s an introduction which discusses the ingredient, but also tells you how it came to the position that it’s in, in our cuisine, whether it’s even native to our region or not, and how it’s used in cooking. So by looking at these ingredients, you start to form a more complete picture in your mind of what that history looks like from the middle ages cause that’s how far back really I go in the book from the middle ages up to the present day.

Suzy Chase: You had a bit of an epiphany during the pandemic you wrote suddenly. “I understood why my father loved these two dishes so much. It wasn’t the dishes themselves. It was the memories they kept alive for him.” I spend an inordinate amount of time pondering the meaning of home. Can you talk about those two dishes and home and what home means to you?

Reem Kassis: It’s funny home is such an elusive concept that I think you really start to appreciate and understand when you’re moved from it. So for me, I never thought of what home meant until I found myself living abroad and eventually realizing this is where my life was going to be. I am not going to be able to go back home. And I mentioned in the book by the time that it is published, I will have spent more years living abroad than I did in Jerusalem. And when I think of my father, you know, I wrote about the two dishes that you’re referencing. They were dishes that when I tasted them, I said, okay, they’re fine, but they’re not something to be wowed by. And yet to him, they were the best thing in the world. And it was only when I couldn’t go home and I couldn’t visit my parents. I couldn’t eat the food that I had been promised and had been craving for awhile that I realized it really is this entire sensory experience from the flavors, the smells, the sounds, the sights, just the physical touch of being close to the people that you care about. All of that together forms this thing that is home. And part of the reason we love certain dishes is not because they are objectively very good, but because those dishes are the ones that we enjoy during periods of our lives that were extremely meaningful. And for me, you know, my childhood up until the age of 17, when I left home, those are the years that I look back on. And I think that’s home. Those were the years, my formative years, the years that I spent in a place that has become so crucial to my identity. And so when I look back now, there are, they’re not the same two dishes, but there are definitely dishes that for me, speak of home dishes that I don’t even make in my kitchen, because no matter how well I can execute them, the experience around them and the flavor as a result will not be the same as when I eat it.

Suzy Chase: Wow. So you don’t even attempt because it’s not even going to get close to it

Reem Kassis: Because there are times when I really miss those, you know, to give you a concrete example, the primary dish I’m referencing is stuffed chicken. It’s so simple. It’s just a whole chicken that you stuffed with a mixture of rice and beef that has already been cooked with pine nuts and spices. And it it’s an easy dish to make. But to me, it’s the dish that reminds me of Fridays and my childhood. It’s the Fridays you went to my grandmother. It’s the dish that my mother makes whenever I would go home to visit from university. She still does every time that I go back and I’ve tried to make it here, I just don’t enjoy it as much. I even joked in front of my husband. One time he goes, do you want me to make it for you? Will it tastes better if I do? And I was like, no, it just tastes better when my mom makes it. It’s not that I don’t know how make it, it’s just different when I’m eating it with her, with old family, uh, it could be small touches here and there. You know, maybe her oven is different from mine or the rice she uses there is different from the one I use here. But yeah, I try to avoid making that dish. She also served, you know, coincidentally avoids making it when I’m not there either.

Suzy Chase: So to understand this modern way of eating one had to understand the culinary history of the Arab world. You wrote in the book. Food is a regional and ethnic artifact. Often more closely tied to language and religion than it is to an arbitrary political boundary. Could you talk a little bit about national cuisine?

Reem Kassis: Of course. So national cuisine is the implication behind it is a cuisine of a specific nation. So Palestinian, Italian, Indian, et cetera, but the idea of a nation state is a relatively recent construct that came about at the end of the 18th, early 19th century and national cuisine itself is often traced back to the end of the French revolution. When the cuisine of the Versailles palace was nationalized and everyone had access to it, peasants and rich people alike. So if you look at food prior to that, but also even to this day, you notice it’s regional and let’s just take what I know the most about Palestinian cuisine. And if you look at the Northern part of the country, it is very different. What they eat there from what they eat in the center and the South of the country, and what informs those differences is the geography and the landscape, the proximity to other countries, uh, religion, socioeconomic status that for example affects whether traditionally you ate whole wheat or white flour bread, whether you ate rice or whether you ate vulgar grains, religion, you know, that affects whether you ate pork or beef or lamb, whether you drank alcohol or not. And as a result, did you eat messy platters with your alcohol, or did you eat big dishes that did not sit well with, you know, sipping alcohol as you ate them? So national cuisine is very important in the sense that it helps people form a collective identity around their culinary history, but it’s also important to recognize the trajectory that food has been on from the past to the present day and how it has adapted and also adopted ideas and ingredients from other places and other cultures. And the point that I try to get across often with this book, and when I’m speaking to people is that those two things are not mutually exclusive. You know, your food can be important to you as a nation, but you can also recognize that that food has evolved and in all likelihood will continue to evolve down the line and that you don’t need to be one or the other. You can be both as long as you recognize the origins of the things that you’re eating and also recognize the importance that they hold for you as a member of a specific nationality.

Suzy Chase: So would you say a good example of this would be the bagel, the bagel,

Reem Kassis: More complicated history than that but we can get into it if you want, but I would say a good example of that be a dish like Maqlubeh for Palestinians. You know, Maqlubeh means inverted. It’s a dish of rice and eggplants often layered with tomatoes at the bottom as well, or served with tomato based stew. Tomatoes did not make their way to the Arab world until the 19th century. Rice was not a staple until the 20th century. It was reserved for the ultra wealthy and everyone else just ate the ensuing wheat products, you know, bulgur and freekeh and the like. And yet, if you ask Palestinians today, what is your national dish? A huge portion will reference Maqlubeh as the national dish of Palestine. So you see that the ingredients that make it up are not native or not. You know, they weren’t staples in that country. They were not common in that country 200 years ago. And yet today they have become together as a dish, something very symbolic of Palestinian cuisine. So that kind of points to how things can come from the outside. They can evolve and then that ensuing product becomes very relevant to national identity, but the bagel, if you want to touch on it, it’s very relevant to Jewish identity. You know, when people think of Jewish foods, one of the first things I’ll say is, Oh, a bagel and lox bagels. As I found out while doing the research for this book, actually the very first mention of a boiled and baked ring of dough is in a 13th century Arabic cookbook. And I, you know, I wrote this article that traced the history and how, you know, the Arabs when they took over Bari in the eighth century and from there, a lady from Bari went into Poland, married into the Royal family. They started making this bagel like pastry called obwarzanek or I’m butchering the pronunciation. And then Jews and 16th century Poland started making it. You see how through time it has traveled from one place to the next, you might be able to see how it’s changed. Uh, and yes, you can trace it back to Arab origins. Does that detract from its position as a very important or iconic food for Jewish people? No, it doesn’t. So also points to that thing you were saying where it is important to you as your nationality, but it has evolved through time.

Suzy Chase: I’m so fascinated by that 13th century Arabic cookbook that you found. So where did you find that to do the research? And can you say the name of it? I have it written down, but I will butcher it.

Reem Kassis: No, don’t worry. So actually, luckily that particular one that I’m referencing has an English translation. The English translation is Sense and Flavors. It was translated only a couple of years ago. The literal translation of the Arabic name is the book with which to reach your loved one’s heart via their stomach

Suzy Chase: Does K I T A B mean book?

Reem Kassis: It means books. So Kitab al Wusla ila al Habib, which means the book for reaching your loved one. And then it continues. I didn’t put the full name in the, in the Arabic table because it would be like a full sentence. If I was going to name the entire thing from start to finish every time I love it.

Suzy Chase: So where did you find this cookbook?

Reem Kassis: You know, one book leads you to another book and another book. And a lot of these books, I first came across while reading academic articles. You know, you spend half your time reading the article itself and the other half sifting through the bibliography and the footnotes. And there you see what sources those academics have used. And then from there, you know, a lot of them might’ve done the research primary research right there on the ground. They’re looking through ancient texts and libraries like Yale, for example, had the Babylon tablets, which are the oldest recipe in the world, or the oldest recipes in the world. They’re the carvings on clay tablets, that date back to the Mesopotamian era. But the book that I use even more than this one was attempt century one called Kitab, and that’s considered the first Arabic cookbook on record. And that one also has an English translation. Actually, people are interested. It’s called angels of the caliphs kitchen. That was very well known. So it wasn’t a surprise to come across. It it’s from any Arabs, they reference it on the regular. They know about it.

Suzy Chase: Do you have any recipes out of that cookbook in The Arabesque Table?

Reem Kassis: I do. There’s a couple actually. So there’s one called Narjissiyeh. I don’t know, off the top of my head, what page number it’s on, but it’s in the eggs and dairy chapter. Narjissiyeh means of narcissists, which nurses? This is the scientific name for the daffodil flower and the daffodil as we can all see outside right now is a white and yellow flower with a green stem. So the thought is it was all the dishes that are made with sunny side up eggs in that book are referred to as such. And that thought is like the narcissist, like the daffodil flower, you know, eggs are yellow and white. So that’s why all that class of dishes have that name.

Suzy Chase: Culinary appropriation is front and center for a lot of Palestinians. I’d love to give you some space to elaborate on that and the word authentic. What does that word really mean in terms of a cuisine?

Reem Kassis: So let’s start with the easier one, the word authentic. I find that word slightly problematic. I mean, it’s good in the sense that it might convey something. When I say authentic Palestinian, I’m referring to dishes that to Palestinians have been enjoyed and cooked for a couple of centuries, at least. But if by authentic, you mean dishes that are free are void of outside influence. Then those dishes do not exist. And just to give you examples, tomatoes, they did not come to Italy until the 18th century. So all those quote, unquote, authentic Italian dishes like Spaghetti bolognese and you know, Pizza al Pomodoro and all these dishes that are tomato based did not exist in Italy 200 years ago, chilies did not come to Thailand or India also until after the Columbian exchange. And yet, can you fathom any kind of Curry that doesn’t have chilies in it? No. When we talk about chocolates and or Belgium, the cocoa bean also did not come to Europe until after the Colombian exchange. So if by authentic people mean something that has not been influenced by outside culture or has not evolved through time, then no such thing exists. It’s a, it’s a fiction. If by authentic, what you mean is a dish that is meaningful to your people, to your nationality, a dish that has been enjoyed for at least a couple of centuries or several generations fine, but it’s important to be clear about what you mean by authentic, because if you want to go by the dictionary definition, then it’s, you know, it’s hard to find really, really authentic foods as her culinary appropriation for Palestinians. I’ve written quite a bit about this, which, you know, it’s difficult to summarize it in one or two sentences, but I think the important takeaway from the entire topic is, especially as someone who’s writing about how food evolves and food is adaptive and adoptive and how fusions the history of cuisine in general is there’s a big difference between culinary diffusion, which is how food changes through time, how it learns from other cultures, adapts and adopts, and between appropriation, which is taking something from another culture and willfully denying or ignoring that culture is contribution to what you’re cooking. And I think that’s the issue for Palestinians. And obviously when you say it’s relevant to Palestinians, you’re referring to the issue of Israel, appropriating Palestinian dishes and marketing them abroad as Israeli. And the primary issue there is that it’s a willful denial of the Palestinian contribution, which is seen by most Palestinians as an attempt to rewrite the past and make it a past in which we do not exist.

Suzy Chase: The other evening, I made your Spiced Kebabs with Preserved Lemon Dill Yogurt, and Orzo Rice for dinner. Can you describe these recipes?

Reem Kassis: So Orzo Rice is really simple? It’s basically plain white rice, but it has orzo in it. And the thought process behind it was we normally make it with a very short vermicelli type of noodle, which I don’t easily find here in Western supermarkets. You can find it in middle Eastern grocers. You can buy angel hair pasta and chop it up very thin, but that’s too time consuming. So I started using orzo in its place and it’s delicious. And it serves the same function, which is, you know, a bulks up the rice, but the, it gives it a nutty flavor because you’re toasting it first. But the primary reason that supposedly people cooked rice that way was it prevented the brains from sticking together. And they would say, you know, Arabs would joke that the more vermicelli noodles you had in your rice, the worse of a cook you were because you couldn’t get your rice not to clump together without using it. I mean, I’m not a terrible cook, but I definitely use a lot of the noodles and the orzo in my rice just because I like the nutty flavor, but it’s simple. That’s all it is. It’s just, you know, rice with some slightly toasted orzo or vermicelli noodles.

Suzy Chase: So describe the Spiced Kebabs with Preserved Lemon Dill Yogurt.

Reem Kassis: So this is that’s a very simple dish. It’s ground meat. You can use lamb or beef for a combination, and the spices are pretty simple. I think, you know, primarily it’s black pepper and cumin. And then I think there’s onion in the mixture as well, just to add flavor, possibly garlic. You know, I don’t have the book in front of me, but it’s a minced meat mixture that’s flavored with different aromatics and then shaped into kebabs and fried. You could also, it’s the same one that we use for our kafta dishes. So it can be baked in the oven. It can be turned into me, balls, whatever you want. And then the yogurt you’re talking about is mixed just with preserved lemon and dill, some salt, you know, yogurt is great and it’s very common in the Arab world to eat rice with cold yogurt. So most of our rice dishes are served with cold yogurt on the side, but I felt that the addition of preserved lemon and dill just kind of amped up the flavor. And it’s a dish that I often make on weeknights when I don’t know what to make, because who doesn’t like, you know, for all intents and purposes, I meatball because just in the shape of a kebab basically, and the rice is, you know, an easy starch to make and the yogurt just makes it very fresh. So even if you don’t have a salad on the side, it still feels like a very fresh light meal.

Suzy Chase: So the preserved lemon comes up in another 13th century Syrian cookbook. Did I read that?

Reem Kassis: Yeah, it’s the same book we were talking about before the one with the bagel recipes. And I think it was common back then to preserve any and everything because there was no refrigeration, there’s no freezing. So if you and everything was seasonal. So if you had something in season, you had to find a way to preserve it. Herbs were often dried, yogurt was fermented and dried, lemons were preserved themselves. That was how fermentation started in general, in all cultures across the world. It was a way to make things last from one season to the next, uh, preserved lemons tend to be an ingredient that features heavily in North African cuisine, less so in Levantine cuisine. Obviously now it has made its way into our kitchens as well. And it’s made its way into kitchens here because it really is a very, I dunno, I like to call it a flavor booster, right? It’s like lemon, which adds freshness. It’s kind of like salt, which enhances flavor, but it is, it has multiple layers of flavor to it, I think because you have the acidity from the lemon, but you also have a bit of bitterness from having preserved it for so long. And I think together those two things give you this like umami combination of flavors that works wonderfully with many dishes. I often put it in my pasta sauces as well. I’ll put a spoon in soups if I want to bring out a citrusy note. It’s great. You know, if you’re doing tuna salads, it’s a wonderful combination

Suzy Chase: In that 13th century cookbook. It said something like this recipe is so well-known, it need not be described.

Reem Kassis: True. And it says that about quite a few things as well. Oh really? Yeah. Because the way these books were written back then most of them were written with a certain audience in mind. Namely, the Royal courts are very wealthy people, I guess, with two goals in mind, on the one hand, it was written for its humoral properties or like its medicinal benefits. So if you look at the 10th century cookbook and to a lesser extent, the 13th century one, it will tell you, you know, this ingredient is good for this medical issue or for this body organ or for this bodily function. So it wasn’t written the way books are today for mass consumption. It was written more to tell you which foods are good for what, but it was also a way with which to pass on recipes to the cooks in these Royal courts or Royal palaces. So again, if it’s a recipe that’s super common. I assume the thought process was why bother mentioning it, any cook who comes here will know how to do it. Let’s just get into the bits and pieces that might need explanation.

Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called Last Night’s dinner, where I asked you what you had last night for dinner.

Reem Kassis: It’s funny, actually, you asked me about what we had last night for dinner. My memory is not great, but with that said, I do have a running list or what I plan to cook every night that goes back to 2014. So if you could pick out any day of the year and be like, what did you eat that day? I could tell you what, yeah, it’s crazy. So the way it started was in London, I was ordering groceries online and I needed to figure out what to order for the weeks. I would plan out what I was going to cook every day. And this especially became relevant when I was recipe testing. I started writing, you know, Monday, this Tuesday, this Wednesday, that, and I just got into the habit of doing it. And now we’re 2021. And so I guess I have seven years worth of what we ate every day.

Suzy Chase: You could be on some game show or something. You could make a lot of money off this skill.

Reem Kassis: Think so, actually we are what today, Tuesday. So Monday, Monday we had mahshy, which is stuffed zucchini and eggplants and grape leaves. And it’s not exactly a weeknight dish, but we often have it on Mondays because I’m home Sunday. You know, everyone’s home Sunday. It’s an easy date to spend a couple hours prepping a dish that requires as much preparation. So oftentimes I will stuff and roll in all of that the night before. And then Monday I just have to cook it.

Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?

Reem Kassis: On the web? It’s my website, just my first name, last So On social media. I’m mostly active on Instagram and again, Reem.Kassis or Reem underscore Kassis, but you’ll find it, you’ll see the pictures of my books.

Suzy Chase: No cuisine is a straight line stretching infinitely back in time. Rather it’s just like an arabesque pattern flowing and intertwined. Thanks so much Reem, for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.

Reem Kassis: Thank you, Suzy. It’s been a pleasure.

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