Language of Baklava
330 Pages, Softcover, no pictures
By Diana Abu-Jaber
Crescent Books, Random House, NY, NY, 2005
$14.95 US/$21.00 CAN
Reviewed by: Chef John Vyhnanek, June 2006
The Language of Baklava is not a cookbook for
chefs, it's a cookbook for those fond of recipes that
come from the heart and from memories. At first I
thought I would be reviewing many different baklava
recipes. I was all pumped up because I have made many
a pan with walnuts, some with pistachios and even some
with pine nuts. Some had sugar, some honey and some
lemon juice; others had cinnamon and even orange
blossom water. So where are the baklava recipes, I
asked? On page 192, one recipe: Poetic Baklava! In
fact the recipe is very close to one of my favorites
from a Middle Eastern friend. So if there is only one
recipe for baklava what else is there?
The book, written by Diana Abu-Jaber, is a story of
life, food and family. Childhood memories of parochial
school, mother writing a letter, sisters, Bennett a
best friend and father working at a malt shop called
Cosmos fill the pages. Diana's mom was Irish and
father Lebanese, and a good cook too! It's all about
stories and remembering. Throughout the book are
references to Middle Eastern cooking and recipes such
as Magloubeh, a casserole of lamb, rice, onions,
eggplant and cauliflower which after baking is
inverted like an upside down cake. There is a recipe
for pita bread and remembrances of going to Jordan and
eating fresh pita bread and washing it down with fresh
apricot juice. That sounds good to me!
I enjoyed the light-hearted recollections and tidbits
of useful information sprinkled throughout the book.
Baba ghanouj and a bottle of Araq, a Lebanese anise
liquor, reminded me of my first encounter with Araq,
it's amazing how a clear liquor turned white when
poured on ice and mixed with a little water. It's just
perfect with Mezza and friend to talk with!
I really enjoyed the book and for me it brought back
memories as well. I have had quite a bit of experience
cooking and serving Middle Eastern food and have many
a story too! I couldn't leave without trying a recipe
or two, so the Garlic-Stuffed Roasted Luxurious Leg of
Lamb on page 283 and the salad Fattoush, (bread salad)
were my choices. Delicious, just delicious, although I
put powdered Sumac in my salad Fattoush.
The language of Baklava is thoroughly enjoyable. Read
it again and again for the recipes, the stories and
yes, the Baklava!
For when you need to serenade someone.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
splash of lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1 pound walnuts
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 box phyllo dough, defrosted
1 pound butter, clarified (melted and with the top
layer skimmed off)
In a saucepan, boil all the syrup ingredients until
the mixture turns clear. Cover the syrup and set aside
in the refrigerator to cool.
In a food processor, grind together the walnuts, sugar
and cinnamon to a fine, sandy consistency. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. degrees.
Carefully unfold the phyllo dough, making sure not to
crack or tear it. Keep it covered with a piece of
waxed paper to help prevent it from drying out.
Butter the bottom of a shallow baking pan. You can
also use a cookie sheet that has at least an inch-high
Carefully unpeel the first sheet of phyllo and lay it
flat and smooth in the bottom of the pan. Brush with
the clarified butter. Continue layering sheets of
phyllo dough and brushing each sheet with butter until
you've used half the dough.
Spread the nuts-and-sugar mixture over the dough.
Place another sheet of dough on the mixture and butter
it. Continue to layer and butter dough until you've
used up the rest of the phyllo sheets.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut through the baklava
in long, straight lines to form diamonds or squares
(about 2 inches long).
Bake for about 50 minutes or until golden brown. Pour
the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. Eat when ready!