Balancing tradition with innovation

Maureen AboodMaureen Abood is a professional writer and food blogger whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Saveur, The Chicago Tribune, and the Huffington Post, among others. In 2011 she started her award-winning blog Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, where she shares her stories, photos, and recipes featuring Lebanese cuisine. Maureen recently released her first cookbook named after the blog. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy.) She spoke with us about her recipe inspirations and more. 

I have always been keenly aware of my ethnicity as a Lebanese American; this was most distinctly expressed in the kitchen and at the table at our house growing up. Here is where I came to understand the balance between the desire to carry on the traditions my grandparents brought with them from Lebanon, and the ongoing assimilation of my parents’ generation and then mine. So our meals were often a mix of American and Lebanese, with the bowls of our pink pickled turnips (lift), thick labneh, and shiny black olives on offer no matter the menu-and a warm welcome, so characteristic of the Lebanese, guiding the feeling of every meal.

At the heart of this is a Lebanese hospitality that is always expressed with something to drink and a bite to eat, even for a quick visit (a nut-stuffed date, or a bowl of dried fruit). My parents took their role quite seriously to teach their five children the ability, the cultivated skill-the fundamental generosity-to put anyone at ease who crosses our threshold.

I also couldn’t help but learn the pleasures of cooking with and for the people I love. Waking up early on baking days as a child, I stood close by my Sitto, my grandmother-yes, to learn the ways of baking her aromatic, delicious breads and savory pies, but also to simply be there, a part of the special excitement of the kitchen. Like the rhythm of kneading the dough, I also learned the rhythm of keeping the tradition in motion and the joy that brings.

Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh and Classic Recipes from my Lebanese Kitchen comes to you from the stories that are such important part of us, for their humor and their emotion. The book shares the classic recipes we want to preserve and hand down, along with the “fresh” recipes I love to create using the wonderful ingredients from the Lebanese pantry: sumac and tahini, pine nuts and pomegranates, za’atar, cinnamon, mint, flower waters, and so much more. All of the recipes are influenced by the seasons, making the most of produce at its best and emphasizing the robust Lebanese tradition of pickling and preserving.

My hope is that all who come to the book and to the blog by the same name will find a bridge perhaps to the foods you have known and want to recapture, or to enter into a cuisine you are curious about for its interesting ingredients and flavors. I welcome you with open arms, something to drink and a bite to eat, and a shared love of coming together in the kitchen and at the table.

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