FIVE MINUTES WITH MAUREEN ABOOD
Author of award-winning Lebanese cookbook Rosewater & Orange Blossoms
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF FOOD?
The baking days that my mother and Sitto often had at our house still reign in my happiest and earliest food memories. Sitto seated me on the kitchen counter so I could help make the dough by pouring in the water while she worked the huge mass. I still remember her whispering “feel that dough, how good it feels!” I’m inspired today to continue to master her saj flatbreads, a dying art.
WHAT CHEFS AND CUISINES INSPIRE YOU?
In recent years I have been in awe of Ottelenghi, his cookbooks, his columns, and all he has done to bring Middle Eastern cuisine to the fore. I also absolutely love Lebanese author and photographer Barbara Massaad. She gets to the heart of the matter where our culinary traditions and our cultural joy intersect. I’m a baker at heart, so I follow all things Dorie Greenspan as well as my very well-used baking book by Marian Cunningham.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DISH OR GO TO FOOD AT HOME?
I have a few favorites that I put on repeat here because they are simple and we never, ever get tired of eating them. I make Hushweh rice pilaf and a roasted chicken, then use the whole leftover chicken to make absolutely divine fragrant chicken soup the next day. We eat Fattoush salad all of the time. That vinaigrette with pomegranate molasses and the crunchy pita chips, well, my mouth waters just writing about it!
CAN YOU SHARE ANY OF YOUR CULINARY SECRETS WITH OUR HOME BAKERS?
Bakers, I am one of you and I love our Lebanese baking traditions. I’m working hard on that saj bread we talked about above, and one trick that is so enabling is that you do not have to have a saj to make the bread. Sitto never did—I learned by flipping the dough onto a steel sheet in the base of the hot oven.
Another little tidbit: when shaping maamoul, slip the mold into a layer of hosiery for easy-release.
One last item! I only use rolling pins that have a ball-bearing construction. So much easier to roll and move the pin across the dough.
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR OVERALL COOKING PHILOSOPHY?
I cook with the best ingredients I can find, simplifying recipes wherever possible but taking my time, and cooking with a purpose: that is, to share with others, both how-to and the delicious results, with love.
HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE WRITING YOUR COOKBOOK ROSE WATER & ORANGE BLOSSOM? ARE YOU PLANNING WRITING A NEW BOOK SOON?
I was so in love when I wrote that book! In love with developing Lebanese recipes, in love with writing the stories that bring them to life, in love with my growing community of Lebanese food-loving people. Now that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging…there were tough moments…but writing that book was a part of living my best life and sharing in our legacy to keep Lebanese culinary traditions alive. I am working on a proposal for another book in keeping with Lebanese cuisine, and it feels so good! I hope to share more on that in the not-too-distant future.