A Small, Good Thing
Cooking from The Palestinian Table.
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Another Raymond Carter reference
The short story “A Small, Good Thing” begins in tragedy. Shortly before his eighth birthday, a young boy is struck down by a car and soon dies in hospital. Prior to the accident, his mother had ordered a cake from a local shop; this slips her mind, for obvious reasons. The baker begins to call the parents at home, harassing them about the birthday cake.
Fed up one night, the parents drive to the shopping center and confront the baker. On learning what happened, the baker becomes apologetic and offers them to take a seat in the kitchen, saying: “You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.” He brings them coffee, feeds them “warm cinnamon rolls just out of the oven” and fresh, dark bread. The parents, “tired and in anguish,” eat as if famished while the baker tells them about his life. The three stay there for hours, talking into the early morning, and there the story ends.
The point, then: Food can be a small, good thing in times in great pain and sorrow.
A Palestinian cookbook
The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis came out seven years ago and ranks among my favorite cookbooks. It presents a deeply personal account of the food and culture of a people, place and diaspora. I’d never cooked from it,1 but this past week – perhaps in search of a “small, good thing” – decided to do so. My choice: The lentil and bulgur pilaf, a dish whose ingredients comprise brown lentils, coarse bulgur, onions, olive oil and cumin. Kassis notes that, “because of its ingredients, it’s considered a peasant dish [...] It’s a shame, because it’s an unsung hero.”
I made the recipe straight from the book, following the writer’s instructions and tips, and the results proved astonishing. This is a dish of few and simple components, without acid or herbs, without dairy or meat, that thrives with flavor: the earthy, nutty tones of the brown lentils and bulgur; the sweet, darkly complex notes of roasted onion; the background of cumin; the herbal, peppery olive oil. I was taken.
I can’t offer you the recipe, as it’s not mine to share, but if you’re interested, pick up a copy of the cookbook. In fact, this might be a great time to spend your money on anything Palestinian, in general.
An anecdote on diaspora
I’ll close with an anecdote that speaks to both the immediacy of “The Question of Palestine” and the interconnectedness of the Palestinian diaspora. A few months ago, I gifted a copy of this book to a Palestinian-Canadian friend. When they showed their father – who had been forced to leave his family home during the Nakba – he said that his grandfather is related to Reem Kassis’ father; both men came originally from Rameh, an Arab town now in northern Israel.
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