Q&A with Suzanne Husseini, author of ‘Modern Flavors of Arabia’

It’s more than a week into the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims refrain from consuming any food or liquid from sunrise to sunset. Once the sun goes down, however, the fast is broken with what’s known as the iftar meal. For the home cook, getting a delicious meal on the table in a timely manner when you’re tired is hard enough, but when you as well as everyone around you is tired and famished it can be a real challenge. We turned to Suzanne Husseini, a television food celebrity in the Arab world and Canada, and author of The Modern Flavors of Arabia (Appetite by Random House of Canada, Limited), for her take on Ramadan traditions and Arabic iftar specialties. Husseini is the Nigella Lawson of Arabian food. She’s effervescent with enthusiasm for teaching people the world over how to cook the Arabic dishes she adores. Husseini was raised in Canada, but has led a trans-continental life for almost 20 years, splitting her time between Dubai, where she lives most of the year with her husband and three children, and Ottawa, where she enjoys the summer and Christmas season. Epicurious: Tell me about your family’s heritage. How old were you when you arrived in Canada? Suzanne Husseini: I was 5 years old and it was the first time I had seen snow. It was magical! My parents are Palestinian and came to Canada to offer their family a new life and a promising future. For my father, Canada was the natural choice and he is proud of being part of its multicultural mosaic. Our Arabic heritage was something that was kept alive in our home through language, music, and stories. My mother made sure that our table was always full of the most amazing Arabic food, made by her with love, of course. Her homemade Arabic breads were the vessels for exotic fillings like hummus, baba ghanouj, cauliflower fritters or falafel. These were the sandwiches that prompted my school friends to be curious and ask “What are you eating? Where are you from?” Following my father’s advice I replied by saying, “I’m Arabian and this is Arabic food.” My friends welcomed my invitations to come to my house for lunch and sample the many delicacies my mother prepared. After tasting they were hooked–I started taking orders. I made a connection through food and I have never looked back. Epi: What countries does The Modern Flavors of Arabia encompass? Or is it not so much about countries but about traditions and flavors in a widespread area? SH: In my book I wanted to acquaint the reader with the food of the Arab Mediterranean as a whole. There are flavors, ingredients, cooking techniques, and a diverse food history that connects them all. It is the food I fell in love with, and I was served growing up in Canada. The flavors are authentic Arabic and honor the integrity of each dish. I do shake things up a bit by presenting…

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