This week’s TBT Cookbook Review features a very healthy treatise from 2002. The subtitle of A Fistful of Lentils is Syrian-Jewish Recipes for Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen. Author Jennifer Felicia Abadi grew up with two Jewish grandmothers: one from Russia, one from Aleppo. The distance between the two grandmothers spanned both miles and recipes. The result, in this book, is a rainbow of interesting and delicious ideas.

The charm begins with the first recipe. Barigan is an appetizer described as fine crushed wheat “caviar” you spread over pita bread. It’s a modestly complicated recipe using:

  • Bulgur wheat
  • Yellow onions
  • Tomato paste and ketchup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • Salt, cum
  • Lemon juice
  • Cayenne
  • Tamarind paste
  • Walnuts or pine nuts
  • Parsley

That’s typical of the recipes to be discovered in this book. These are not 1-2-3 style recipes. Rather, they are home recipes where pride and tradition appear in every case. Time and a wealth of ingredients produce happy experiences. Here’s a sample — a long sample — of the clever and distinctive ideas in this treasury of Middle Eastern food:

Chelazan: Syrian kebab-burgers

Fleh-Fleh Misweeyeh: broiled pepper pickles

Lift Meh’lee: fried turnips

Sandweecheh: Syrian grilled cheese sandwich with mint [yes, mint]

Shoorbah m’sbanech: spinach-mint soup

Salat Mish Mosh: sweet-and-sour apricot sauce

Meh’si Batatah: twice-baked potatoes stuffed with onions, mushrooms, allspice and cinnamon

Bizzeh b’Jurah: green peas with allspice and mushrooms

M’jedrah: rice with lentils topped with a yogurt-mint dressing

Rishtah b’Tahineh: egg noodles with lentils and sesame butter

Kalsonnes b’Rishtah: Syrian cheese dumplings with egg noodles

Chuderah fil Meh’leh: sweet-and-sour vegetable stew

Dja-jeh Mish Mosh: sweet-and-tart chicken with apricot

Dja’jeh Burd’aan b’Teen: orange chicken with golden raisins and figs

Kibbeh m’Geraz: meatballs and cherries

Yebrah: stuffed grape leaves with meat and apricots

I love these ideas and Suzi and I are going to be experimenting starting on Saturday. Yes, we’ve had the book for 17 years and we just never explored it. We have 17 years of catching up to do. I want that twice-baked potato stuffed with onions, mushrooms, and spices. And, for our next party, the starting appetizer has to be those grape leaves stuffed with meat and apricots. What a surprise we have to offer our guests.

I made a mistake and overlooked this book. Please don’t repeat my mistake. There is wonder here.