Under the Copper Covers
By Sherine Ben Halim Jafar
Winner of the Gourmand Award, 2017
Rimal Books, 2016
19.5 x 27cms, full-color images, 320 pages, €44
This book began as a simple cookbook with recipes I wished to share with my friends, my family, and, most importantly, my children in order to honor to our heritage and the large variety of dishes that enrich its cuisine. But then, a quiet voice within me recognized this golden opportunity and with increasing intensity insisted on being heard, demanding that I tell the whole story of why food played such a significant role in my life. I listened. I wrote this cookbook intertwined with stories of our family’s life as exiles from Libya (my father is Libyan), fully knowing that our fate is not an exception and remains the norm for far too many.
In telling this story, I found deeply buried memories wrapped up in many protective layers that unfolded to reveal parts of a forgotten me. While at times the process was difficult, even painful, at other times, I found treasures: beautiful moments tinted with memories of my family. Being in the kitchen has given me peace and happiness. I turned to food to explain my experience of being displaced, and cooking gave me a sense of identity. Aiming for the book to resonate with people, I wrote an autobiographical cooking journey, a book that reveals what I consider the secrets of Palestinian cuisine (my mother was Palestinian), as well as the story of how my passion for food lit the way to my unravelling of the past, to the discovery of my identity, and to my reconciliation with our fate. This is how Under the Copper Covers was born.
My mother’s recipes of kubbet burghul (minced meat wrapped in a layer of crushed wheat and fried in oil), msakhan (glazed onions served on a special oven-baked bread, drenched in olive oil and sprinkled with pine nuts and sumac), and knafeh Nabulsiyeh (a desert prepared with shredded goat cheese and a thin layer or wrapping of fine pasta, drenched in syrup, considered of the best quality when prepared in Nablus according to the town’s traditional recipe), were absolutely true to Palestine.
Life in exile teaches you many things. We simply have to accept that the world is our home and that a country defined by borders does not necessarily define who we are.
Sherine Ben Halim Jafar*
*Sadly, Sherine passed away in June 2018 after a very courageous battle with cancer. She is greatly missed.