Monday, May 20, 2013

More Afghan Noodles, I Say!

The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman is a collection of folklore and remembered stories from Mazari's native country, Afghanistan.  Mazari is member of Afghanistan's third largest ethnic group, the Hazara, whose home base is the mountainous region of Hazarajat.  Most of the stories are from the second half of the 20th century, while Afghanistan was fighting the Russians, and later while it was at war with itself.

The stories are really great.  Most Americans know about Afghanistan only from the evening news.  The readers among us gobbled up Kahled Hosseini's books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns which were set in Afghanistan and gave the reader a glimpse of  life with the Taliban, and life as a woman in Afghanistan.  The Honey Thief offers a different perspective, by focusing on the stories of one Afghan ethnic group, prior to the Taliban's rise to power. 

In addition to the stories, Mazari also includes a map in the front cover, so the reader doesn't have to go digging for an atlas to know where we are reading about.  Additionally, he includes a glossary at the end, where he defines the few words that he doesn't explain in the stories themselves. 

Mazari ends the stories with the tale of the Cookbook of the Master Poisoner of Mashad, which if carefully followed, was believed to keep the eater from being susceptible to poisoning.  From there, Mazari gives us his thoughts on cooking and eating, including his personal opinions on spices that are frequently used in Afghanistan. His recommendations are conversational and sort of make me like him even more.  For example, his entry on nutmeg reads:  "We use nutmeg with meat dishes, together with cumin and coriander.  Not too much nutmeg.  Don't be crazy." 

Saving the best for last, the book ends with traditional recipes from Hazarajat.  Before I read the stories, I was excited to see the recipes, just because I like books with recipes in general.  But since I've never eaten Afghan food, I wasn't really planning on trying them.  After reading the stories, the spice recommendations, and the recipes, I'm ready.  Of the 6 recipes that he includes, I want to try 4, and make the noodles from the 5th.  Like his spice notes, the recipes show Mazari's personality.  He makes comments like these, which I have taken from his noodle recipe: 

"First make the noodles with plain flour and salt and water.  What could be simpler? . . . .Wrap the three balls of dough in cloth . . . leave them alone for maybe half an hour.  Read a book, a good one, not a book about vampires or serial killers or anything like that.  A peaceful book. . . .Then take your knife with a sharp point and slice the dough into strips - and that's your noodles.  Thin strips, of course - I'm sure you know how wide a noodle should be. . . ."

But he also includes enough details that I feel like I could make these noodles.  This I get from an Afghan man, and not from a nice semi-Italian girl.   Huh.

Although I am (overly) enthusiastic about the recipes, I want to reiterate that The Honey Thief is a great book for anyone who would like to learn about the Afghan culture.  Remember a few weeks back when I talked about Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende?  The reason that I read that was that it was being used in my school district for a class that combines social studies and English for 9th through 12th graders.  The Honey Thief would be perfect for a class like that, where the reader is learning about a culture by reading its stories.  The recipes would make a nice extra credit opportunity.

So, now that I've convinced you to read The Honey Thief, the good news is that THIS IS A GIVEAWAY POST!  I read this book at the request of Jane Shim of Viking/Penguin Publicity.  No promises were made, no payment was received.  I'm keeping my copy, but Jane has also allowed me to make a copy available to one of you.  If you'd like to be the lucky winner, just comment on this post, or shoot me an email at, before May 26.  To make it easier, I'll give you a topic:  What is your favorite recipe?  You can comment about that, or anything else that you want.

LEGALESE: One entry per person. Numbers will be assigned to each entrant, and the winner will be randomly picked by number.   If you choose to comment as "Anonymous", please leave your first name, so that you will know who you are when I announce the winner. The winner must then contact me via email with his or her U.S. mailing address (not a PO Box), within 7 days. If the first announced winner fails to respond within that time, the book with go to the second place winner, and so on and so forth. Got it? If you have questions you can post those in the comments section too. Good luck!

Next Up On Paper:  Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Still Listening to:  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...