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I do not want to betray the tradition


Testing different recipes
Claudia Roden Writer
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I was cooking all the time. And because I had to try so many recipes, so much. Because people never gave real measures. Even in my parents' time. They would say, 'You take how much it takes'. 'You use how much it takes'. And I would say, 'How much does it take?' They say, 'You know... you know when the smell, you know the onions when they begin to caramelise. Just by the smell. Even without looking, before you see. And you know how much, by the taste'. Of course. But also, I would with baking something or making a dough, you have to know exactly. They said, 'No, what you do, you start putting oil. Then you add water. Then you keep adding flour and mixing with your hand. And then it starts becoming together, becoming a dough. And then you start feeling the lobe of your ear. And when the dough feels like the lobe of your ear, that's how much it takes. And that's how it should be'.

And so, I had to find out how to translate how much. So, I had to measure and all that. Actually, they were more correct in that the flour changes every year, depending on the field. Depending on the harvest. Depending on the climate at the time – the way it grew – that it absorbs a different amount of water. So, really you do still have to say, 'Add some more as much as it is, until it feels like a real dough'. So, I never tell them to feel the lobe of the ear. So, I was testing, and testing and I was testing so many dishes, that we couldn't eat. So, I would tell the neighbours. And I do have neighbours now who remember... Frances Wood who became a Chinese historian. She was 19 when we... when I moved there. And she became the babysitter for my children. And her parents, I told them, if you pay for the ingredients, you can have the whole dish, but give me a slice. Or a serving. Because I have to taste to see how good it is. So, I was really cooking. The children were playing. And so, it was an easy way.

Claudia Roden (b. 1936) is an Egyptian-born British cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist of Sephardi/Mizrahi descent. She is best known as the author of Middle Eastern cookbooks including A Book of Middle Eastern Food, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Book of Jewish Food.

Listeners: Nelly Wolman

Claudia Roden talking to her granddaughter Nelly Wolman about her life in food.

Tags: recipe, cooking, measurements, testing, dough, flour

Duration: 2 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023