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Exploring the Mediterranean culture


Teaching cookery classes
Claudia Roden Writer
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When my marriage ended in 1974, I became a single mum of three children. And had to earn our living. And to support ourselves, I went around magazines and newspapers and said, 'Do you need somebody... do you want me to write about somewhere in the Middle East, or something that I already know'. And I did get jobs. And I also wrote a book on coffee, and I wrote a picnic book. Because I was asked to. Because I had written an article and my editor said, 'Can you do a book?' And so, I did. Yes, so, it was work. And... but I earned more by giving cookery classes. For two years, I gave cookery classes in my kitchen. I used to have about ten people at a time. And I moved things around. I had a moveable hob. And people had to cook while they were here. And it was for me a good experience. And I always had daughters of friends of mine and my own daughters helping as sous chefs. And so... and then I had written out menus. I gave recipes. But I told people, 'You have to keep tasting'. And you have to keep telling, knowing. I even very often gave them recipes without amount of flavouring. A teaspoon, or tablespoon. I said, 'You have to decide yourself'. And then at the end, we saw how much they each put. And they understood that you can't go wrong if you trust yourself. Because if it tastes right, it tastes right. It's good. It doesn't matter if it's a half, or one, or one and half. If it tastes right for you, you can be sure it's all right. And so, that was something to give confidence.

And I remember, there was an American woman who was stroppy. It means she was always finding something to do. But also, she always wanted to find another way of doing things, which was interesting. And one thing we... I told them how to make kibbeh, fried kibbeh, which was to mould a paste, made it with cracked wheat and meat that has been pounded. Or else blended to a paste, into a shell. That was like a torpedo shape in Egypt, we said. And you filled it with a filling of fried onions and mincemeat and spicing, sometimes even raisins. And so, I taught them how to do that. I wouldn't bother now because nobody is going to do it. But they did it. And then this American girl, she just made it like you do a cigar. Not a cigar, a cigarette paper. You put the paper down, you put the filling and then you filled it up as you wanted.

And so, my parents every day asked me, 'How did you get on? How did it go?' So, I brought the kibbeh that we fried, that this woman made. And I told my father, 'She didn't have to do all that thing, making like a pot, that is a long pot. With the finger'. In Egypt, because it was a Syrian thing. It's a matter of honour. The woman who did it... if you didn't do it, forget it. You are not worth anything. But then he just looked at it, and we tasted it, and it was good. He said, 'But she cheated. If she cheated, it's not worth it. You have to do it in the traditional 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: articles, books, cookery classes, kibbeh, taste

Duration: 4 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023