Episode 262: #Breaking into Food Writing and Redefining Success with Reem Kassis

  
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Our guest today is a wildly successful food writer who’s fresh off an appearance on Fresh Air—and who never “should” have written a cookbook at all. (Read on for a recipe.) Here’s her bio, in her own words:

I grew up a Palestinian in Israel. I went to an American missionary school and by the grace of whatever gods were looking down on me and sheer grit, I came to UPenn for undergrad, where I struggled initially, but kept going until I graduated in the top of my class and went on straight to do my MBA at Wharton. From there, McKinsey, The London School of Economics, The World Economic Forum and, by any measure, a fast track, prestigious career. But I felt disillusioned when I realized I was following the herd and living someone else’s version of success, not mine. So I turned my back on the whole thing and decided to write a cookbook.

But she did (The Palestinian Table) and now she’s written another (The Arabesque Table). We talk about the nitty gritty of cookbook publishing along with the things she didn’t know (and how that helped), why you should just ask and how to convince yourself—and others—that you know what you need to know to make this happen.

#AmReading

Reem: Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore by Darra Goldstein

The Mountains Sing by Mai Phan Que Nguyen

Your Turn: How to Be an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

KJ: My Kitchen Year : 136 Recipes That Saved My Life: a Cookbook by Ruth Reichl

Cook’s Illustrated Chinese Recipes

Sarina: Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook by Kristen Miglore

Find Reem on Instagram: Reem.kassis

RECIPE!

Quick and Easy Bseeseh (Nut and Date Snacks)

Makes 25-30 balls

Ingredients

1 cup (51/4 oz/150 g) unhulled sesame seeds

14 oz (400 g) date paste (see Note)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (choose one whose flavor you like)

1/4 cup (1 oz / 30 g) pistachios (or any other nut you like), coarsely ground

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Method

1. Line a large plate with parchment or wax (greaseproof) paper and set aside.

2. In a large frying pan, dry-roast the sesame seeds over medium heat, stirring constantly, until aromatic and toasted, 7–10 minutes. You’ll know they are toasted when you start to hear some seeds popping and smell the nutty aroma of sesame and notice the color darken slightly. Remove from the heat, transfer to a plate, and set aside to cool completely. 

3. In a large bowl, combine the date paste, olive oil, pistachios, cinnamon, and cooled sesame seeds. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Wearing disposable food gloves is the easiest way to do this. 

4. Take about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and roll between your palms to form a ball, then place on the lined plate. Repeat to make 25–30 balls. 

5. Store the balls in an airtight container, with layers of parchment beneath and between. Although they will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks, I recommend storing them in the fridge. They taste just as delicious when firmer and cooler.

Note from Reem: Date paste can be found in any Middle Eastern grocery shop. You could also buy very soft Medjool dates and work them into a paste with your hands. If you do, I recommend wearing gloves and using some oil, otherwise it can get quite sticky. To get 14 ounces (400 g) of date paste you will need roughly 25 large Medjool dates. Addendum from KJ: There are lots of recipes for date paste online, and most seem to involve soaking the dates first overnight then popping them in a food processor or blender. I’m guessing that’s probably because your dates are unlikely to be “very soft.”

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