“Whereas other writers are likely to modernize or do their own takes and innovations, I believe Anissa is a traditionalist and a purist,” Ms. Roden said.
For “Feast,” Ms. Helou traveled to more countries than she could count, including some she had never been to, like Indonesia and Senegal. But political instability barred her from visiting certain countries, including Syria, where she has not gone since October 2010. The dish on the book’s cover, kabab karaz, comes from Aleppo, Syria, a place that was once famous for its pepper, but is now better known for its condition of ruin.
Kabab karaz is a dish of ground lamb meatballs cooked in a pool of pitted sour cherries, raw cane sugar and pomegranate molasses. The meatballs take on the appearance of tiny marbles glossed with ruby-red sauce; the dish’s tartness is energetic, but not disorienting. Once the meatballs are tender, you pile them on a bed of pita bread triangles drizzled with butter, dusting them with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts.
Ms. Helou considers Aleppo the “gastronomic capital of the Middle East,” she said.
And kabab karaz epitomizes the soul of the city. “The food culture of Aleppo is probably the most interesting of the food cultures of the Middle East,” she said. “It’s steeped in culinary lore.”
She got the recipe from Maria Gaspard-Samra, a chef who taught cooking classes in Aleppo before the city’s destruction.
If Aleppo has now become synonymous with decay, Ms. Helou would do her part to keep its signature recipe alive. She started by writing it down.