By GWEN SISSON
Bitter battles have been fought over how much bulger goes in the Tabooli.
Lisa Dakhlallah, former owner of Shaherazad’s Middle Eastern restaurant, likes lots of bulger. Her secret is to soak the bulger in lemon juice instead of water.
Dakhlallah said the water makes the bulger starchy and pasty. The lemon juice prevents that starchy taste. And she said “the salad is sprinkled in lemon juice anyway.”
For those who have had the pleasure of eating at Shaherazad’s, Dakhlallah puts a delicious spin on traditional Middle Eastern food. But she did not grow up in the Middle East. Her recipes are not handed down from generations of women, at least not in her family.
Originally from New Jersey, Dakhlallah said she learned to cook “in self defense.” Her mom didn’t cook, so teaching herself to cook was important. She said she loves reading cookbooks and teaching herself new recipes.
She met her husband in college, and when she married him, she not only converted to the Muslim faith, but converted much of her cooking style to provide a few Middle Eastern dishes for her husband. Dakhlallah said learning about food is an excellent way to learn about the culture of a region. The more she learned, the more she cooked. And the more she cooked, the more the Middle Eastern dishes became her specialty. Her family loves it, and so does most of Starkville.
“Being married to my husband, I am friends with people from all over the world,” Dakhlallah said. “I enjoy learning from them and making their dishes in my kitchen.”
One of the interesting things she has discovered made her look at meal preparation in a completely different way.
“In the United States, the meat defines the meal, but in the Middle East, it is the vegetable,” Dakhlallah said. “It is interesting to notice the different views on food.”
Cooking fresh healthy food from “scratch” is important to Dakhlallah. Her speciality dish is hummus, but the recipe is a heavily guarded secret. But she doesn’t mind sharing the final product.
Dakhlallah will have batches of her hummus and other vegetarian/vegan Palestinian treats available at her booth at the 2011 International Fiesta, set for April 2 on the Drill Field on the Mississippi State University campus.