I want to recommend an interesting book — Kingdom of Strangers by Zoe Ferraris. The story is a police murder mystery that opens with the discovery in the desert of about a dozen decapitated women. Because the bodies are female, some of the more pious policeman won’t touch them. Enter the heroine, Katya Hijazi. She is a traditional girl, swathed in hijab, but she is also a crack detective.
And that’s what makes this book so interesting.
It gives the reader an insight into day-to-day life in Saudi Arabia, and how people actually live. For example, it’s difficult to find a bride since women are fairly cloistered. So when they are being driven somewhere, single guys will drive along side the car and toss a paper with their phone number on it into the car so the woman can call if she is interested. Who knew? Also, since women must wear burqahs, people recognize them by their shape rather than their face.
I don’t want to give too much away since it is a mystery. But Katya is a compelling character, who is both a modern woman and a traditional one.
In keeping with the middle eastern theme, here is a great (and super simple) recipe for yogurt cheese.
Yogurt Cheese Served with Pita and Olives
4 cups plain whole-milk yogurt (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried summer savory
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Toasted pita bread triangles
Set strainer over large bowl. Line strainer with 4 layers of cheesecloth, allowing 4 inches to extend over sides of strainer (do not let strainer touch bottom of bowl). Spoon yogurt into strainer. Gather cheesecloth together; fold over yogurt. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight (liquid will drain out and yogurt will thicken).
Combine sesame seeds, salt, summer savory, cayenne and cumin in small bowl. Open cheesecloth at top. Using rubber spatula, transfer drained yogurt to serving platter. Drizzle olive oil over. Sprinkle with sesame seed mixture. Surround with pita bread triangles and olives.