A Cookbook with a Purpose
International recipes that will feed your family while helping women be more self-sufficient
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My brother’s family gave me a terrific cookbook for Christmas this year. Titled Share: The Cookbook that Celebrates our Common Humanity, it’s a fundraiser for an organization called Women for Women International (WfWI), and it’s filled with recipes from women and families around the world. At first, though, as I leafed through it and saw the pages of gorgeous photos above celebrity quotations, I had doubts about its usefulness in the kitchen.
But I was wrong. Most of the recipes avoid the two traps of international cookbooks — too many inaccessible ingredients and techniques, or Americanization that alienates the food from its roots. Instead, this book highlights family food from Kosovo to South Sudan, made with easy-to-find staples. I’ve already stuck post-its on a recipe for jam-filled cookies, stuffed crab, Congolese Sticky Donuts, roast vegetables with peanut sauce, and a shepherd’s pie made with salmon, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
Surprisingly, the dish I decided to try first was the most familiar. With the holidays behind me, I don’t really feel like tackling any kitchen projects that would be overly challenging to my skills or my kids’ palates. In fact, I felt a wave of relief when I turned the page and saw Sir Richard Branson’s recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese (yes, Virgin Airlines Sir Richard Branson). It’s not a strict high-Italian Bolognese, delicately flavored with milk and white wine. Instead, it’s the kind of spaghetti sauce I grew up on, rich with tomato paste and garlic. It’s versatile, too: the sauce can form the base for either a cottage pie or a pot of chili.
This flexible attitude seems fitting for a book created by an organization dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship to “socially excluded women in countries where war and conflict have devastated lives and communities.” WfWI coaches women who enroll in their one-year programs to know their rights and exercise leadership in some of the last few decades’ most infamous war zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name a few.
Sponsored women receive a range of benefits, including stipends, job training, financial counseling, and healthcare assistance. They’re taught artisanal skills — such as tailoring, soap-making, beekeeping, and gem-cutting — that give them a chance to support themselves and their families. They also teach women to raise their own food.
My kids have already picked the book up, lured by the vivid photos. But now they’re pointing to the recipes, and saying, “When can we make that?”