Arab Cooking on a Prairie Homestead

28 March 2018

Arab Cooking on a Prairie Homestead: Recipes and Recollections from a Syrian Pioneer
by Habeeb Salloum
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Michelle Shaw
$34.95 ISBN 9780889775183

I had no idea that Arab immigrants settled in rural Saskatchewan in the early part of the twentieth century. And, from the dumbfounded looks on the faces of my born and bred Saskatchewan friends, it’s not a fact that’s widely known.

The story of one such family can be found in Arab Cooking on a Prairie Homestead. Habeeb Salloum’s family immigrated to Canada in the 1920s. Most Syrian immigrants of that period settled in the Eastern Canadian provinces of Quebec or Ontario, but Salloum’s father ended up settling in rural Saskatchewan.

The 1920s and 30s were a tough time to be a farmer in Saskatchewan. But Salloum’s parents survived, as he puts it, on the “ingenuity and the recipes they had inherited from their forebears.” They found that many of the crops they grew traditionally in the Middle East, such as lentils and chickpeas, were ideally suited to Saskatchewan conditions.

I found it amusing that, as a child, one of the highlights of Salloum’s year was his annual supply of bologna. He describes how, during the harvesting when his mother fed their threshing crew, “our usual wholesome Middle Eastern dishes disappeared from the daily menu. My mother would never think of preparing chickpea and lentil stews…lunch was bologna sandwiches.” He says his taste buds came alive “as I thought of the leftover bologna we children would enjoy in the days to come.”

The book is both a biographical recollection of the life of Salloum’s family in Saskatchewan during the early part of the twentieth century, and a treasury of delicious recipes using basic ingredients that are nutritious and economical. Some of Salloum’s mother’s recipes also incorporate local ingredients such as Saskatoon berries and dandelions.

I loved this book. Apart from the fascinating glimpse into Saskatchewan history, I found the recipes easy to use – and my children loved the results, which is high praise indeed. Each chapter focuses on a particular item (such as chickpeas, yogurt, vegetarian pies, zucchini, potatoes, Arab stews), and, for the more adventurous there is stuffed stomach as well as other interesting options.

Arab Cooking on a Prairie Homestead was first published in 2005 and won the Cuisine Canada and the University of Guelph’s Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. I have no doubt that this updated version will be equally successful and cherished by a new generation of cooks.


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