The Recipe Vault ›

"One of Life's Great Pleasures"

Jason Varney / Jason Varney

"One of Life's Great Pleasures"

As part of's ongoing Recipe Vault series, food bloggers and network stars share how recipes connect us to those we’ve lost.

Maureen Abood is the author of Rose Water and Orange Blossoms, Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen (April 2015, Running Press). The book was inspired by Abood's blog of the same name, in which she shares beloved recipes as well as intimate stories about the food's meaning, all highlighted by her own photographs. Her writing has also appeared in many publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Abood lives and writes in northern Michigan.

Legacy: You've talked about your happy family home in Michigan, filled with relatives and food. You were born in the United States, as were your parents, but you've maintained a close tie to your Lebanese roots. Tell us a bit about that culinary heritage.

Abood: “It's interesting to be fully American and, like many ethnicities, having this DEEP tradition to shape our lives and make it that much richer. Our family was very focused ON the table and food and cooking. I've been immersed in that all my life, and it's such an important part of what we do when we get together. It's not so different from other families, I hope, but for us, it's integral.

And of course, the food is really good! It's delicious, excellent food, and excelling at making it seems to be important to a lot of Lebanese. I think being able to share the really good food with family is like the glue for us. It's an expression of love and a way of bringing everyone together no matter what they're doing. …. I made my first trip to Lebanon a few years ago and seeing firsthand what I've heard about the produce and abundance of ingredients, I understood what originally inspired my forebears to cook so well.”

Legacy: As humans, what do we hunger for?

Abood: “We hunger first and foremost to feed ourselves, to eat well… [but] we want more than to sustain ourselves. We also hunger for connection with other people. Eating is one of the most intimate ways to experience another person. We're naturally drawn to that. In my own family history, my mom, my aunt, my grandmothers, they are constantly cooking. Yes, to feed themselves, but also because they want everyone to come over. They want everyone there and everyone knows it and is happy to oblige. Food is very much the language of love.”

Legacy: While you'd always loved cooking, you chose another career path as an adult. Then, about five years ago, you were living in Chicago, working in a nonfood-related job, when you had some personal challenges. Talk about the decision to quit your steady job and move across the country for an uncertain future pursuing your culinary passions.

Abood: “I had dabbled in food writing and had had my first article in The Washington Post and some personal challenges inspired me. When my sister-in-law passed away at 40 of cancer, I realized how short life can be. I realized then that if I wanted to make cooking and writing my life, I needed to make a change. The year I spent in culinary school in San Francisco was so precious in redirecting and reinvigorating my life. I was learning something entirely new in my early 40s and making new friends, and my creative energy was flowing... I had always loved to cook, but that move to another level built A REAL foundation for my road ahead. It was so comforting. I knew I was in the right place and that I was living authentically.”

Legacy: As part of our Recipe Vault series which explores how we honor those we’ve lost through culinary traditions you’re sharing your Tomato Salad recipe in memory of your father, Camille Sam Abood, who died in 2000. This recipe is so special to you that a photograph of the dish actually appears on the cover of your cookbook. What makes it so special?

Abood: “[My father] loved that salad and it's on the cover of my book… so I feel I can carry him around with me in this new and special way.

Anything to do with tomatoes reminds me of my dad. He absolutely loved them. He grew them in our garden growing up just as his family grew them when he was growing up. We had bowl after bowl of tomato salad with lots of lemon, sweet onions, and fresh and dried spearmint … a good pinch of salt and mom's secret ingredient, granulated garlic, which is less abrasive than fresh garlic and mellows everything out, and some good olive oil, but not a lot, a very gentle treatment. This is one of life's great pleasures on a plate.”

Legacy: There was only a month between your dad's cancer diagnosis in late May 2000 and his death. How did he fill that time?

“He wanted to plant the tomatoes. He knew he'd be gone when they came in, but the urge to do what he loved – this soothed him. It soothed his soul. He wanted the tomatoes for tomato salad. … We only bought a few plants that year and he came to the back patio, instructing on the planting. Even when he was in the house where he was resting most of the time on the couch with his illness, he could look out into the yard and the sunshine to enjoy his tomatoes.”

Legacy: Is there a recipe you think your loved ones will associate with you when you're gone?

Abood: “First, I would want to be remembered for cherishing our Lebanese heritage and sharing it with others; that's one reason I do what I do and why this book is so important to me. It's been a long time in the making and represents so much for so many of us. And the Lebanese have such a high regard for hospitality and warmth and welcoming everyone to the table no matter what's on it (even though something delicious always is) – I'd want to be remembered for that, too.”

Legacy: But if you had to choose one recipe?

Abood: “Bread pops up a lot for me and anyone who eats my food. I love to bake bread. I love to put my hands in the dough. I'm fiendish for all different types of Lebanese breads and trying to get the recipes exactly right, to be exactly how I've had them and tasted them. The whole experience in baking bread is good for everyone who comes in contact with it. The smell in the house, having something you make and eat – it's a lot of fun.”

Tomato and Sweet Onion Salad from Maureen Abood, author of Rose Water and Orange Blossoms

Reprinted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms © 2015 by Maureen Abood, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

This is less of a recipe than it is a sketch of what belongs in a Lebanese tomato salad, which is so integral, so delicious that life just wouldn’t be as good without it! If it is not tomato season and you want this salad, use halved Campari tomatoes or small grape or cherry tomatoes to avoid mealy winter tomatoes. You’ll notice that it takes a hefty amount of mint to get its flavor to shine through. Tomato salad is especially good eaten with thin flatbread or thin pita bread: just pick up the salad with a small piece of bread and eat it that way. You may want a spoon to help you get all of the incredibly good juices into your mouth when the tomatoes are gone. . . .

Makes 6 servings

2 pounds / 900 g ripe tomatoes of any shape, size, or color (a variety is nice)

20 fresh mint leaves

1 medium-size sweet onion, very thinly sliced

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1⁄2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Few grinds of black pepper

To slice the tomatoes, use a serrated knife and cut them in half through the core end. Cut out the cores. Slice the tomatoes into somewhat irregular 1-inch chunks rather than perfect wedges. The mint can be torn into small pieces, or cut in chiffonade into thin ribbons.

Place the tomatoes, onion, and mint in a bowl. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Combine and taste. Has your life been changed yet with how good this is? If not, let the salad rest for a bit, taste again, and adjust the seasonings to get you there.

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."