Dave Eggers' Zeitoun is a non-fiction account of one man's experience during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian immigrant to the United States who owns and operates a home contracting business in New Orleans and lives with his wife Kathy and four children. The book reads like fiction, and tells the story of Zeitoun's "perfect storm" - the combination of the tragedy and chaos of Katrina with post-911 prejudice towards Arabs. Eggers does a great job of narrating Zeitoun's experiences with a reporters voice, though it must have been difficult to write in such a neutral voice since what happened to Zeitoun at the hands of the U.S. and local government is shocking and would make even the most moderate person angry. More details on the book after the jump. For the recipe, I wanted to combine a classic New Orleans food with some Middle Eastern flavors. Po boys on pita is what I came up with. Homemade pita, fried oysters, with typical shawarma condiments - lettuce, tahini sauce and pickles. Yum!
Zeitoun is the account of one man's experiences during Hurricane Katrina. That man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian immigrant who at the time of the hurricane had lived in New Orleans for several years with his wife and four children and ran a successful home contracting business. Zeitoun was a popular figure in his neighborhood and great relationships with his clients and his family. Eggers depicts the Zeutoun and his wife Kathy as devoted to each other, their family, their faith and their business. As warnings of a big hurricane came to Zeitoun and Kathy, Zeitoun decided to stay in the city of New Orleans to take care of the family's properties and respond to client calls while Kathy took the children to stay with her family in Baton Rouge. The reader experiences a big sense of dread as Kathy and Zeitoun discuss the hurricane and weather Zeitoun should leave. We all know what happened when the hurricane hit, and Zeitoun's first hand account of the damage, devastation and severe government failures after the storm is fascinating. The reader knows something even worse than the hurricane is going to happen when Zeitoun describes the military and police presence in the city after the storm - men heavily armed policing the streets but failing to offer assistance to those in need of rescue. One day after the storm Zeitoun is speaking with his brother, who lives in Spain, on the phone at one of the rental properties he owns. There is a knock at the door and suddenly Zeitoun and three of his friends/acquitances are being taken into custody. Two of the group are of arab descent and two are white. All four get thrown into a makeshift prisin in downtown New Orleans. Eggers is quick to point out that this prison was built in 24-48 hours when there were still thousands of people living in underpasses and no basic human services were being delivered to citizens. But a prison was built and ready to go! Zeitoun was charged with looting and then, seemingly inevitably, was accused of being a terrorist and investigated by Homeland Security. He was held for weeks without getting a phone call or access to an attorney. The book was shocking - we've all seen the footage of the aftermath of Katrina and have all heard stories of racial profiling in the wake of September 11. But this book really put a human face on those stories. It really was unbelievable to think what happened to Zeitoun occured in the United States. This is must read.
Syrian Styled Oyster Po Boys with Homemade Pita
This was a real improvisation for me, except for the pita which I made from a Mark Bittman recipe in how to cook everything. The pita was good but not light like the pita's you get a great Middle Eastern restaurant. But they were easy, I will experiment with some more recipes and let you know if I find one that is closer to restaurant style. You could use any fried seafood here instead of oysters. I spiked the flour dredge with Aleppo Pepper, a syrian pepper flake which is smoky and spicy. The tahini sauce is a real winner here, I could eat it by the spoonful!
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything
3 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour or bread flour or a combination of the two (I used 2 cups bread flour, 1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water
Directions: Combine flour, salt and yeast in food processor with steel blade, process for a few seconds. With processor running, add olive oil and water.
Dough should come together like a ball. If it isn't, add more water a tablespoon at a time. Eventually, my food processor conked out, so I removed the dough and kneaded it for about 3 minutes till it came together.
Put the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover and let rise till double in bulk, about two hours. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven now. If you don't, put upside down cookie sheets on the oven racks (this is what I did). Separate the dough into 6-8 balls, roll out each one to 6-10 inches.
Once oven is heated, put as many pitas as can fit onto cookie sheets in oven. I did this with tongs. Let bake 2-6 minutes. They should puff up but not all of them will. Try to make sure there are no seems in the dough when you roll it out. Here are some pics of them baked.
Fried Oysters Ingredients
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
3-4 dashes Tabasco
1/2 cup cornmeal (be smarter than me and use fine ground)
1 cup all purpose flour
salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
4 cups vegetable oil
2 dozen shucked oysters
Directions: Put oil into a dutch oven or other pot suitable for deep frying. Combine milk and egg in shallow bowl, add a few dashes of Tabasco to taste. For the flour dredge, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper and Aleppo pepper in a shallow bowl. Drain the oysters, add to the milk.
Heat oil over medium or high heat till it reaches 340 degrees with candy thermometer. Take about 6 -8 oysters out of milk and dredge in flour mixture and carefully add to hot oil. Let cook till golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from oil with slotted spoon, place on plate with paper towels to drain. Continue till all oysters are cooked.
Don't they look fabulous? Here is another pic.
Tahini Sauce Ingredients
1/4 cup tahini
1 6oz container greek yogurt (I used 2%)
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup water
pinch of salt
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl! Not too difficult!
Accompaniments: Shredded lettuce, chopped pickles, more Aleppo pepper
To make sandwich: Spread some sauce on pita bread. Lay some shredded lettuce on top. Then pile on about 8 oysters. Yum! Then add pickles and sprinkle some more sauce on top and some Aleppo pepper. Enjoy!