- Susan Low
Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
I’d been anticipating the arrival of this book, the third from Yasmin Khan, for months – and it has been worth the wait. Before she took up food writing, Khan was a human rights campaigner specialising in the Middle East. Her first book, The Saffron Tales, was about Persian food (she's Iranian-British), her second, Zaitoun, celebrates Palestinian food and cooking.
She writes with unusual insight and clarity, and she puts people at the centre of what she does.
I admire the way Khan contextualises food. For Ripe Figs, she travels to the Eastern Mediterranean and talks (and cooks with) people living in a refugee camp in Lesvos, at a drop-in centre for refugee women in Athens, and a café/social space near the UN Green Line buffer zone in Cyprus, among others.
In the book's introduction, she writes: “Migration, and how we deal with it, is one of the key issues of our times... How can we update our narrative and our concepts of borders, states and identity so that people can live, and move, in peace and dignity?”
Reading her words in light of the of the current Home Secretary Priti Patel‘s plans to make the lives of asylum seekers coming to the UK even more precarious – while declaring the proposals as "fair and firm" (Orwell must be rolling in his grave...) – I’m struck by Khan's prescience and humanity. (As well as angered by the Government's latest draconian policies.)
The recipes in Ripe Figs from across the eastern Mediterranean are lovely. They're for simple, largely veg-based dishes such as Turkish patlican salatasi (aubergine salad), Greek soutzoukakia (meatballs)... Food to bring people together.
This is powerful, moving food-writing. I can't help but think that someone ought to send a copy to Priti...
Ripe Figs is published by Bloomsbury and is out on 1 April 2021.