When an Iraqi refugee named Dhuha arrived in New York City, she brought a single suitcase. But she also came with the knowledge of how to make a perfect potato kibbeh, a dumpling stuffed with onions and beef.
A new cookbook, now crowdfunding on Kickstarter, features her recipe along with recipes from other refugee chefs–almost all women–who work at Eat Offbeat, a New York-based meal delivery company that launched in 2016 to give access to food that’s little known in the U.S.
“The whole idea about Eat Offbeat was to highlight all of the value that these refugees are bringing with them,” says cofounder and CEO Manal Kahi, who is originally from Lebanon. “We are focusing on recipes that we like to say are in their minds. They probably traveled light, but when they came here they had all these traditions and that knowledge that they brought with them.”
For a newly arrived refugee–particularly women, who may not have necessarily worked outside the home in the past–finding work can be challenging, and jobs are often low-level. If a refugee or asylum seeker gets a job in a restaurant, it’s more likely to be as a dishwasher than a chef. But Eat Offbeat realized that it would be possible to make better use of their unique skills. For New Yorkers who buy the food, it’s not a case of charity; the food, supervised by a head chef who has worked in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, is both delicious and hard to find elsewhere, even in a city filled with diverse restaurants.
The cookbook brings the recipes to everyone outside of New York. Along with traditional recipes, it also includes recipes born in the startup’s kitchen; the kibbeh, for example, now comes in a vegetarian version that uses a filling that a Nepali refugee uses in a street-food dumpling called a momo.
Along with the recipes, the book also includes stories about when the foods are traditionally eaten, and detailed suggestions about how to prepare them. “The way you peel your garlic or onions, for example–these are things that we may not have had the chance to discover,” says Kahi. “Every country has a different understanding of ingredients that we may or may not have.”
At a time when Trump’s newly revised travel ban temporarily suspends the refugee program as a way to “protect” the nation, the book gives a very different view of refugees.
“The cookbook is a way for us to literally write our chefs’ talents and stories into the contemporary narrative,” Kahi says. “These are never-before-told stories and recipes from women whose place in the history books is often neglected.”