Contributed by Sarah Harpending, American Center of Oriental Research
Mohammed “Abu Ahmed” Adawi has spent more than 40 years cooking for archaeologists in Jordan and Palestine. He began as a laborer at the dig in Jericho with Kathleen Kenyon in 1956. By 1960 he was cooking at ASOR in Jerusalem under then Head Chef Omar Jibrin. Abu Ahmed learned his basic techniques on the job, but he recalls that Omar could be secretive about his recipes.
Abu Ahmed preparing a Thanksgiving feast in 1982.
He first served as a cook at an excavation site in 1961 when Paul Lapp invited him to cook at Iraq al-Amir in Jordan. Without previous experience cooking outdoors, he says he just copied what he had seen Omar doing at the center and it usually worked. While they didn’t have the equipment of a regular kitchen, he was able, using a primus stove, to prepare the traditional repertoire such as roast beef, roast chicken, and stews for the dig crews. The roasts he would brown in a pan, then add water and cover the dish, leaving it to finish ‘roasting’ slowly on low flame. Abu Ahmed noted that serving this kind of good simple food in the remote areas where they were digging really made people happy.
Abu Ahmed notes that food fads have come and gone, (low fat, high carb, no carbâ€¦) but that he has not changed his style because he really likes the old fashioned recipes for hearty food. More and more frequently the ACOR residents will ask Abu Ahmed to prepare traditional Arabic dishes, which he does, although he balks at dishes such as rolled grape leaves or stuffed vegetables, because these are very time consuming and they demand many hours of preparation.
Abu Ahmed relies on the library of cookbooks given to him over the years by women such as Meredith Dorenemann (Rudy Dornemann was the first Annual professor director of ACOR), Vivian Van Elderen, Sue Sauer and Linda McCreery. That said, he likes to read food magazines and doesn’t mind to try new recipes occasionally.
Abu Ahmed cooking in the ACOR kitchen, 2009
One of the desserts that Abu Ahmed is best known for at ACOR are his date bars, which are indeed heavenly â€“ sweet, moist, and sticky. He shares the recipe below:
ACOR DATE BARS
Makes 3 dozen bars. Preheat oven to 400Ëš and prepare a 13×9 inch baking pan.
dates 3 cups cut up
sugar 2 tbs
water 1 Â½ cups cook for 10 minutes, stirring, until thickened. Set aside.
butter Â½ cup
shortening Â¼ cup
brown sugar 1 cup cream together with a mixer.
Flour 1 Â½ cup
Salt 1 tsp
Baking Soda Â½ tsp
Oats 1 Â½ cups Mix into butter mixture, stirring lightly
Press half the cookie mix evenly into the greased pan. Spread all the date filling on top. Cover with the second half of the cookie mix, pressing it flat by hand.
Bake 25 minutes, cut up the bars in the pan while they are still warm.