Spring officially starts on March 20, and with the change in season comes a new approach to food. Comfort food is the norm during the chilly winter months, but spring makes us think of warmer days and lighter fare.
Thankfully, Boston is rich with a diverse array of healthy food. One such beacon of fresh, healthy fare is caterer and teacher/chef Ahmad Yasin (pronounced yah-SEEN), owner of Watertown’s famous Kareem’s restaurant from 1984-2000, and again since 2012. Receiving much acclaim and two Best of Boston awards for Kareem’s, Ahmad’s passion for all things fresh and healthy is legendary. Ahmad explains his lifelong passion for good food: “My mother was a gifted cook and my dad was a farmer. He provided the best vegetables and she was the expert in the kitchen. I started cooking when I was still a kid.”
Originally from Latakia, Syria, Ahmad believes that cooking is complementary to the study of Arabic culture. In his cooking classes, Ahmad teaches not only Arabic dishes in his classes, but also Arabic culture in general. “The history of the Syrian table is a reflection of our civilization as a nation,” he explains. “Cooking is part of my heritage, and the hospitality of the Arabs is legendary.”
Mary W., who was a regular guest at Kareem and has taken Ahmad’s cooking classes, agrees wholeheartedly: “I could eat Ahmad’s food exclusively, if given the chance, and would love to learn how to make all his dishes. He was a champion of eating and cooking with whole, organic, fresh foods long before doing so became fashionable. He is a superb cook, wonderful teacher, and kind and generous human being. Taking cooking classes with him is almost as much fun as actually eating the food!”
An October 2008 Boston Globe article (“Learning Syrian cooking and culture”) describes the well-rounded experience of a Kareem’s Restaurant cooking class, from a humble chickpea’s metamorphosis to a healthy dish, to the integration of healthy eating and Arabic culture into a three-hour culinary experience. The article describes Ahmad, suitably, as “a bit of an evangelist for freshness and authenticity in food.”
A past participant in a Kareem’s class, Maggie K. plans to attend the Mother’s Day class with her daughter. “Meeting Ahmad, and learning some of his masterful and authentic cooking techniques, fulfills my 30+ year romance with Lebanese/Syrian culture. I will never again purchase stuffed grape leaves! My daughter is as excited as I am to learn from a pro!”
Teri C, a student who loves exotic food and has an adventurous spirit, is celebrating her birthday in April by attending Ahmad’s class again. “I found Ahmad to be very knowledgeable and easy to follow,” Teri says of her experience in the January class. “I had not previously experimented with Syrian food, so it was like an exploration of another culture especially with all of Ahmad’s anecdotes and childhood stories sprinkled into the class.
“I really like the community style of the class – sitting down all together to eat sticks in my memory best. In all of the other cooking classes I’ve taken, it isn’t like sitting down with friends and family at all. There’s little chatting. It’s kind of a ‘wolf down and prepare for the next dish to cook’ experience. In Ahmad’s class, I liked the dining room table setting when we were done cooking [each course]. It gave everyone a chance to ask food-related questions or talk about anything under the sun. It was a lovely moment to connect with the other classmates.”
Middle Eastern food has gained a lot of popularity over the past decade, due to its nature as a healthy, inexpensive cuisine. It suits both college students and elegant foodie aficionados, because it’s versatile, and can be served simply or as an elaborate feast. Ahmad is enthusiastic about the simplicity involved in preparing fresh, straightforward dishes; in his classes, he teaches students to choose only the freshest parsley, the best olive oils, and the best fruits and vegetables for cooking. “Start with the very best,” Ahmad explains to anyone who will listen, “and you can cook dishes that taste fabulous.”
For more information on Ahmad’s cooking classes, visit kareemsrestaurant.com. Many past articles are also available on the site.
[ This article originally appeared on Examiner.com. ]