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Syrian cooking classes in Watertown: Yasin Culinary offers healthy spring dishes

Ahmad Yasin of Yasin Culinary
Ahmad Yasin dishes up stuffed peppers in his cooking class.

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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 restaurant from 1984-2000. Receiving much acclaim and two Best of Boston awards for Kareem during that time, 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."

Ahmad, from Latakia, Syria, 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 Yasin Culinary 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."

Ahmad is currently offering spring classes for $75 per person. Classes in March will feature salmon as the main course, and a special Mother's Day class will teach mothers and their sons or daughters special family dishes. The current scheduled dates are March 7, March 28, April 17, and May 9. A minimum of 8 people is required for each class. (Details are below.)

A past participant in a Yasin Culinary 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."

Upcoming classes:

Sunday, March 28, 3-6 PM, $75 per person
"Fabouleh Salad," Ahmad's own mix of romaine, herbs and spices
Shorbat -Qarmaziyya - Almonds and Beets Soup
Samakah Hulwa (Salmon)
A special dessert from Ahmad

Saturday, 17 April, 11 AM to 2 PM, $65 per person
Tabouleh - grains and greens spring salad 
Medfouna - Spiced lamb and broth with potatoes
Vegetarian Kousa (stuffed Syrian squash) if available,
OR Fetet Habb al Hummos (vegetarian chickpea dish)
And treats for my guests...

Mother's Day Class: Sunday, May 9, 3-6 PM, $75 per person
family dishes, along with a special dessert for mothers!
Children must be at least 18 years of age.

Classes offered through Newton Community Education:

Tuesday, 13 April, 6-9 PM, $45 per person
presented via Newton Community Education
view class description at newtoncommunityed.org

Wednesday, 28 April, 6-9 PM, $45 per person
presented via Newton Community Education 
view class description at newtoncommunityed.org

To sign up for any of Yasin Culinary classes, or to get more information, email ahmad@yasinculinary, or call 617-458-9446. 

Cooking classes require a minimum of 8 participants. Most classes can accommodate up to 20 students. Cost per person ranges from $85 to $65, depending on the size of the group. Full payment by check required prior to beginning of class. 

For more information on Yasin Culinary cooking classes, visit yasinculinary.com. Many past articles are also available on the site. Yasin Culinary is also on Facebook, and classes are also listed on Boston.com's Events calendar.

Comments

  • Gia 4 years ago

    I wish we lived closer because I would totally register my husband for these classes (as you know I'm not much of a cook and he wants to go to culinary school). The dishes just sound amazing.

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