A Recipe for Connection: Native of Jordan celebrates her background, culture through food
By Emily Sabens
Floor-to-ceiling windows span two adjacent walls in Neda Schuck’s Muncie home. Bright sunshine illuminates the spread of food on her table. A pasta salad, made of rotini noodles mixed in with homegrown tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese cubes, sits in a bright blue bowl. On a glass, footed dessert dish, spongy shortcakes are filled with a creamy lemon curd and topped with ripe, red strawberries. Her headscarf, adorned with glittery silver and gold swirls, slightly sparkles as she bends downward to sneak her 6-year-old basset hound, Tank, a bite of the cheese from the salad.
The large glass windows are one of Schuck’s favorite things about her home.
“On the cold winter days we have here in Indiana,” explains Schuck, “I love to feel the warmth from the sunshine because it reminds of the warm weather we would have in Jordan.”
Schuck was born and raised in Jordan, located in southwest Asia. After moving to the United States for school as a young adult, she decided to stay and live in the states. However, Schuck still keeps her Jordanian roots in her daily life – including in the food she cooks.
As a child, Neda’s father created a set plan: When Neda and her two siblings were all old enough, the three would move from their home country of Jordan to America to attend college. Neda’s dad studied at both UCLA and Stanford University. He knew the value of higher education in the United States and wanted the same for his children.
Neda was exposed to American culture before she moved to the country for school, though. Every two to three years, her parents would take Neda and her siblings to California to visit some family members who lived there.
While in The Golden State, Neda acquired a taste for the light and fresh foods that are staples in California’s cuisine. She devoured fresh fish and savory salads that were not only delicious but healthy, as well.
Neda received her associate’s degree in the country of Lebanon, and then moved to West Lafayette, Indiana, with her two siblings to attend Purdue University.
When Neda arrived at school, she expected a range of food similar to what she found in California. However, the options available to her in the school’s dining halls surprised her. Instead of the seafood and salads options she loved on the West Coast, she encountered an abundance of junk food and bread-based items.
As a child, Neda was a very picky eater. She often refused to eat many of the bread-based items and rice that are usual staples in the middle eastern culture. It’s not that she thought they tasted gross, Neda explains. But when she did eat these types of foods, her stomach would feel as if it was in knots.
At Purdue, when Neda was consuming many of these heavy items she often refused to eat back in Jordan, she began to experience the same stomach pains. She soon realized that this continual pain was not just a random happening. Rather, as she later learned, she was actually gluten sensitive.
While at Purdue, Neda, who is a Muslim, routinely visited the same mosque in West Lafayette. Although everyone there shared her religion, they all came from different countries. Jordan, in general, was not a very diverse country, said Neda. She never thought about all the different individuals who also practice the religion until she was at college. This was an extremely positive experience for her: Neda got the chance to know these individuals who taught her about their own cultures – and their own recipes that they cooked back in their native country.
“You get to know people through their recipes that they share with you,” said Neda.
Learning and Sharing
As Neda and her peers did in college, she still loves to learn new recipes as well as share her own with her family, friends and neighbors.
Although Neda is from Jordan, her husband is originally from America. Her mother-in-law taught Neda many of her favorite “homestyle” meals that are popular favorites in America’s diets – her favorite being a savory pot roast that simmers all day in a slow cooker and is then paired with rosemary potatoes.
Neda also frequents many of the restaurants here in Muncie that serve traditional American food. She often goes to Ruby Tuesday, where she loves the fresh salad bar. She and her family also often visit Texas Roadhouse, where Neda always orders steak kabobs.
However, Neda still enjoys cooking and eating her traditional recipes. And, she loves to share them with people who have never tasted them before. Those who have grown up and lived in America their whole lives are, somewhat surprisingly, actually the ones who are most open to trying her Jordanian foods, said Neda. She loves to share her recipes with her friends and neighbors because it’s a way of sharing part of her culture.
Neda also makes sure that her son, Zayd, is open to both American foods and middle eastern foods. He is a much less picky eater than she was as a child, Neda explains. One of Zayd’s favorite foods is stuffed grape leaves — something the typical 6-year-old would not even touch.
For Schuck, food brings people together. When she first arrived to Muncie, she says she had troubles connecting with others. However, after she began to share her culture, and recipes, with others, as well as eating traditional American meals her neighbors made, Schuck truly began to feel a sense of community.
Toasted Pine Nut Pasta Salad
- 1 block cheddar cheese
- 2 Cups cherry tomatoes
- 1 Cup green onions
- 1/2 Cup pine nuts
- 1/2 stick butter
- 3 lemons juice
- Olive oil
- 1 bag gluten free macaroni/ pasta
Directions: Boil pasta & drain, cover. Set aside. Wash all produce. Half cherry tomatoes and chop green onion (only green ends). Cut crosswise to get circles.Seperately, cut block cheddar into small cubes set aside, covered so doesn’t dry out. Juice lemons. Sautee butter in frying pan until slightly brown (important for taste to get very slightly brown otherwise it burns). Lower temp to simmer, add pine nuts, salt and continuesly stir with spatula until all sides of pine nuts are very slightly turning color from cream to slight beige or caramel. Immediately, remove it and pour contents of pan into a bowl and set in fridge to cool. This prevents them from continuing to cook and burn ruining the taste. You have achieved a caramalized butter taste that will be the signature taste of your dish.Combine pasta, cheese and green onions together. Pour lemon juice & olive oil over it and salt it. Remove cooled pine nuts and browned butter from fridge (touch test it has cooled first) then pour over. Mix and taste test. Once you’ve achieved the acidity, butter balance you like you can add a little olive oil to your taste.Last step, toss in your halved cherry tomatoes and gently turn to incorporate.
Lemon Lebaneh Strawberry Shortcakes
- 1 tub Lebaneh
- 1 jar lemon curd (Dickinson’s)
- 1 quart strawberries hulled
- 12 angel food cake shells
Directions: Select large seving dish to arrange 12 angel food cake shells on.
Wash and hull strawberries. In a large bowl mix entire jar & tub of Lebaneh and lemon curd together. If you want to experiment with sweet or tartness you can adjust to your liking but everyone I’ve served liked this ratio. Mix both thoroughly. Take a spoon and spoon into top of each angel foodcake shell. Level it, do not over fill, because once you place the strawberry on top it may go over the sides.
Continue to fill all shells arranging on platter. Place hulled strawberries hulled side down and pointed end up on each Lebaneh filled shell.
Optional additions: You can drizzle chocolate over straberries, use blueberries instead of strawberries or decorate otherwise.