When is your favorite time to listen to audiobooks? For me, the quick answer to that question is, when I’m in the kitchen. Audiobooks have been my cooking and baking companions for many years. Although I don’t generally plan my week’s menus based on what’s in my listening queue, even passing descriptions of food in a story will spark my culinary imagination.
March, with its many holidays and celebrations from different cultures and religions, seems like a natural springboard for matching a good story with a celebration-inspired recipe. The following audiobooks set the background for the festivities, and the linked recipes will help you observe the holidays in style.
For many people, especially in North America and western Europe, March is inextricably associated with St. Patrick’s Day. The feast day has been observed for centuries to honor the anniversary of the death of Ireland’s patron saint, and in recent times March 17 has become a day for everyone to wear green and celebrate all things Irish. My pick for the holiday is Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s THE TRANSATLANTIC BOOK CLUB, a light dual-time-period story that features Cassie and her recently widowed grandmother, Pat, who have traveled to the fictional Finfarran Peninsula of Ireland to grieve and reconnect with family and friends. St. Patrick’s Day festivities play a leading role in this audiobook, performed by Marcella Riordan, as do many traditional Irish foods. When Pat reminisces about her youth, she describes a pub meal she shared with a friend. The colcannon (mashed potatoes) with kale she ate that night is a common St. Patrick’s Day dish in America. The Irish American Mom website provides a recipe for traditional Irish Colcannon with kale and provides some background for why this dish is also served on Halloween. This would be delicious served alongside corned beef.
One of the most popular Hindu festivals is Holi, also known as the festival of colors. Holi is steeped in many legends and traditions but is generally thought of as a celebration of good over evil, of new beginnings, of forgiveness, and of love. The observance of the two-day festival will start on March 28 this year. My pick for Holi listening is Diksha Basu’s DESTINATION WEDDING, a contemporary rom-com in which New Yorker Tina Das and her dysfunctional family travel to India to attend a wedding. The bulk of the story takes place in Delhi, where Tina, recently single and open to change, looks for a husband, revamps her career, and deals with her unpredictable family. The audiobook, read by Soneela Nankani, balances the romance with family drama and over-the-top wedding festivities. An easy and authentic dish to serve on Holi is chana masala, a vegetarian chickpea curry made with warm spices and a onion-tomato sauce. If you’d like to make the dish yourself, start with the recipe for Quick Chana Masala, found on Mallika Basu’s website. This flavorful, simple version will spice up your holiday.
A relatively new celebration to this month’s lineup occurs on March 11: World Day of Muslim Culture, Peace, Dialogue and Film, which was established in 2010. Founder Javed Mohammed envisioned using the arts and cultural traditions to connect the different Islamic communities around the world and to open channels with and educate their non-Muslim neighbors. My pick for World Day of Muslim Culture is S.K. Ali’s LOVE FROM A TO Z, a complex young adult story that follows two young Muslims—an American girl and Canadian boy—as they get to know one another while visiting relatives in Qatar. This audiobook, performed by Priya Ayyar, Tim Chiou, and the author, moves beyond romance to address tough contemporary issues, especially grief and Islamophobia. Because both Zayneb and Adam have relatives living in the Middle East, I looked there for a recipe to give you a taste of the region. A dish that’s sure to build bridges between cultures and religions is creamy, garlicky baba ghanoush, a dip that bears similarities to hummus. The recipe for Lebanese Baba Ghanoush, found on the Feel Good Foodie website, has the smoky flavor with lots of garlic and lemon that make this creamy dip unforgettable.
The March equinox marks the official start of spring; for some it is also a time of festivities. Historically, the day was celebrated by the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Mayans, and other cultures and religions around the world. Modern-day Wiccans and others honor the day through the celebration of Ostara, which signals rebirth, fertility, and love. My pick for the first day of spring is Alice Hoffman’s THE RULES OF MAGIC, which reveals how two sisters in the 1960s embrace their power as witches despite a family curse. The audiobook, read by Marin Ireland, places the Owens sisters in the context of their time and reveals what happened to their ancestors in Old Salem, Massachusetts. Because Ostara focuses on renewal, eggs are a common element of any celebratory meal. On March 20, whip up a batch of Deviled Eggs, like the recipe found on the Simply Recipes website; you’ll love the bewitching hint of hot sauce in this version.
On the evening of March 27, Jews across the globe will celebrate the beginning of Passover by partaking in the Seder, a special meal that reminds participants of how Moses freed the Israelites from the tyranny of Pharaoh. The weeklong holiday is a time to reflect on God’s miracles as told in the biblical book of Exodus. My pick for Passover is Geraldine Brooks’s THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, the story of how an Australian book conservator identified an ancient Spanish Haggadah (the traditional guide to the Seder’s celebrations and prayers) in war-torn Sarajevo. The audiobook, read by Edwina Wren, is based on a true story and focuses on centuries-old anti-Semitism, the history of the book, and the people who sought to save or destroy it. Every culture and family has its own Passover traditions when it comes to food, but you can’t go wrong with this Crunchy Pecan Cookie recipe from Gourmet magazine. The recipe for these light, airy treats was reprinted on the Epicurious website. Note that these cookies are perfect for the gluten-free crowd too.