Meet Lilian, admired by Ottolenghi & preserving Bukharian cuisine

Read our in-depth chat with Lilian, Diaspo's new teacher preserving Bukharian food. We spoke about the origins of the cuisine, why it's her mission to preserve her heritage and Ottolenghi's involvement...


Welcome Lilian, tell us a bit about yourself and Bukharian cuisine? My father was born in Samarkand, then moved from Russia to live in Israel, and my mother was born in Jerusalem. 

Bukhara is a city in Uzbekistan. The essence of Bukharian cooking is all about family and entertaining. Going back all those years, they used to have communal ovens. They would sit by, and before the Sabbath on Friday, the women used to collectively make the dough, put them in the oven, stare and sit around chatting, talking about their recipes, feeding the family and matchmake - oh, I've got a son, I've got a daughter...

What are your earliest memories of cooking? We lived as a family of seven. I had three sisters, my mum, and dad, and we lived with my uncle and aunt. So it was very much my mother cooking for a large family. Throughout my childhood years, I was watching my mom in the kitchen and remember her making tortellini, handmade pasta. The thing is she never taught us, she never allowed us in the kitchen, it was always her domain. So we had to pick it up along the way. So how did you learn those recipes? My mother died six years ago. Before she died, I realised that nobody had written these recipes down. I did all sorts of things with my mother, but she never wanted to give you those recipes. They never wrote it down because they wanted to always be able to do it.  I made it my mission that we've got to have these recipes, and so in memory of my mother, Miriam, that's when I started to put these recipes together.



Why were the recipes never written down?

During that time, it was always a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I think the mothers wanted to protect it. They used to put memorial candles in a glass, and that was their measuring cup. They used to say a memorial glass of rice. Nobody measured anything.  It was all by eye. I realised if the next generation is going to get that authentic recipe. They need to have the recipe that's tried and tested.

And then I realised food is so important. It unites family, you become familiar with it. There are so many Bukharian people all over the world and they recognize the recipes, the food, and it just brings it all back to them. The memories, the smells, the tastes.

And that's what brings back all those lovely memories - when you taste it and smell the food that you had as a child, there's nothing better.  Why is it so important for you to preserve Bukharian cuisine? You've got to know who you are. It wasn't my grandparents, I'm talking about my parents and I always used to think we were so different to everybody. We mixed with everybody, all creed, and color where I grew up but I thought I was very strange having all this very unusual food. And then I realised food is so important. It unites family, you become familiar with it. There are so many Bukharian people all over the world and they recognize the recipes, the food, and it just brings it all back to them. The memories, the smells, the tastes. We were all bought up with the same food. It was the trademark, the women knew of these foods because it was handed down from past generations. It's wonderful. And I want to have that every time I make a Bukharian dish, I want to have that as a memory.

Celebrity Chef Yotam Ottolenghi is a famous fan and friend of yours. How did that come about?  I met him at a lunch he was doing, and showed him my pamphlet of 12 of the most popular recipes I had collected. He was really impressed that somebody out there knows how to do pilav and wrote his take on the dish in the Guardian. He said 'you've got to preserve these recipes', he knew nobody ever wrote it down. That was the push for me, taking it from these 12 recipes into a book preserving Bukharian cuisine. On Tuesday 27th October, Lilian is teaching Sholeh (Chicken Risotto, with vegan option), and you can buy her book Miriam's Table here.