Two local women and food personalities are featured in a new cookbook being released Tuesday. The “America the Great Cookbook,” edited by Joe Yonan (Weldon Owen, $40), includes recipes from Amanda Saab, food blogger and founder of Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor, and Jerry Hebron of Oakland Avenue Urban Farm.

The cookbook explores chefs, food experts and those in the culinary world and their passion for cooking.

All were asked: “What do you cook for the people you love?” Throughout the pages are their responses along with their signature recipes and the stories behind them.

The book, edited by Yonan, sets out to provide a portrait of a diverse America. Yonan is an author of two cookbooks and a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and dining editor of the Washington Post.

Hebron, 68, is a former real estate broker and retired from a 30-year career with 3rd Judicial Court as a manager for the Friend of the Court.

She works for the nonprofit North End Christian Community Development Corporation in Detroit. Oakland Avenue Urban Farm is a part of the organization. According to, it is dedicated to cultivating healthy foods, sustainable economies and active cultural environments.

Hebron says the farm has grown from a 20-by-20 plot started in 2009 to approximately 6 acres. It grows 30 different varieties of vegetables, 10 kinds of herbs and six varieties of fruits.

Using the fruit, Hebron and company started making a product called Afro Jam. Flavors include blueberry, pear and strawberry.

“We started the initiative about two years ago because part of the work we do is about economic development in the community. And so, the food that we grow, the fruits, the herbs and all of that, is sold at farmers markets so that we can bring revenue back to the farm to create employment opportunities for people live here."

Afro Jam is made in small batches and sold in 4-ounce jar for $4; an 8-ounce jar is $8. Oakland Avenue is currently taking holiday orders. The recipe for Afro jam is included in "America the Great," as is one for Vegetable Spaghetti.

Hebron says it’s meaningful to be in the book because of its fund-raising arm.

“It was meaningful for us to be able to be a part of that and to hopefully be instrumental in increasing the amount of funding that may come in for that, “ she says.

Saab, 28, has kept her Baklava Cheesecake recipe a secret, waiting to share it for a special cause. Because she has been a No Kid Hungry cause blogger for some time, it was absolutely something she believed in.

"Childhood hunger especially hits home as a social worker where I see it in my career all of the time," Saab says. "So I definitely wanted to be a part of combating that."

Saab says she knew right away that "America the Great" was the place to share the recipe.

The recipe, Saab says, stemmed from her audition dish for the TV show "MasterChef." She was the first Muslim woman to appear on the show.

"I wanted something that represented me so something that was like east and west fusion, and definitely I wanted something in pastry because I loved it so much," she says.

It was also because cheesecake was the first thing she learned to bake on her own.

"I bought a cookbook when I was in fourth grade at the book fair, and there was a cheesecake recipe in there. Since that time it has been my signature dessert to make."

The recipe combines combines cheesecake with a baklava-style topping.

"Flaky crisp phyllo with creamy smooth cheesecake filling is a perfect pairing," Saab says.

The addition of rose water also makes this cheesecake a standout.

"You get a really nice floral, just a scent of floral. It’s not overpowering, it’s not really strong, but its reminiscent of classic baklava. Having it in the cheesecake filling it’s a really nice touch."

Here are Saab's tips for cheesecake success:

  • Use a water bath to ensure the top doesn't crack.
  • Cool the cheesecake in the oven with the door ajar, allowing it too cool slowly, rather than having that drastic change of temperature.
  • Start with room temperature ingredients including the eggs and cream cheese.

Saab is founder of Dinner with your Muslim Neighbor. The dinners are currently on hiatus, but Saab came up with the dinner idea as a way to demystify and dispel untruths about Islam and Muslims, while also providing insight.

Of being asked to be a contributor, Saab says it's exciting to be among so many different chefs and really interesting people.

"I am honored to be alongside them for this 'America the Great' cookbook," she says. "I think it’s awesome that as a women of color and as a Muslim American that I am able to be represented as what makes America great."

Natosha's Vegetarian Spaghetti

Serves: 4 to 6 / Prep time: 2 hours (not all active time) / Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes


¼ cup olive oil
1 white onion, peeled, diced
½ teaspoon garlic powder
4 pounds tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt


1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 white onion
1 small head romanesco cauliflower
1 small head purple cauliflower
1 small head broccoli
3 carrots, peeled
1 clove garlic
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
½ cup (120 ml) water
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder


1 pound spaghetti
Chopped fresh oregano or parsley, optional

Grated or shaved Parmesan cheese (optional)

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic powder and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil, parsley, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, 1–2 hours. Keep warm.

For the vegetables, seed the bell peppers, then cut the peppers and the onion into julienne about ¼ inch wide. Cut the cauliflower and broccoli into florets 1 inch in diameter, being sure to maintain a good shape for the florets. Slice the carrots into medallions ½ inch thick and thinly slice the garlic.

Pour the olive oil into a nonstick sauté or frying pan (with a lid), place over high heat, and allow the oil to heat. Add all the vegetables (bell peppers through garlic) and sauté just until the broccoli begins to brighten, 3–5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add the water, salt and pepper to taste, and the garlic powder. Cover the pan and allow the vegetables to steam, stirring occasionally. For firm vegetables, allow them to cook for no more than 15 minutes. Once they are cooked to your preference, remove from the heat and remove the lid.

Drain off the liquid from the vegetables. While the vegetables are cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti, cook according to the package instructions, and drain.

To serve, divide the spaghetti among your serving dishes, top with the
vegetables, and finish with the sauce. Garnish with fresh herbs and/or
Parmesan cheese if desired.

From “America the Great Cookbook” edited by Joe Yonan (Weldon Owen, $40).

Baklava Cheesecake

Serves: 8 / Prep time: 1 hour / Total time: 2 hours plus cooling time

It's worth seeking out the rose water for this recipe because it adds a nice and subtle floral nuance.


2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, melted


4 packages (8 ounces each ) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tabelspoons rose water
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of salt


1 cup walnut pieces
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
12 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if frozen
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


1 cup pomegranate juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
To serve Mint leaves for garnish, optional
Candied kumquats for garnish optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, fill a baking dish with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven. This will create steam in the oven, which will keep the cheesecake from cracking.

For the crust: In a bowl stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter until evenly moistened. Using the back of a spoon or the base of a measuring cup, press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

For the filling: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and sugar on low speed until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the flour, rose water, cardamom and salt. Pour the batter into the graham cracker crust.

For the baklava topping: in a blender (preferably a high-speed blender), combine the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon and process until finely ground; Set aside.Cut the phyllo sheets into 9-inch rounds and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Place 1 sheet of phyllo down on your work surface and brush with melted
butter. Place a second sheet of phyllo on top of the first and brush with melted butter. Repeat until you have a stack of 7 sheets of phyllo. Spread the walnut filling over the top. Cover with another sheet of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat until you have used up all the phyllo.

Using a very sharp knife, score the baklava topping into equal-sized pieces (think of a pizza: one cut down the middle, a second across, until you have 8 slices). Carefully place the baklava over the top of the cheesecake, making sure to place it in the center. This is best done with the help of a second pair
of hands.

Bake the cheesecake on the middle rack above the pan of water until the center is no longer liquid, about 55 minutes. Let cool in the oven, with the oven door open, for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, then cover and refrigerate for 8 hours before serving.

For the Pomegranate Reduction: In a small pot, heat the pomegranate juice and sugar over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.To serve, garnish the cheesecake with mint leaves and candied kumquats (if using), and dot some pomegranate reduction on each serving plate.

From “America the Great Cookbook” edited by Joe Yonan (Weldon Owen, $40).

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