More Kar’eeya, AKA baba ghannouj

My mom arrived to Palestine just in time for the long fasting days of Ramadan. It has been hot, but I dared to turn on the oven to roast a chicken and seasonal vegetables for my mom’s homecoming. I squeezed the long, slender Battiri eggplants alongside the chicken roast in preparation for another meal or snack. In the summer, I try to cook as many meals as I can in one shot when resorting to using the oven.

“I’m going to make baba ghannouj with those roasted egg plants,” I explained to my mom.

My mother replied, “You mean kar’eeya?”

In my mom’s falahee (peasant) vocabulary, all pureed vegetable dips are kar’eeya. The summer zucchini roasted and pureed with garlic, olive oil, lemon and plain yogurt is kar’eeya. And the eggplant roasted and pureed with tahini, garlic, lemon and olive oil is kar’eeya. A fellow hiker questioned the use of the term kar’eeya. Kar’eeya is derived from the root, Kara’, which is pumpkin. So in fact, the summer zucchini puree should be called kus’eeya since summer zuchhini is kusa in Arabic. While the eggplant puree should be called bait enjaniya. Nonetheless, it seems that the fellaheen from my mother’s time refer to them all as kar’eeya. And the city folk use their own terminology referring to the eggplant puree as baba ghannouj.

Kar’eeya (baba ghannouj)
2 large or 4 medium eggplant
1 garlic head
3 tablespoons tahini
juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper for taste

Roast the eggplant and garlic in olive oil and salt in oven at 200 degrees Celsius for one hour. Allow to cool. In a food processor, combine roasted eggplant, roasted garlic (squeeze the garlic out of the skin), and the remaining ingredients. Puree into a smooth dip. Refrigerate. This eggplant puree is great on toast or in a sandwich. You can eat it as a cold summer time side dish. Adjust the tahini and olive oil to your preferred taste.

Do you have a favorite summer time vegetable puree? Please share in the comment section.

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my recent trip to World Heritage Site, Battir

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kar’eeya

Kar’eeya (zucchini spread)

My mom always made kar’eeya every summer when there was an abundance of summer squash. She would sauté the zucchini in a bit of olive oil and salt and blend it with tons of raw garlic. I cringed at the sharp pungent flavor of raw garlic. I realize this must be blasphemy for some foodies out there, but I prefer the softer flavor of garlic after roasting in olive oil and salt.

Here is my version of ker’eeya. I use it as a dip or a side dish. It’s cool and refreshing for Palestine’s hot summer.

Kar’eeya

6 small or 3 medium sized zucchini, sliced in half/length wise

1 head of garlic

3 tablespoons of olive oil

salt for taste

½ cup plain yogurt

Mix first four ingredients in medium pan, cover with foil, and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for approximately one hour. Allow to cool. In your blender or food processor, squeeze the garlic from its skin and add the roasted zucchini and blend. Stir in the plain yogurt. Refrigerate. Eat as a dip or a spread in your sandwich, or as a side dish.

Simple and refreshing.

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caper time again

Its caper-picking season in May and early June in Palestine. Capers grow all over Palestine as a wild and persistent ‘weed’. While you can venture out to the mountainside to forage for capers, you can also find them near by along the roadside coming out of cracks in stonewalls.   Last year, I wrote a piece on wild capers for This Week in Palestine. The link is below:

http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=4049&ed=220&edid=220

This year, after doing a bit of research online, I have decided to preserve my capers through the salting method instead of the brining method. Rather than tarnish my capers with a brine that will impose a vinegary smell, the salting method will maintain their floral essence.

How to preserve capers by salting:

1. Place your capers in a bowl and cover with water for two days, changing the water each day.

2. Drain the water.

3. Add sea salt to the capers and mix.

4. Allow to sit for 24 hours.

5. Drain any liquid that results from the capers and the sea salt.

6. Add more sea salt to the capers and mix.

7. Allow to sit for 24 hours.

8. Drain liquid.

9. Repeat the salting and the draining of the liquid for one week or until there is no liquid.

10. Place in glass jars and seal.

Capers should be ready to eat in one month.

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backyard chickens – are they worth it?

I’ve had my three baladi Palestinian chickens and one rooster for a few weeks. I’m enjoying getting 5-6 eggs each week. I got 9 eggs the first week. This was easy, right? I feed them twice a day and make sure they have clean water and I get an egg or two on most days. Not a bad deal. The carpenter who built my chicken coop told me to keep the chickens in their coop for a full week. They need to learn that this is their home and their food source, he explained. Otherwise, they may fly away and not come back. Thank God my carpenter is also a fallahee.

After having my chickens for one week plus one day, I decided to let them out. After a few minutes of hesitation, they hopped out and flew over the chicken wire and over my cement wall. I ran after them but they were small and much quicker. They hid under the branches. I was too big to get under those branches. And they flew way up high. I did not know chickens could fly. It took me five hours to get all four birds back into the coop. I caught two during the first two hours. The other two flew away and I thought that I would never see them again. But when I came back at sunset after giving my dog his walk, the two fugitive birds had returned. I found them waiting at their coop wanting to go in and join the other two. I was exhausted but comforted that my chicken family was back together.

Lesson learned – baladi chickens wander off during the day, but they always come home just before sunset. I’ve let my birds out several times after that day, and they have always come back to snuggle in their coop before dark.

So is all this work worth it for a few free-range eggs? Definitely. Eggs produced by free-range (semi-free range in my case) chickens that eat food scraps including vegetables and fruit are delicious. So far, I have eaten the eggs hard-boiled, soft-boiled, poached, and just tonight –fried with the yolk in place.

Poached

The first time I had a poached egg, I was in Lyon, France, the culinary capital of the world. They served a poached egg on top of the salad. As soon as you stick your fork in the egg, the warm creamy yolk pours all over the salad. Poaching an egg is extremely simple. In a small pan, gently crack an egg into boiling water and allow to cook for 2 minutes. I topped my purslane salad with two poached eggs.

Fried

In my cast iron pan, I heated olive oil over low heat and added a cup of chopped chard and kale from my garden. I allowed the greens to cook for a few minutes, stirring periodically. I then cracked two eggs over the greens, mixing the whites, but leaving the yolk in place. I sprinkled sea salt over the yolks. Once the egg whites were cooked, I gently scooped the greens and eggs onto my plate and immediately (while still standing at the kitchen counter) dunk my sour dough toast into the yolk.

Pure bliss!

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Mahshi

My mother scolded me every time I poked a hole in the kusa (zucchini). She chided me when I didn’t scrape enough of the insides of the kusa. I hated helping with the tedious preparation of mahshi (stuffed zucchini). I wasn’t good at it. But my mother forced me to help her.

The process was grueling.

  1. Remove the top stump from the kusa.
  2. Carefully scrape out the inner flesh of the kusa only leaving the outer shell.
  3. Soak the kusa shells in salt water.
  4. Prepare a spiced rice and ground meat mixture.
  5. Fill each kusa shell with the rice/meat mixture leaving a bit of empty space at the top for the rice to expand.
  6. Line a large pot with slices of lemon, and carefully stack the stuffed kusa in the pot. Stack so as to prevent any possible movement of the stuffed kusa while cooking.
  7. Fill the pot with water and tomato sauce covering all the stuffed kusa.
  8. Cook on the stovetop on medium to low heat for about two to two and half hours or until liquid is evaporated.

Scraping out all the flesh without poking a hole at the bottom was nearly impossible for me. My frustrated mother would ask me to watch her as if that would guide me to do it the right way.

I love mahshi, but I have been traumatized. I’ve ignored this dish from my cooking repertoire for over 20 years. But I cannot ignore it any longer, especially when all the fallahat (peasant women) are selling their petite baladi kusa at the market. I bought a couple of kilos from a fallaha wearing the traditional embroidered dress of the Ramallah area. Making mahshi is not so painful anymore since I have created my own ground rules.

My Ground Rules for Mahshi Preparation:

  1. Select the medium sized kusa. They are much easier to scrape out than the small ones.
  2. Slow and steady prevents poking a hole. Remove the insides starting at the top and slowly working your way down to the bottom.
  3. It’s ok to leave some of the insides in the kusa. Fiber. No need to leave a completely hollow shell.
  4. If you poke a hole, so what. I still poke holes in a few of my kusa. I still stuff them and cook them. And once their cooked, I can’t even tell which ones had the holes.

The process is still tedious, but less painful. And if you have good music or a podcast playing, the process may actually be enjoyable.

If you do decide to make mahshi, don’t throw away the insides. Save them in the fridge. I use the insides to make a kusa omelet or a stir fry or the traditional kusa and bandoora (tamato) sauté mix. I give some to my chickens. Add some fresh herbs when cooking the kusa insides. I’ve discovered that dill is especially delicious with kusa.

 

 

 

 

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Stuffed Grape Leaves

I finally did it. I made stuffed grape leaves. Despite the tedious monotony of rolling every individual grape leaf, I’ve learned to enjoy the process. My friend told me that women would gather to gossip as they rolled the grape leaves creating a fun atmosphere. But I loathe large female gossiping assemblies. I prefer to spend my evenings in quiet solitude. So when I prepared myself to stuff and roll the grape leaves (I was desperately craving them!), I decided to listen to my favorite podcasts. Within one hour, I listened to a full podcast, managed to roll enough grape leaves to fill half a pot (enough for a week), and surprisingly emerged in a relaxed state of mind. Since it is grape leaf picking season, I’ve already prepared two batches of stuffed grape leaves over the last two weeks. Both times, I rolled while standing at the kitchen counter listening to my favorite podcasts. And both times left me in a state of calm. The boring repetitive motion of laying the grape leaf flat on a plate, placing a bit of the rice/meat/spice mixture in the center of the leaf, and rolling it up like a cigar lends itself to a feeling of accomplishment and relaxation. As a teenager, I was impatient. My mother would stare as I stuffed and rolled complaining that my stuffed grape leaves were too big or too loose. Did it really matter? As an adult, I use the grape leaf stuffing exercise to catch up on my podcasts and ‘me’ time.

My Nostalgia while Picking the Grape Leaves

I picked my own grape leaves from the remnants that still remain from my grandfather’s vineyard. I’m not sure when my grandfather decided to transform the vineyard to an olive tree orchard. He died in 1968 so I never got to meet him. But my mom told me that the entire hillside was full of grapevines. The olive trees came later. She explained that my grandfather and his sister would harvest the grapes and take them by foot and donkey to sell by the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. A friend told me that a disease hit the grapevines sometime in the 1950’s. My grandfather must have lost a fortune and decided to transform his livelihood into a safer harvest.

As I picked the grape leaves, I thought of my grandfather. Even though I never met him, we were connected through this land. As he picked and harvested over fifty years ago, I am picking and harvesting today.

As I picked the grape leaves, I also thought of my mother who moved to the States in 1972 after marrying my father. She longed for her peasant life in Palestine. She longed to harvest the end of summer bounties in the mountains and hills of Al Sbahiya (called Sateh Marhaba today). But she found herself in a working class suburb of DC living in a two bedroom apartment. I was surrounded by walls, she would tell my sister and me. On occasion, my mom would find wild grapevines growing on the sides of streets or in public parks. She packed her bra with plastic bags and dragged my sister and me to help. I was so embarrassed as passers by stared at the foreign lady in her foreign Palestinian embroidered dress. The women of Al Beirh take pride in their traditional dress and my mom continued to wear her thob (traditional dress) in the US. My fallaha (peasant) mother never assimilated in urban America.

As I picked the grape leaves of my grandfather’s past vineyard, I chuckled as I remembered the time my mom stepped in poison ivy while picking from a grape vine in a public park. We don’t have poison ivy in Palestine. But there was plenty in the US as my mom learned the hard and itchy lesson. My mom suffered for weeks as she lathered ointment on her feet and ankles. The continuous feeling of itch made her moan. My sister and I could not help but giggle at my poor mom’s misery. We were relieved that there would be no more grape leaf picking…at least for a while.

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