I finally picked the last of my winter garden bounty last weekend. Onions plucked out of the ground. And fresh green chick peas along with their mother stem yanked from the earth. The chick peas make a good snack, better than a bag of chips, shell and stem biodegradable, unlike the aluminum packaging of a bag of chips. Good food shouldn’t have to come in a package or a bag, right.
I love winter gardens in Palestine. Just plant and wait. The winter cold and rain is all that is needed for Palestine’s winter garden. And for a lazy farmer/gardener such as my self, a winter garden is heaven. Summer gardens are nice with their vine ripe tomatoes, okra, and zucchini, but they are so high maintenance. You have to water, and you have to do it frequently.
Of course, there is the baali summer garden. No irrigation is needed. Local, baladi seeds are planted at the right moment and left to grow and develop under the sun. The traditional Palestinian peasants still produce summer harvests in the old baali methodology, but I have not figured out the right equation to make this work for me. I planted tomatoes for my aunt on my first spring in Palestine. But then summer encroached, with all of its side effects including increased withholding of our water resources by the Israeli Occupation. No water to bathe, let alone to water the tomato plants. The tomatoes died.
My winter garden was full of flavor. Arugula, spinach and radish for wonderful winter salads. Potatoes and broccoli for soups, stews, and stir fries. And ground and body nutrifying fava beans (foul), chick peas, and peas. Palestinians have historically planted these three in the winter in order to build the soil for the summer garden. Our ancestors cared for our land, respecting its limits to ensure annual production. This is in stark contrast to the practices of some farmers today who use plastic green houses and chemical pesticides to produce the same two to three vegetables all year long, destroying their land in the process. This trio is considered nitrogen fixators. A friend of mine refers to it as ‘green manure’. (for more information, see http://www.soilhealth.com/soils-are-alive/how-do-soil-organisms-affect-plants/p-03.htm ). In my five years in Palestine, I’ve grown to cherish these simple nitrogen fixators. Harvested in the spring, they provide a melody of green and warm before the summer yield.
(green foul photos courtesy of Vivien Sansour)
Although most Palestinians eat foul, along with hummos and falafel for breakfast, I have never been a major fan of foul. The dried broad bean is soaked, cooked, and smashed into a dip with lemon, garlic, and olive oil and then served with bread. It’s bitter and dense, and after eating with hummos and falafel, most diners are in a comatose state. But then I tried the fresh foul, green fava beans, from my garden… The spring offering from my winter garden has given me an opportunity to prepare traditional as well as new dishes. I’ve also tucked a few bags in the freezer for a later craving.
I’ve been experimenting with my green harvest. One evening, I sautéed ground meat with foul and potatoes, and smothered them with my favorite Indian spices. Another week, I went vegetarian and combined peas and freekah, green cracked wheat, cooked over medium heat and mixed in a bit of tomato paste and chana masala spices, and stirred periodically until the water was absorbed. And then Amineh, one of our master chefs at the Majhoul restaurant, taught me to make maqloubeh, a Palestinian stove top casserole served up side down, using foul as the star vegetable instead of the typical cauliflower or eggplant. Free range eggs are also in abundance during this time of year. I take advantage of these delicious, smaller in size eggs, with larger more pronounced yolks to feast on omelets. Simply sauté potatoes and peas and add the egg mixture to create the most satisfying breakfast or lunch or dinner.
After a rainy and cold winter, Palestine’s Spring rewards those who are patient.