Every new year and at around this time, I like to prepare Muhallabiya. I don’t know if it has become a tradition as such but it is possibly the easiest and most delicious of ‘white’ deserts to make. Cooking and eating something white is meant to bring good luck to the start of a year. The only challenge of presenting Muhallabiya, repetitively, yearly is how to present it differently? There’s a brilliant blogger account that I follow on instagram; when sheikha cooks who uses this same mould for cake. So when I saw this five finger (Khamsa) hand symbol in the shops, I had to get it and try to mould my milk pudding inside it. After many attempts and half a dozen eaten bowls of pudding that didn’t exactly set, it worked.Hamsa is the hand of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima. It is the symbol of patience, loyalty, faith and resistance against difficulties. According to common belief, it tells of the Fatima’s struggle for dignity and her tough life. Thereby, purity, goodness and truth are blessed. For centuries, Fatima’s Hand has been a powerful talisman for good luck and one of the most popular amulets in the world of Islam for protection. It is hung on the walls of the house as engraving in silver or gold or it is painted in red. It is believed that a house protected by the Hand of Fatima will not catch fire.
This time round, I doubled the recipe to fill up this very large mould. I also added some honey and crushed pistachio to the top of the pudding, once it set.
My grandmother belonged to the ‘waste not want not’ generation. Quite interestingly NOW we are trying to return to that knowledge and instinct people had about recycling and wasting very little. She, like many grand parents at the time never had to worry about how much fat they’re consuming. They knew very well that their bodies needed it, that it was utilized while doing a lot of physical work or walking to places. They ate everything in season and simply found fruits and vegetables out of season to be a no go zone.
I am mentioning all this because I find it interesting that we are re learning the past and secondly because I miss my grand mother a lot. And when you miss someone, you tend to remember their simple wisdoms and the little small things that at the time went unnoticed. Those fritters I am cooking today were a snack she would usually have stacked up in the middle of her kitchen. They looked very ordinary but tasted agonisingly good. Salty, slightly caramalised and burnt around the edges-waiting to be sandwiched and devoured.These fritters are the result of coring middle eastern marrow and using the pulp the day after for frying. Marrows are from the same family of zucchini and squash but a lot milder in taste and therefore taste really good stuffed with rice, meat and spices.
Once the pulp is ready- all the water should be squeezed out using your hands. Cut them into small pieces and place aside. Grate the onion and squeeze the water out and place on tea towel to dry. Then Simply place all the ingredients in bowl including the chopped parsley, flour, eggs spices and mix with a fork ever so lightly to keep batter light. Heat vegetable oil (I use grape seed oil) and with a table spoon place a spoonful and fry on both side and drain on kitchen towel. Bon Apetit.
400g Kousa around 5 pieces (zuchini) core the pulp out.
2 table spoons parsley chopped
one large white onion grated
heaped table spoon plain flour
2 organic eggs
a pinch of all the spices (black pepper, ground cumin, ground sweet pepper, white pepper) you can add ground chili powder if you’re not giving to children
2 teaspoons salt
‘How can I blog about food when hundreds of children have been killed next door in Gaza’ has been my thought in the last few weeks. Do I acknowledge what is going on in the post and then blog about a recipe?. This is after all a food blog and I have been criticised in the past for mentioning politics in a food blog- Even though I always say this is not politics, it is Life in the Middle East. The politics we drink with our morning coffee and discuss with taxi drivers- I grew up in a home where my dad watched political analysis on TV 24/7. My dad, whom since the gulf war in 1990 till now tells me that the area is on the brink of something very big and he is very concerned. This concern has been going on for twenty four years and possibly longer. I remember how they stopped sending my younger brother to his percussian classes during the gulf war because ‘there is a war next door’. So basically there has always been a war going on next door. But to make this clear what is going on in Gaza is more of a massacre than a war.
So all this has been playing around in my head until I came across this blog ‘Life as it happens’- the author mentions that she decided to cook a dumpling of stew from the Gaza Cook book and instead of talking about death that night, she decided to talk about life; “a small reminder that the Gaza of the mainstream media is not the only Gaza; that it is a place by the sea with people who work, dream, write, cook and love”. Her blog posts all the ways one can get involved from boycotting Israeli products to sending financial aid. Here is also a link to a reliable organization that I know personally and that delivers medical assistance to children; PCRF . The idea is we act in as many ways as possible and it does not mean we don’t celebrate life or in life we comomerate the dead.
I decided to use Za’tar in my recipe today. Za’tar is a commonly used herb in the our part of the world. It is very much associated with the notion of land in Palestine. Even Palestinian Za’tar has been a source of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel issued a law in 1977, making it illegal to pick this herb in the wild. The Za’tar herb grows in abundance in Palestine and school children in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan always have it for breakfast mixed with oil or mixed with strained yogurt sandwiches. So Mana’ish was the choice of breakfast for my little daughter. I took the dough recipe from Anissa Helou and adjusted it by adding whole wheat flour to it. Then I simply added grated haloumi cheese along with the zatar paste. If I were to repeat this recipe again I would reduce the amount of whole wheat flour and increase the white, simply because I wanted it to be more fluffy and soft in texture although the former makes it into a more wholsome meal.
My photos sucked in the last few posts. I don’t know how to put it more accurately! I did not understand what was going on with the lighting, hue and tint. They were blue, yellow and all over the place. So when I heard that Jean Cazals was giving a work shop in Dubai I was more than happy to attend. The work shop was inspiring in terms of understanding how the beautiful photographs we see in books and magazines are made to look so polished. It was about styling and lighting and I really felt that Mr Cazals gave us his best tips and techniques. It was refreshing to meet other food photographers and to know that there’s a world out there that shares one’s passion and hobby..
I am still not there yet in terms of producing balanced photos. And also, at the end of the day It is food and it has to look like food and not plastic (I was shocked to know that what we see as ice cream in most food magazines is actually potatoes!!). On another note, with summer already here I wanted to do something with berries and I always remember Nigella Lawson’s Eton Mess. So I just recreated that adding more berries for color and textures. There’s no recipe per say excpet for whipping up some cream, adding icing sugar to that (minimum) crushing shop bought meringue and mixing and topping with fruits. Really delicious desert and oh so easy.
Jean Cazals in photography work shop