‘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
“Need is the mother of all inventions” or so the saying goes in Arabic. Mujadara is not a one pot dish normally. But at the moment my life is far from normal. With no help with my little one, my time can’t absorb excessive cooking or washing up so decided to cut some corners. Once again this dish has many themes and variations, in fact many names too, as most dishes in the Middle East do. But if you only have a few items in your pantry i.e brown lentils and rice, this is ideal.
What makes Mujadara taste savory and really good is the slivers of fried onions that any respectable arabic cook adds as a garnish to this rice dish. I did not have the luxury of time to do so, nor to be honest, want the extra calories added (although is totally delicious). I cooked everything in the one pot you see above. So in order to get some of that delicious friend onion feel, I fried the onion in the oil at the start and added salt and let it all caramalise for ten minutes. They wont really burn or darken as there is salt in there. Once the onion cooked well and caramalised on medium heat, I added the washed lentils and fried everything for 3 minutes ensuring you don’t break the lentils. I added 4 cups of water and half of all the spices above (i use the rest to season the rice before I fry with the lentils). Please add or reduce the spices as you see fit. Let the lentils cook on gentle boil for ten minutes until they are al dente. Meanwhile, wash the rice thoroughly and season with the spices above and drop into the water and lentils and cook everything for another 12 minutes. I like to cover the lid with kitchen towel as it keeps the steam in. I like to serve Mujadara with yogurt and a small side salad. Bon appetite.
- 1 cup green lentils
- 1 cup bismati rice
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 2 table mixed vegetable and extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp Chicken bouillon powder
- 1.5 tble spoon sea salt plus another tsp for frying onions
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 mixed spice
- 1/2 black pepper
- a pinch of crushed mystic spice
- 1/4 sweet pepper powder
I don’t know if I ever told you that I am a picky eater. I am so picky that when we are out at a restaurant and a waiter is taking orders, my other half warns that this is going to take a while and if a pen and paper are pulled out it’ll be handy!. I don’t eat red meat and haven’t been for twenty years but will eat white meat anyday. I don’t like Shitake Mushroms, Baby Corn or Pok Choy, I don’t care for mussels or any kind of shellfish and the list goes on.. I guess that’s why I can never become a food critic. This is all to explain that when I do stumble upon a recipe I like, I know that it is going to be for life.
I would also say that my menu choice at home is quite rotational. There are some dishes that I’ll cook twice a month. You can call me boring, it’s just the way it is. I can’t for the life of me remember how this stuffed peppers recipe came to life.. I just remember that I decided one day that peppers needed to be stuffed with wild rice, cheese, walnuts, olives and parsley.
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