I hate to write this, but I always used to struggle visiting with distant relatives- apart from the wonderful maza always laid out. I was always so shy and felt so awkward having to be on best behavior, listening to endless stories about people I didn’t know and unable to keep track of how we were all related; Mama’s cousins, and cousins cousins and uncles etc. all the generations mixed in age but the custom to marry young and having seemingly endless children. along with the endless jokes and laughter was the inevitable anger and theorizing about the political situation in Palestine, Mama’s family are all well educated and politically active and so everyone has to say their bit- always followed by a pitiful silence of regret, fear and sadness that even now fills me with dread.
the one exception to this rule, was when we visited my mum’s cousin and his wife, in Zarka, Jordan. Uncle Jacoub- as I knew him- was fun and loving and laid back. he had a sofa outside under his vine leaves where he would sit in the shade and watch Arab soap operas on the TV while his lovely wife brought out food and drinks. Uncle yacoub loved his rice and always piled his plate high. i think of him on warm days when we pile this lovely rice salad onto a serving dish.
large handful of green beans, washed and trimmed
4 large plump on-vine tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 nest of vermicelli
1 cup of basmati rice
extra virgin olive oil
cook the rice by soaking and rinsing it in cold water. in a saucepan add some olive oil and the vermicelli stirring its and crushing it down into small pieces until it becomes dark brown. quickly add the rice here and stir through before adding 2 cups of water and a big pinch of salt. bring to the boil while uncovered, then reduce the heat and put a lid on the pan. the rice will cook in about 13-20 minutes. to check if the rice is cooked, press the handle of a wooden spoon into the rice until it gets to the bottom of the pan and check for liquid or excess moisture. once it is dry, turn the heat off and leave to cool completely.
now make the tomato and green bean sauce. steam the green beans until soft but al dente. peel the tomatoes but scoring crosses in them and covering with boiling water for 10 minutes. the skin will then easily peel off. chop the tomatoes and add with the garlic to olive oil in a frying pan. Add all the spices, tomato puree and salt as well as the cooked green beans and allow it to cook down to a thick and rich sauce. leave to one side to coll down completely.
just before you are ready to eat combine two together thoroughly and pile high on a serving plate. When we serve this at BBQs, its often the favorite dish, even ahead of the BBQ meats.