Hilbeh means fenugreek in Arabic. My first memory of making this cake was actually in the UK shortly after we moved here. My mum had brought a jar of fenugreek with her from the Middle East and I remember sitting in our sunny dining room sifting through a tray of the seeds to remove any chaff and small stones. You don’t really need to do that anymore, with modern agricultural food practices. Fenugreek came crashing back into my life in a big way three years ago when I struggled to establish breastfeeding with my eldest son, as fenugreek is supposed to support milk production. And eating this cake was certainly no hardship!
My favourite thing about these little buttery, crumbly, fragrant cookies is actually the look on my Mama’s face when she talks about them. She closes her eyes and says ‘hmmmm. They would melt in your mouth. Literally melt in your mouth’ and she talks about her mother’s Ghraiba. Teta shafika was a pro at making these, whipping them up in no time and perfectly shaping them every time. The last time I made these, my mother walked into the kitchen just as I was about to shape the cookies and she told me that her mother always shaped them into S’s, so I decided to do the same and I think I always will now…
One of my most enduring memories growing up was eating hot semolina with honey on cold mornings before school with a lit candle on the table. My mum used to make it almost every day in the winter and now eating semolina takes me right back there. This recipe uses the semolina in a cake, another big hit from my childhood.
Growing up in the Middle East in the 80s and 90s there wasn’t really a wide selection of cheeses. It was really just goat and sheep cheese. Wonderful, salty, white cheeses that just begged for nigella seeds and warm bread to be eaten with. That is why this recipe is so delicious, it has them all in one perfect mouthful. This recipe is my favourite to eat and also my favourite to make for parties as people always gasp when they see them and say ‘wow!’ when they eat them which is the exact reaction you want from your party guests.
I especially like to make these in advent when having guests over to celebrate Christmas. Read More
My brothers and I sometimes share photos with each other –in disbelief- of my mother’s shopping basket which can have up to nine different types of bread in it. It’s not her fault she says, its simply in the blood. Palestinians do love their bread. And so when mama woke from her afternoon nap the other day she was delighted to see that I had used the rare hour that I managed to get both boys to nap together to make some bread.
I made these for a casual dinner most recently as Christopher was working away and Otis, mama and I wanted something we could eat while watching a film. As soon as Otis saw them he started squealing ‘pitzy! pitzy!’, and I suppose they are a bit like Pizzas; Palestinian pizzas. Christopher even took some left-overs to work for lunch a few days later, so they are very versatile.
Aladdin and Jasmine, lime and mint, Arafat and the Khuffiah are just a few examples of perfect marriages to come out of the Middle East, but none more perfect that nigella seeds and white cheese. This is such a perfect combination that I like to serve it for as many people as possible, especially as most people here in the UK haven’t experienced this perfect union.
These Zataar Fatayir are the perfect breakfast. They are perfect silken layers of soft bread, sweet onions and flavourful zataar. Large enough to really fill you up for the day and convenient enough to chomp on while reading the news and sipping your sweet minty tea.
This is my favourite light lunch. I remember when I was little my mother would make an unimaginable amount of dough in a huge washing-up bowl and spend the day making Zataar Manaqish and Laham wa Ajeen.
‘Yahktee!’ Otis yells for the fourth time at the top of his voice. He has taken to calling my Mama Yakhtee (Arabic colloquial for ‘my sister’) after he heard her using the term for me one day at the supermarket. It always makes us giggle. It also makes me smile with pride as out of about 50 words he can now say, it is one of only about five Arabic words he says. I always just took it for granted that my children would be bi-lingual like I am, but it’s actually harder than I thought to keep the Arabic dominant here in Buckinghamshire. It’s just another way in which my heritage seems to be slipping away from me. Being away from Palestine, I feel like the main thing I can hand down to my son is our stories, our food and our language. It feels so important to me.