Every summer growing up, my mother was sent to stay with her Aunt Rifkah in Taybeh (yes, the same Taybeh that makes he delicious beer…. and the one Jesus stayed in). She says that her aunt would wake up in the early hours of the morning to make fresh pita bread. she would then wake up her rabble of visiting nieces and nephews and as the sun began to rise they would all set off down the road out of town to my Aunt’s lands. Once there they would be put to work climbing fig trees to collect the fruit and collecting vine leaves from the grape vines that used to snake along the floor- a traditional practice which decades later i would be training women how to build frames to grow their grapes along! (life can be so odd…..) . After a good few hours of work in the sun, Rifkah would unload a basket that she can carried on her head and out would come the freshly made pita breads, boiled eggs, freshly made cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers, zayt and za’atar; in the shade of the trees protecting them from the hotting sun, they would have their breakfast.Read More
In Jerusalem, street corners are bustling with street sellers who have wooden carts piled high with Ka’ak. You can stop by or call out of your car for the Ka’ak, baked eggs, falafel and tiny parcels made of old Arabic newspapers willed with salt or za’atar. they call out that they have fresh ka’ak and are usually sold out before the morning is done. It makes a pretty perfect breakfast. In Palestine, people get to work extremely early in the morning and then stop for breakfast with their colleagues in the office kitchen at about 9am and its oven ka’ak with a selection of cheese, vegetables, yoghurt, hummus and falafel enjoyed with hot sweet minty tea.Read More
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.