Hummus is usually served cold like any regular dip, but I love it on a weekend morning hot and chunky with lots of sumptuous flavours.
I was tired from a day visiting farmers, but as I listened to my friend Samer enthusiastically talking about our work, I was slowly perking up. I was sat in Samer’s lovely house in Nablus eating the plentiful delicious dishes his wife had cooked for us with the soft chatter and banging from his three children in the next room. Samer’s passion for story-telling and the charming way he giggles as he talks was raising a smile on my face. ‘Seriously, Phoebe, you don’t understand. We literally saved the Palestinian Almond. You and me. We had a vision and we did it- hundreds of farmers thank us for that’ Samer is referring to programme we implemented with his extraordinary research to stop a pest from taking over and completely destroying all of Palestine’s almonds. The situation was so bad that almond farmers where ripping up their trees or abandoning them all together. I don’t know if he is right about our impact or my role in it, but I hope he is.
‘Halloumi!’ Otis always shouts when I ask him if he wants anything from the shops. He loves the stuff and it’s the only lone cheese he will eat. And eat it he does. Our main challenge on a Sunday morning is to stop him from eating it all at breakfast.
My mother has always told me about how the doctor who attended my birth said he had never seen a family so happy to have a baby girl- after all, in Palestine boys are highly prized and all respectable families have at least a few! Rumour has it that my father jumped so high that his head touched the ceiling, and I like to think that is true. ‘I really didn’t think I could have girls you see’, my mother confided in me as we tucked into this dish one lunch time as my new born son slept next to us in the mosses basket. After her two boys and a few miscarriages, my mother felt like she was simply a mother of boys. Strangely, I have secretly felt the same in the last two months since Rupert was born. Even though I had always had my heart set on having two boys, I do wonder if the baby I lost last year was a girl and I do hope that I will one day have one. Just like my Mama and maybe Christopher will jump high enough to touch the ceiling too.
My mother would always laugh and say ‘more for me!’ in Arabic while shaking her head at me. we would spend most Saturday mornings with a plate of these tomatoes in between us, both using warm pita bread to eat through it. Except, I would just dab my bread onto the tomatoes picking up tomato-y, garlic-y oil and eat that and my mother thought I was crazy for leaving all the actual tomatoes for her. When I look back now, I also think I was crazy as these days I pick up as much tomato as possible in my warm and fluffy bread to scoop into my mouth. Despite that, this dish was always one of my favourites and so was the time I spent with my mother eating it. Mama always liked her garlic charred and bitter and she would secretly hoard them on her side of the plate when she thought I wouldn’t notice.
This is a simple and delicious recipe. Its traditionally served as a breakfast and brunch dish, but I often cook it for supper for my two-year-old son who loves it and will devour a whole bowl. We visited my brother and his family in Jordan a few years ago when Otis was just little and he polished off half of the helping that we had ordered fir brunch. I have a feeling this recipe is one that Otis will remember his mama cooking for him on days when she was flat out of ideas and energy and I quite like that.
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.
My whole life is Palestine. My education, the jobs I have striven for, my career and my life has always been about Palestine. But my personal time, once I clock off, I have not always found it easy to engage formally. That is because I find it too hard, too tiring and too exposing. It’s hard to be detached enough from the issue to keep going when you are part of the issue. I have found it hard to find my place in the past, you know, growing up. Too afraid to bore everyone with the Palestine issue, while knowing it’s also always expected of me to talk about it.
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.