‘I remember all the family coming over on Christmas eve and gathering around a small fire in the middle of the room, my uncles roasting apples, nuts and eggs on the open flames and my mother, grandmother and aunts telling us kids the story of the nativity and giving us chocolates’, mama beams as she recalls the Christmases of her childhood in the old city of Jerusalem in Palestine. ‘We didn’t have presents, just new clothes to wear for church and lots of delicious food; everything you could imagine and at the centre a glorious stuffed chicken filled with meat, spices, rice and nuts’
Growing up, Mahshi kousa was by far my favourite mahshi. I think that warak inab and beitinjan might have slightly edged ahead now, but growing up that soft, sweet courgette flesh around delicious spiced rice and meat was undeniably my favourite. Almost 3 years ago when Otis was about 7 months old, we went to visit my mother who had made up a huge pot of mahshi kousa for her first born grandchild. I thought he was way too young, but she put one in his hand and he went n to eat three whole courgettes! Otis shares so many of my tastes so I shouldn’t be too surprised. It won’t be long until we are giving Rupert his mahshi.
Kubbe is Christmas. Growing up, I always knew that Christmas was around the corner when my mother starter frying up these glorious crispy bulgar bites stuffed with spiced beef and nuts. Mama would fry them up in the hundred during the autumn and freeze them in bags of 12 so that we could slowly work through them over advent, Christmas and New Year. Each family has its own Christmas day traditions, and ours included eating these kubbe for breakfast around the tree with tea while we slowly opened all our presents.
This dish is so beautiful and so delicious that it is a great dish to serve with your show-stopper for a special occasion. The jeweled rice always impresses and it reminds me of Christmases of my childhood. I would often only eat this dish… with lots of yoghurt.
Mama blinked back tears, swallowed hard and nodded. ‘Really?’ I questioned ‘It’s today? 22 years since Teta died today?’ She nodded again. It has always moved me that even in your 70s you can love and miss and cry for your mother so much; an unbreakable bond.
I was in a small cramped kitchen in a refugee camp near Bethlehem with the director of the YMCA and a Palestinian refugee woman called Nisreen. We were talking about a project that we were setting up to try to help women increase their incomes and we were looking for ways for her to get involved. ‘I don’t know’, Nisreen said ‘I already have a very good business. Everyone comes to me because they know I make the best maftool’. From what we knew that was true and it was exactly why we wanted her to have a lead role in the maftool cooperative that we hoped would supply some big companies in Palestine.
When you are out and about in Palestine, there are really only two options for fast food; falafel or Shawarma. And I will nearly always choose Shawarma. One of my favourite things about a busy day visiting projects and communities is that there is usually only time to pick up a sandwich to eat in the car between visits. Shawarma wraps are a real guilty pleasure of mine- fast food at its delicious best!
One of my favourite things about Palestinian cooking is the amazing way that we flavour, spice and marinade meats. Fragrant, deep, sometimes sweet nearly always with both paprika and cinnamon it tastes beautifully complex and so utterly delicious. And this is exactly how we prepare the meat in this salad. I know, it’s not really a salad is it? I think we have always called is a salad because once we griddle the component parts, we toss them all together and then put it on the table for everyone to help themselves just like a salad. We eat a lot like this when its warm in the summer (you will have read recently how I go on cooking strike if the mercury goes over 25c!), when you don’t want a heavy meal but want more than just a cold salad.
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.
My mama and I always smile at each other when we cook this dish as my husband loves it and always complements us on how delicious it is. This is despite the fact that the dish is packed full of parsley and Christopher insists that he absolutely hates the stuff….