I could make ftayir myself

ftayer 1I have the recipe and all the ingredients. But preparing these little wild spinach filled pastries is one of those tasks that is more fun with a friend, and so I took the two bags of greens I’d gathered and went to visit one of my most esteemed culinary mentors, Um Malek, at her home in Kufar Manda.

In traditional local Arab cuisine, ftayir is the default application for wild spinach. The shapes and seasonings may vary, but the theme is same – a chopped spinach filling encased in savory dough. All of the cooks that I know here in the Lower Galilee prepare their ftayir in triangles. The coinciding of ftayir-making and Purim was too auspicious, and I was thrilled to have them as my three-cornered holiday treat.

I have never known anyone who is more connected to the land, the seasons and the local foods as Um Malek. For months now, she has been preparing meals for her and Abu Malek from the greens and mushrooms she gathers on her daily walks. And plenty of ftayir.

I hand over the spinach to Um Malek, which she expertly chops and seasons in one bowl; in another, she mixes the dough. Except for yeast and cumin, everything she uses – from the flour made of wheat grown and milled in Kufar Manda, to the sesame seeds, olive oil and zaatar – is locally sourced.

I could have made ftayir myself, but then I wouldn’t have sat opposite Um Malek, filling the circles of dough as she rolled them out, communicating more or less in my tentative Arabic, at peace in her company as she was in mine. It seems there is no currency to measure the value of the wild-spinach filled pastries I took home with me that evening, or the quality of grace that emanated from our hands.

chopping spinachmaking filling

A Fresh Look at Some Local Foods

I was flipping through some photographs I’d taken recently, and found these three images, all which show interesting ways that indigenous local foods are processed in Galilee Palestinian society.

This is a photograph of luf (arum palaestinum), which was collected this winter during the season it grows wild in the area around Nazareth.

drying luf

I took the picture of the leaves spread out on a white sheet on the sofa of one of the living rooms in my friend Balkees’ mother’s house in Reine. Once they are completely dry – a process that could take at least a month, depending on how damp the winter is – they will be crumbled into a powder and put into capsules. This medication is being prepared for a family member who has colon cancer.

For more posts about luf, see here and here.

And here is a dish of habissa – a sort of pudding dessert made from carob syrup.

habissa

It was served after this exceptionally delicious meal I was fortunate to share with my friends Um and Abu Malek in Kufar Manda, where everything was fresh, locally grown and lovingly prepared.

meal in k manda

We had lubiya (fresh black-eyed peas), which Um Malek grew herself in the fields of the Batof (Bet Netufa Valley), and sautéed hubeisa (wild mallow), which she had collected on her daily early-morning walk. The pickles she had home-cured and the braised meat and leben (yoghurt) were also locally sourced.

Habissa, like another Kufar Manda specialty, malukhiya (jute), is an acquired taste. At this point, I am genuinely delighted to see either one of them set in front of me. The habissa that Um Malek served she had prepared using the carob syrup that she made a few months ago (see post). Habissa originates in a time that both Abu Malek and Um Malek can remember, when carob syrup was one of the few sweeteners available in a rural cuisine that depended almost entirely on locally grown products.

Green Black-Eyed Peas – Post 101

fresh lubiyaAfter 100 posts on the original Galilee Seasonality blog, this post number 101 launches a new blog/website I created to bring together my writing in all its formats.  Hopefully the transition has been seamless for followers of my blog, and I apologize if there have been any duplicate postings…

Putting the finishing touches on the new site, I was reminded that this is, after all, a culinary notebook, and that it has been some time since I posted a recipe.   I am assuming that most readers are familiar with black-eyed peas in their dried form, but how many of you have ever had fresh black-eyed peas, or even seen them in their pods?

Known as “lubiya” in Arabic and Hebrew, black-eyed peas have a long and prolific growing season, and are eaten in Arab homes in the Galilee from spring through fall.   My friend and mentor, Um Malek, grows lubiya near her home, on a small plot of land in the Batof – Bet Netufa Valley.  On a recent visit, she gave me a bag of freshly picked lubiya to take home (since Um Malek never lets me leave empty handed, I came prepared with a jar of our new olives for her from this year’s harvest).  Here is a recipe for lubiya from my other culinary mentor, Balkees Abu Rabiya.

shelling lubiya

Balkees’ Lubiya

About 500 grams (1 pound) fresh lubiya

1 onion chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Clean the lubiya and shell.  The large, tough pods should be opened and only the peas inside collected.  The smaller, more tender pods are broken into small pieces the size of each pea.  Soak the shelled peas (and pods) in water for about 1/2 hour to soften.  Meantime, saute the onion in the olive oil till transparent.  Add the drained lubiya and cook, stirring, until they stop producing liquid.  Then add the tomatoes and a bit of water if the mixture is too dry.  Cook for about 20 minutes until everything is soft and stewy.  Season with salt and enjoy with fresh pita bread. lubiyacooked lubiya