Old Friends – New Setting

To everything there is a season.  And now it is summer and I am in Washington, DC, with much to engage my forager’s eye – from the yards of beautiful homes whose considerate landscapers planted herbs as part of their design scheme, to the honeysuckle covering fences, there for the sipping.

Fortuitously, my sister Jocelyn invited me to dinner at the home of a friend whose house is surrounded by an expansive organic garden.  As our host walked us through the chaotic bazaar of summer bounty, I had several happy encounters with the East Coast relatives of some old friends.  A patch of purslane which had taken root in an old pot attested to life in a climate where water can be counted on to come from the sky. Back in the summer-parched Galilee, you would never find purslane that isn’t hugging a water spigot or irrigation pipe.

Knowing my interest in edible wild plants, our host showed me this plant and asked if I knew what it was.

duck's foot

Lamb quarters, he explained.  Also known as duck’s foot.

I don’t know what a lamb’s quarter looks like, but the duck’s foot is a dead giveaway. And there they were, the same webbed feet, just more lush and verdant than their Galilee cousin.  Even more delightful was to meet that ducks foot again at the dinner table, prepared as wild greens like best – sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with a little salt.

And these cheery blue chicory flowers I’d recognize anywhere – even mid-summer on busy Connecticut Avenue.



Follow-up to “Foot in the Garden and Some Words about Mark

Since my last post, I’ve been edified on the matter of the farfahina that I found in the Wadi Nisnas market.   My esteemed friend Mark Rubin, who is very wise on matters of local foods, informed me that it’s English name is purslane and it commonly grows on the East Coast of the US.  Not only is it edible, but it is a preferred food of chickens, who enjoy the high moisture content in its succulent leaves.  I personally observed this on a visit to Mark’s home/garden/goat farm where he reached down into the garden, pulled up a vast Medusa-head of it and gave it to me to toss to the chickens in his chicken coop, who pounced on and devoured it.  

The occasion for visiting Mark was to try out a culinary tour at his farm – I was there with a lovely family from my old neighborhood of Chevy Chase – mother and three children.  We got to Mark’s at about 6 in the evening and immediately set to work making bread dough – using Mark’s untried innovation of mixing spelt, rye and whole wheat flours, with sourdough starter.  Then we continued on to the chicken coop and collected four warm eggs, and down to the garden, where we picked tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and green onion – then we built a fire and roasted wheat kernels to snack on, and sesame seeds to grind in a mortar and pestle to make tehina.  Then everyone helped Mark milk the goats and from the milk, made goat cheese.   

This kind of experience, and the food that comes out of it, goes way beyond gastronomy.  The senses are delighted – no doubt.  But in fact, it’s a true feast for the spirit.  Mark has a magical way with children, animals and food, and I’m blessed by his, and his equally talented wife Amira’s friendship.

“Foot of the Garden”

This week Ron and I decided to take the Friday morning shopping ritual beyond the usual parameters, and after picking up our pal Miriam, we set off for Haifa.  Our first stop was the Hadar district – the city’s seamy, grimy paunch – and its Talpiot Market.  We’d all been to the market’s outdoor stalls at some point, but there was a whole inside market that we wanted to investigate. 

By 9:30 it was already brutally hot, and not much cooler in the cavernous market where the shoppers were packing the aisles shoulder to shoulder reaching over piles of summer fruit, ignoring the raucous shouts of the stall-masters.  There were many Russians and a number of Asian foreign workers – both signs that the prices here should be good.  We bought plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, “baladi” (not hothouse raised) cucumbers, purple basil, mint and parsley, cherries and peaches, then ascended out of the market buzz, back to the car and on to our next stop.

Wadi Nisnas is the small and lovely Arab neighborhood in downtown Haifa – it has a quiet, village feel to it and a small market on an entirely different scale and tenor than Talpiot.  At this point our energy level was dipping, so we stopped at Nadima’s outdoor eatery – a little corner with a few tables and several pots on portable gas burners.  The delicious fresh hummus, okra in tomato sauce, mejadra and stuffed zucchini revived us and we continued on to explore the market. 

farfahina manOn a makeshift table, next to a crate of braided garlic bunches, I spotted a box holding a green plant I’d never seen before – which I suspected had to be something wild.  The stand owner explained that this is farfahina – or “regel hagina” (the foot of the garden) in Hebrew.  It had thick stems like a succulent, and small leaves that were fresh and delicious, with a slightly sour taste. The owner, who turns out to be a Bedouin from Ibtin, a village not far from us, told us that he gathers it at the edges of the fields, where there is irrigation.  He instructed me how to cook it – chopped finely, together with onion and tomato.  I am going to prepare it tonight for dinner.

farfahina 2