◊ your fault

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Dear mom,

It’s been awhile. I’ve avoided writing because talking about myself right now feels boring and pointless. This is the longest I’ve neglected our blog in almost 5 years.

It’s a shame. I’m cooking all the time and have a lot to share with you. In October, Natasha and I planned a seminar for our group about resources in Gaza and hired a Gazan chef to do a cooking demo for us. She taught us how to make stuffed spinach pastries and a lentil stew with pomegranate juice.

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Samah, the mom of the family downstairs, constantly shows me new tricks. The coolest thing in her fridge is a hard, dry yogurt ball. She dissolves pieces of it into hot Cauliflower stew. Also pre-hollowed vegetables! They’re sold everywhere in the Old City. When I came home with a kilo of cored carrots a few weeks ago, Samah gave me a brick of tamarind and showed me how to make it into paste. I boiled stuffed turnips and carrots in it. Earlier this week, guys at a bakery across the street invited me to make pastries filled with date mash. The bakers call them kaak al ajwe or “bagels with dates,” depending on who they’re talking to. The kaak looks like puffy yellow flowers. It doesn’t taste good.

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2 kinds of kaak on the floor

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Samah’s fried eggplant

I’m doing other stuff too. My group regularly meets to talk about things like leadership, communication, being Jewish, personal growth. People cry a lot. My advisor is making me sing and act to help me get over my shit. In our first singing session he said I wasn’t tone-deaf and I was like what! I lip synced through four years of high school choir. So I confronted you about it over the phone. I will remind you of that convo.

I asked you why I’ve identified as tone-deaf since as long as I can remember, and you said I was never tone-deaf… That you and dad are the ones who are tone-deaf.

Huh? I asked you to tell me something you’re good at.

You: We’re good at a lot of things!

Me: Like what?

You: A lot of things!

Me: Name one

You: You know…

Me: Say it.

You: We’re good at WORK!

Me. Ha… ok. Anything else?

You: Of course!

Me: What?

You: PERSEVERANCE!

Me: Hahaha ok.

Dad in background: I’m good at rhythm

Me: Other things you’re good at?

You (condensing tone): Your father’s smart… at least he thinks he is!

Me: Why can’t you just say you’re smart?

Mom: Of course, it’s all our fault. You know, things could have been worse. Just remember, you’re an only child. You could’ve been really fucked up!

Me: I am really fucked up!

My life right now is all about trying to be less fucked up, but like… the world is in failure mode and I’m sitting here, gazing at my navel, picking apart my problems. What’s the point? Like, I have a lot of shit and it’s probably all your fault and it’s not that big of deal. I could have been really fucked up.

I’m giving you three recipes in this post because I owe you big time. Syrian green freekeh salad, Samah’s mahshi (stuffed carrots) and romemiyeh, eggplant stew from Gaza.

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I live here

Can’t wait for you to visit and see all the strange stuff for yourself.

Xo,

Shaina

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Samah’s Mahshi/Stuffed Carrots

  • A dozen carrots
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 onions, chopped finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • allspice
  • nutmeg
  • cinnamon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Tomato paste or tamarind paste
  1. Mix rice and lentils and cover in water. Let soak for 4 – 8 hours.
  2. If you can’t buy pre-hollowed carrots, peel them and boil for 7 minutes until soft. Remove from heat and put them in cold water. Make sure they’re not too soft or they’ll be hard to core. I’m pretty sure the carrots I buy are cored with a drill… I have no instructions for how you should core them, but I’m sure you can figure it out. Save the carrots insides to plug the ends after you stuff them.
  3. Drain and rinse rice and lentils. Mix with spices, parsley and onions. Feel free to be creative and add other chopped veg and spices. Last time I added zucchini and smoked paprika.
  4. Make a broth. There are two options: tomato broth or tamarind broth. I’ve made this recipe with both. Tamarind paste seems to be the more coveted option, but I like the tomato version better. Maybe it’s just familiarity. Mix tomato or tamarind paste with dashes of salt, pepper, nutmeg and/or cinnamon.
  5. Stuff carrots with lentil, rice spice mixture. Again, you have two options at this point: Line stuffed carrots in a deep pan, cover with tomato or tamarind broth and bake at 300 for 45 minutes – an hour. OR cover carrots in a deep pot and simmer over the stove for 45 minutes – an hour. I’ve tried both methods and prefer the oven. Again, familiarity.

 

Green Freekeh Salad

I’ve been working my way through the #CookForSyria campaign. I’m learning that a lot of the food here has Syrian influence. Samah says a lot of her dishes including my fav eggplant and yogurt thing are Syrian. Apparently kaak al ajwe, date bagels, is also originally Syrian.

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This is the prettiest dish I made from the #CookForSyria campaign by chef Saima Khan

  • 2 cups green freekeh
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch chopped fresh mint
  • ½ bunch dill
  • 1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and tossed with cumin, smoked paprika and lemon juice
  • 1 pinch cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or puréed (optional)
  • 1 tbs pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbs date or apple-cider vinegar
  • 6 tbs good olive oil
  • handful of pumpkin seeds
  • 1 pomegranate, deseeded
  • handful of almonds, cut and toasted

Add the freekeh to boiling water and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.

In a large bowl, toss freekeh with chopped herbs and chickpeas. In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oil, cumin, garlic, salt and olive oil, then toss with grains. Toss with pomegranate, nuts and pumpkin seeds. Garnish with extra pretty things.

Romanieh (lentils and eggplants cooked in pomegranate sauce

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Chef Ayat Dina (she was on Israel’s version of Masterchef!) showed us this recipe during our seminar on Gaza. Ayat left Gaza at 18 and lives in Jaffa.  Her dreams are to do more cooking workshops, open a restaurant and see her 8 siblings who are still in Gaza. The last one probably won’t happen due to Israel’s harsh restrictions on movement to and from Gaza. She’s an amazing cook and has a great sense of humor. 

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This dish is really special and surprising.

  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 7-9 cups of water
  • 2 medium eggplants, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup FRESH pomegranate juice
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil

 

Add 7 cups of water, cumin and the lentils to a pot. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. Add eggplant and half of the minced garlic, continue to simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Add salt and sumac. In separate bowl, mix flour, pomegranate and lemon juice. Add to lentils and stir until thick. In a pan, fry the remaining garlic in olive oil. Add to lentils. Remove from heat and garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley. Serve over rice, with pita or naked.

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