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Siami is the adjective derived from the verb “to fast”. It describes the Syrian vegetable-eating habit, which is a continuation of Christian fasting traditions that forbid the consumption of animal products during certain periods.
More than ninety percent of the Palestinian diet is made up of vegetables: stuffed, rolled or sautéed. Stuffing vegetables is a Palestinian art. It includes stuffing potatoes, tomatoes, onions, zucchinis, aubergines, cucumbers, carrots, chilli and sweet peppers.
Rolling green leaves is another Palestinian specialty. It includes rolling vine leaves, Swiss chard, lettuce, and cabbage.
The main ingredient for both stuffing and rolling can be either rice, burgle or freekeh. Green herbs, usually parsley or coriander, are often added with finely chopped red meat and some roasted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios or pine nuts. When the stuffing is intended for a ‘siami’ dish, the meat is replaced by chickpeas and oil replaces butter or ghee as the cooking fat. Nuts, usually roasted, are often sprinkled over rice and other savoury dishes, and are widely used for making fillings for many types of sweets such as katayef, baklawa and ma’moul.
Sautéed vegetables, and green leaves in particular, are always present on the table, most notably mallow, mlukhiyeh and spinach. Chickpeas are usually added whole to green sautés to enhance their nutritional value.
Salads and dips add richness to the Palestinian vegetarian heaven. Salads are classified into three basic types, according to their base material; tahina-based salads which can be made with tomatoes, cucumbers and onions or garlic and parsley, boiled potatoes or fried vegetables such as zucchinis or aubergines. Yoghurt-based salads are made with cucumbers, crushed garlic cloves and fresh or dried mint leaves. Green leaf salads include a variety of lettuce and herbs and are dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Notable among these are tabbouleh and fatoosh. Dips are made from pureed, boiled or baked vegetables that are mixed mainly with tahina. The most popular dips are hummus (from chickpeas) and mtabal (from aubergines).