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Winter Traditions in Palestine

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 18.02.2007:

By Wilhelmina & George Baramki

Dear Kyoto,

In reply to your letter which we received a few days ago and in which you wrote at length about the traditions of your country, Japan, mainly the ceremonial way of preparing tea, the arrangement of flowers in their simple yet elegant way, and the traditional dishes that accompany religious festivities, we would like to tell you about the many culinary and cultural traditions that we, in Palestine, have.

In the cold and gloomy winter season we have a variety of traditional dishes, starting with the crushed lentil (adas majroosh) soup prepared by slightly browning chopped onion in olive oil and then adding the crushed lentils, stirring for a few minutes, adding water, salt and boiling the mixture till well cooked. The accompanying side dish for this soup is the rayyaneh, prepared from simple bread dough cut into 2” balls and spread by hand on a tray then filled with a mixture of spinach, chopped onions, sumac and salt. The dough is then formed into triangular shapes, drizzled with olive oil and baked.

Another traditional winter soup is the freekeh, made of roasted green wheat and prepared similar to the lentil soup but with the addition of meat broth. Similarly, the so-called villagers soup is composed of a mix of winter vegetables such as green and dried beans, carrots, Swiss chard, cauliflower, potatoes and onions all chopped up and turned into a healthy and hearty soup.

Oh Kyoto, you make our mouths water and now so many memories of very nice and delicious foods come to mind. You reminded me of the many delicious and rich sweets that go along with religious occasions that fall in winter, just as you have in Japan. Burbara, which consists of boiled whole wheat grains with the addition of raisins, anise seeds and sugar, is done on the day of St. Barbara. Mawardieh, a pudding obtained from dried apricot paste, and sahlab, are also favourites of this season. Zalabyeh, fried dough dipped in syrup, is always done on the feast of the Epiphany and mushabak, similar to zalabyeh but different in shape, is done on Al-Mawled Al-Nabawi, the birth of the prophet Muhammad. But most famous of all are the katayef that are done only during the holy month of Ramadan, which has been falling in winter for the past few years. Katayef look like pancakes, but with a different texture and flavour, made from semolina and wheat flour and then filled with either white goat cheese or crushed walnuts and cinnamon, then baked or fried and dipped in syrup. Being so popular among all Palestinians, Moslems and Christians alike, one has to queue patiently in order to buy them. Last but not least are the kaek and ma’moul done on religious festivities such as Easter and Eid Al-Adha. They are made from a semolina-based dough. The kaek is round and filled with date paste while the ma’moul is filled with crushed walnuts or pistachios.

Most traditional winter dishes are vegetable stews eaten with rice, so it is a healthy mixture of minerals, vitamins, fibre, protein and carbohydrates. Makloubet zaher is a dish that contains rice, meat and fried cauliflower, especially the local variety with its yellow colour and sweet flavour. Meaning upside down in Arabic, makloubeh is turned upside down upon serving. Other dishes are stuffed zucchini and vine leaves and stuffed cabbage leaves. Seasonal winter vegetables such as peas, green beans and spinach make delicious stews that form the main meals during winter.

Two traditional harvest activities are done in late fall /early winter. During the olive picking season all the family members, relatives and friends combine their efforts in picking olives and celebrating the harvest by sharing meals together and baking the traditional taboon bread. We also fondly remember another occasion when the family gathered for the citrus harvesting season. When we were kids, we used to go to Jaffa, take a horse-drawn carriage and accompany the whole family with our grandfathers to their orange orchards to help in collecting oranges, pomello, mandarins and sour oranges. Oh, the smell was fantastic, and the juices of those fruits bring a ting to our mouths… These activities keep the family strong and united and perpetuate these blessed occasions.

From sour oranges a delicious lemonade is done that one can smell from a distance. At the end of the orange picking season a delicious Jaffa specialty, kubbeh arnabiyeh, was prepared. Our grandmothers and mothers used to prepare the stuffed kubbeh which was then cooked in a sauce of meat broth, sour orange juice, tahina and onions. Served with rice on the side, it is a real gourmet meal. This dish is popular in Jaffa since it is a citrus growing area but is not very common in other parts of Palestine. Naturally, this traditional recipe was passed to the other women in the family and recently our daughter has started cooking it for her friends.

So, you see Kyoto, we in Palestine are proud of our traditions just like you and pass them from one generation to another. They are a history by themselves.

This Week in Palestine

February 2007

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