Originally posted Feb. 5, 2013, at Annelizing. Republished with permission of the author.
Annela Rova is spending a year in Jerusalem/West Bank as a volunteer in the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program.
Sometimes one knows when food is made with love. Food in Palestine seems to always be made with love. Food here has a language of its own and most of the food in Palestine is cooked in the home by the women.
Women of Palestine find their identity in their dishes and the ability to share them with others. Many Palestinian women not only attend university and participate in the work field, but they also have the role of homemakers. I get tired just watching them.
Seeing this has a beauty to it; it has deepened my appreciation for the role of a mother and or female caretaker in a family and community setting.
Cooking and homemaking are what carry the culture here in Palestine. Visiting, eating and just being together is the staple of their society.
In my time here I have been force-fed amazing dishes day in and day out. At my school, Dar Al-Kalima, the female teachers love to bring things to share and the kindergarten class is always cooking something.
My stomach usually finds itself in the kindergarten, “helping,” of course.
Mrs. Hala, Miss Amil and Mrs. Iman (the kindergarten teachers) are always cooking with the kids whether it’s Palestinian breakfast, bourboura, mjdhara, kube, lebna soup, bread (hobez) or you name it.
Many a cake finds itself being baked as well and they all make sure these dishes find themselves into my stomach. It’s like having three mothers who just want to make sure you are warm, fed and taken care of. When a bout of homesickness hits me, these women and their love through food seem to melt the heartache away.
Who am I to be so lucky to be treated in such a way? The truth is they would do this for anyone.
That’s the way the home is here in Palestine, it is open and the food is to be shared with all. This idea of community and loving each other through sharing and hospitality is so important in a place that witnesses hatred, oppression and violence.
Whether a community is one trying to survive or one of privilege, this sort of mentality of helping and accepting your neighbor should be international.
Sadly it isn’t. In America we close ourselves off. We don’t want to “intrude;” we don’t want to have to socialize and share. Why? If we carried these practices, imagine the rich relationships we could have and build. Whatever happened to bringing a casserole over to the neighbors? I haven’t witnessed many casseroles in my time, to be honest. I do hope with impending food shortages and energy shortages that we as a society can learn to share and support each other as equals — family.
Inspired by these lovely woman and their delicious forms of love through food I got a “bright” idea. I thought, “Hey, why not, I love to bake. Maybe I should just try.”
So there I was in front of my propane stove as pots bubbled attempting to make the Palestinian dish known as molokhia (spelling may be off). My friend Shireen provided me with the dried green leaves which are the “molokhia,” and told me generally how to make it. It’s fairly simple or so I thought.
- Step One: boil a whole chicken
- Step Two: fry a small onion in olive oil
- Step Three: add a ½ kilo of molokhia, the fried onion, lots of salt, pepper and two lemons
- Step Four: let boil/simmer for one hour, while cooking Basmati rice in another pot
- Step Five: fry up three cloves of garlic in olive oil, add to chicken pot
- Step Six: taste, see how you like it, may have to add more lemons, salt, pepper, etc.
- Finally: Serve molokhia in a bowl as a soup and rice on separate plate then spoon the molokhia over the rice and eat
I thought I did pretty well — boy, was I wrong.
My friend Shireen came over for lunch and had a good laugh at my attempts. She helped me doctor my sad molokhia back to suitable eating status.
What she said I missed was:
- First: wash the chicken in flour and season the chicken in salt, pepper and lemon, let sit for two hours
- Second: cook the rice with chicken stock
- Third: don’t add so much water to the chicken and molokhia
If I had done all of this, Shireen informed me that the dish would have been “qiteer zaki,” or very tasty.
Shireen was very entertained as was my host family. Sima, my host mother, gave me a B for trying and tasted a bit of it before handing it off to her husband, Munir. My steaming dish of imposter molokhia.
I tried and I think I will keep trying. We will see how the cooking goes in my last six months here. I do hope that I can keep this idea of food as a language of love and support for one another when I return to the States. It is a valuable lesson I am learning in my time here. Just yesterday, my friend Amira’s brother Farid showed up at my house holding a dish full of his mother’s maklouba. Amira’s mother thought I would need something hot in the cold weather.
This simple act made my day. It inspires and encourages me to carry on this practice. These women, their cooking and food.
These are the memories, the stories, the love that I hope to share with those willing to listen when I speak of Palestine and the people here.
These women have faces, stories, recipes and love that they give freely without even questioning who I am, where am I from and what my intentions are in their community. What a gift.
Find a link to Annela Rova’s blog Annelizing at Lutheran Blogs.