This weekend marked the end of a beautiful vacation at my husband’s family home, which is located in a Palestinian village in Israel. Each time I’m there, my in-laws and my husband’s siblings and friends take me on wonderful culinary journeys, for which I am very grateful. My mother-in-law, in particular, enjoys sharing her recipes with me, and prepares a different dish everyday so that I can taste and learn about the wide range of dishes and delicacies that make up Palestinian cuisine. Here, I want to share some photos of moments when food was gathered, prepared and shared, in addition to those that I already posted.
1. Collecting and Cooking Hobezee – خبيزه
Hobezee is the Arabic name for the leaves of the common mallow plant. Here is grows in the wild during the winter and into the beginning of the spring. When entering a rural area, the hobezee is literally everywhere. Yesterday, my mother-in-law cooked some hobezee that she gathered from her own garden. She prepared it in the same way that she prepares spinach, chopping the leaves, and cooking them with sauteed onion and garlic. Today, after I asked a thousand questions about this new discovery of mine, my sister-in-law, Sawsan, took me to some farmland that borders the village in order gather hobezee.
The plants grow in olive tree and prickly pear-lined fields amidst other wild greens, some edible like dandelion and wild fennel and others that are inedible and full of thorns. The stems of the plant grow close together and tend to grow rather tall if left uncultivated. According to my sister-in-law’s husband, Nabeel, who is a professional agronomist, hobezee is such a difficult weed to control, that many farmers find that the only way to get rid of it is to cultivate it for food. Also, he adds that farmers often encourage people to come and collect the plant as we did.
The leaves of hobezee are tender like spinach, but somewhat fuzzy. Although there were thousands of hobezee leaves in the farmland surrounding our town, I was instructed only to pick the small ones that were no bigger than 3 to 4 inches, which were few and far between.
Fady Picking Hobezee
Sawsan’s son Fady helped us pick the hobezee. Every time he cut a left from the stem, he yelled really loud, “HOBEZEE! HOBEZEE!” He was so adorable that half the time, rather than cultivating the weed, I was taking pictures of him. Finally, I handed him the camera, in order to give Sawsan a hand.
Sawsan and Melissa Collecting Hobezee - from Fady's perspective
Sawsan also spotted some wild fennel along the road and we picked some to munch on in the car.
Wild Fennel for Snacking
2. Baking Flat Bread Stuffed with Spinach
Stuffing dough for flat bread with spinach
In my last post, there is a picture of my mother-in-law cooking za’atar-stuffed flat bread in a wood burning oven. Here, she is stuffing the same flat bread dough with a spinach, hot pepper and green onion mixture. The bread is delicious for breakfast with some crushed avocado (which grows in abundance in Israel), pieces of fried halumi cheese and homemade lebane, or strained yogurt.
Lebane (pictured here) is one of my favorite breakfast foods. It is very simple to make.
Here is the recipe for Lebane:
1. Place whole milk plain yogurt in a cheesecloth.
2. Add salt so that the yogurt tastes lightly salty. The taste of the salt will intensify after the water is strained from the yogurt, so make sure not to over-salt now.
3. Close the cheesecloth tightly and place it in a strainer attached to a stockpot.
4. Allow to sit for about 24 hours or until the yogurt thickens.
5. Roll the yogurt into 1 inch balls and place them in a container filled with olive oil.
6. The strained yogurt can also be placed directly into a container, without rolling it into balls. However, it should not be strained as long for this option. If left creamy as such, the yogurt can be flavored with garlic paste or with finely chopped hot peppers.
3. Visiting Tel Aviv – Jaffa (תֵּל־אָבִיב-יָפוֹ) (تل أبيب يَافَا)
Tarek and I met his friend Sameer in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, an ancient Mediterranean port city for lunch. First we visited the port area in historical Jaffa, where Ottoman-era Palestinian buildings adorn the sea-side panorama. Jaffa is considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Below is a picture of a restaurant. We did not eat there, but I am adding the photo because I just love how the greenish blues pop out against the sand colored stone.
A restaurant in Yaffa
Sameer deciding what to eat at Abuelafia & Sons
Tarek and Sameer at Abuelafia & Sons
Instead of a sit down meal, we ate delicious street food from Abuelafia & Sons Bakery, where a wood burning oven was in clear view from the sidewalk. We ate sambosa سمبوسك cheese stuffed savory bread pockets, which reminded me of the calzones of Sicily. However, the pockets were opened at Sameer’s request and pieces of hard-boiled egg were added. Below are two pictures of the spot.
4. A Winter Barbeque
Tarek’s sister and her family invited us for a barbeque at her house. While there, we walked around their garden, which is full of olives trees, lemon trees, passion fruit vines, and lots of wild herbs, including za’atar (the subject of the last post). My mother-in-law and I just couldn’t resist and so we gathered some. Here is another close-up shot of the wild herb:
Then we prepared for the barbecue. We dressed onions and tomatoes with olive oil, made kofta, which are spiced meatballs, and prepared some whole fish with seasonings. For the grilling, we used a coal fired barbecue.
I especially loved the grilled tomatoes that were bursting with flavor.
Grilled Cherry Tomatoes
5. A Feast with Friends
After taking us for a speedboat ride on Lake Tiberius, also known as the Sea of Galilee, Tarek’s friend Zaki and his parents took us to a new Arabic restaurant near Haifa called Saraya Gardens. As soon as we sat down, several plates of mezze where brought to the table. The dishes included hummus, fattoush (a salad with pieces of toasted flat bread and sumac), a parsley salad, crushed eggplant with mint, a cherry tomato salad, lebane balls, lamb sausages, eggplants stewed in tomato sauce and pickles. Then, came the entrees. There was a lamb meatball and rice dish that was baked in a clay pot topped with bread. When the waitress brought it to the table, she cut the bread open to reveal the food inside. The highlight of the meal, however, was a stuffed roasted lamb neck, cooked to perfection. It was filled with rice, almonds and pungent spices and served with roasted vegetables.
Unfortunately, I left our memory stick home and was unable to use the camera. Here is a shot of the dish from my IPhone camera:
Stuffed Lamb Neck with Rice
On Friday, my mother-in-law prepared a similar dish. Instead of the lamb neck, she stuffed a front leg of lamb. After sewing up the rice stuffed leg, she boiled it before roasting it. It was so tender and full of flavor.
6. Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes
On a visit to the farm of a family member, I took some pictures of the tomatoes inside the greenhouses.
Greenhouses Amidst Olive Trees and Hobezee
Cherry Tomatoes on the Vine
Tomato Vines in a Greenhouse