Grape Leaves Won’t Roll Themselves, People.

Grape Leaves Won’t Roll Themselves, People.

April 2, 2010

One of the niftiest – and most unforeseen – things about starting a food-centric blog is how often people reach out to invite you to learn,cook and eat with them.  Last night, I took advantage of  one such invitation and attended a small gathering of women who came together to learn how to roll stuffed grape leaves, share conversation and learn a little bit about how to make good Arabic food.

My friend Hadeel (known as @gazawia on Twitter) loves food and her passion no doubt originated from her amazing mama. She was so kind to extend the invitation to a handful of us and I feel very privileged to have learned a few tricks of the trade from women who know what good food looks like. I am even more appreciative of the fact that I met a few incredible women that I hadn’t known before and became inspired by the energy in the room.

I genuinely understand now why my mother never cooked the tedious meals alone – it’s boring otherwise.  Rolling grape leaves is an arduous process; especially when it’s being done for a large number of people. The act of snipping the stems, laying out the leaf, stuffing the leaf and then rolling is monotonous and tiresome.  But the work is instantly transformed when good conversation is added into the mix.

I am also still trying to digest  how significantly dishes vary by the culture of one’s family or their city of origin.  For instance, I recall my mom and aunts making grape leaves one of two ways. They either stuffed them with a rice/lamb mixture or they opted for the vegetarian version (siyami) which is a mixture of rice, tomatoes, onions, mint, parsley, lemon, oil, salt and pepper. Sometimes they would cook the grape leaves in a tomato broth and other times they’d almost steam them dry and serve with laban (yogurt) for dipping.  We grew grape leaf vines in the backyard of my childhood home, so I have fond memories of helping my mom pick the leaves. I remember being very careful not to pick ones that had succumbed to the wrath of a hungry creature.

Once the rolling was done, my mother would line the bottom of the pan with oil-treated grape leaves to help prevent the bottom layers from sticking. I learned last night that you could also use potatoes to line the bottom of the pot and they are apparently delicious to eat as well. Who knew?? I also learned that apparently the concept of siyami rice for dishes like grape leaves or stuffed squash originated from Christian Palestinians (like me) as an alternative to meat-heavy dishes during Lent.

It was so much fun to share memories and swap ideas. I had a wonderful time and I’m actually hoping to find a group of lovely ladies who might up for a monthly sort of cooking pow-wow in the future.  Any takers?

Food, Film and Moving Forward

Food, Film and Moving Forward

May 18, 2010

May is proving to be one busy month!  This past weekend, I had the privilege of working with a group of local activists, organizers and artists on a project that I’ve been involved with for a couple of years now. We organize a local film festival that offers “an honest and independent view of Palestine and its diaspora’s society, culture, and political travails through the art of film.”

It’s a very intense thing to organize and I’ll admit that in my journey to ‘find myself’,  or whatever you call this period I’m going through, I seriously considered making this year my last year of involvement.  Sometimes, when I get too consumed by the voices in my head, I forget all the struggles that still need to be fought. This past weekend, I was reminded of those struggles and reminded of the responsibility I have in helping to make the world we live in a better place to inhabit.

Over the past several days, I have met women who had more strength, courage and beauty than I could ever hope to have. They are artists, musicians, filmmakers, mothers, daughters, photographers, engineers, organizers, friends, family, social workers, and writers. They are the inspiration I prayed for and found. I hope you all are reading this and I hope you know what an impact you’ve had on my life in such a short period of time. Even those of you I’ve known for awhile – I was able to see you in a different light.  I hope you all know how amazing you are and how lucky those of us who know you are to have you in our lives. Thank you.

And even though my intense weekend was a rather time consuming one, I did manage to make a little something to keep my culinary aspirations in working order. I decided to try my hand at hummus because I’ve never made it before and it seems like one of those recipes that everyone should learn to perfect at some point.

My mom and my aunts made hummus in a very specific way and I’m still working on trying to get that down. I happen to really love the way my dad makes hummus so I think my take on it was somewhere in the middle.  My mama’s hummus was thick and creamy with just the right balance of tart to tahini.  My dad’s recipe is a little more coarse in texture with a lot less tahini and a lot more garlic and lemon juice. There’s a hundred different ways to make hummus and you’d think it would be pretty easy to make. While it’s easy to make, it’s also equally as easy to screw up. I honestly don’t think you need to get all fancy with hummus. When you find the right combination, a simple hummus is perfection.

I have to admit, my favorite way to eat hummus when I was a kid was with Doritos. My mama was a big fan so we always had a bag or two on hand to eat with pretty much everything you could imagine. I’d make a big bowl of hummus and plant myself in front of the television for as long as it took to lick the bowl clean.

Here’s the recipe I used. How do you make hummus? Got a recipe I should check out?

Hummus

1 lb. (1 large can) of garbanzo beans

1 1/2 – 2 tbs. of tahini

2  large cloves of garlic – whole

3-4 tbs. of lemon juice

dash of salt

olive oil, paprika and parsley for garnish

Bring garbanzo beans to a boil. Once boiled, transfer to a mixing bowl and add the garlic, lemon, tahini and salt and mix together with a handheld blender (or throw it all in a blender if you have one) until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with a few whole garbanzo beans, dashes of paprika, a little olive oil and parsley.