IRAQI KURDISTAN

Kurdish Proverb: A zikê birçî tune guhên – A hungry stomach has no ears  

Kurdistan is located in the North of Iraq and was officially formed in 1970 after years of ethnic violence between the Kurdish people and the Arab Iraqi government. Peace did not last and since mid 1970 Kurds have faced continuous attack from the dominant government. Genocides ordered by Saddam Hussein during both the Iran-Iraq war and in 1991 devastated the Kurdish population. Since the death of Saddam Hussein and the withdrawal of US troops, tensions between the Kurds and Arabs have remained. More recently Kurdistan has seen an influx of more than 2 million displaced Iraqi and Syrian refugees fleeing war and settling in the region.

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 297,082 with access to clean water and  providing women and children with mental health support.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Fasolia and Rice 

12717787_10156457150960332_1144168986095317926_n

As with many of the dishes from the Middle Eastern region, this dish really reminds me of the food I ate growing up. Kurdistan actually lies in between Iraq and Iran and the food in differs depending on the proximity to those two countries. Iraqi Kurdish food is very similar to the cuisines found in the gulf and this white bean stew is no exception. Dishes are usually served with vermicelli rice and various side salads.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 70g concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin berlotti beans
  • 1 tin butter beans
  • 2 tsps cumin
  • 3 tbls ghee or vegetable oil
  • 1 portion vegetable stock
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1/2 cup of vermicelli
  • Salt & pepper

Method

In a pestle and mortar crush garlic with a little salt until smooth. Add crushed garlic to hot 1 tablespoon of hot ghee or oil and cook gently for 1 minute. Once golden add tomato paste and stir then add 3 cups of boiled water. Cook gently for 10 minutes before adding chopped tomatoes, stock and cumin then leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, make rice. Fry vermicelli in one tablespoon of hot ghee or oil until brown then add rice and a pinch of salt. Once the rice has become white cover until a centimetre above with boiling water. Turn down the heat as far as possible, cover and leave to cook for 15 minutes. Once cooked, turn off the heat and leave the lid on –  the steam will keep the rice warm and prevent it from going claggy.

Your sauce should have reduced by now. Add the tinned beans (you can use soaked dried beans of course!) and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with rice and fresh chopped parsley. I also had some pickled chillis and fresh radish on the side which is great!

12728915_10156457150785332_367847851670164131_n

Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

 

Advertisements

YEMEN

Yemeni Proverb: من يأكل بشكل جيد قادر على مواجهة الجيش – He who eats well is able to face an army

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, and has been going through violent political instability continuously since the 1970s. Today 90% of people suffer from acute malnutrian and water scarcity is such that it has been reported that the country may be the first to nation to run out of water.

From March 2015 to June 2015, Yemen experienced 100 days of civil war with little to no support from the international community. Action Against Hunger campaigned heavily against this silence, read their article here: After More Than 100 Days We Need To Break The Silence

In 2014 Action Against Hunger 287,113 people gain better access to water and sanitation, as well as treating people with severe malnutrition.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Yemenite Chicken Soup

12200916_10156135189965332_1957477131_n

I know it’s not at all original but when you feel sick and you crave chicken soup right? Recently I had a poorly wisdom tooth and been feeling under the weather, alongside the colder weather this seemed like the perfect recipe to taken on.  I also had fresh turmeric left over from my Mohinga so that was two pretty good excuses to make this dish.

Yesterday marked the start of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Instead of Latkes which are a tradition for Ashkenazi Jews, I am making this Marak Temani which Yemenite Jews make during special and festive occasions. Although there are few Yemenite Jews left in Yemen their history, culture and traditions are very much evident in the global diaspora where they have brought with them the food of Yemen.

This very traditional Yemeni soup, known in Hebrew as Marak Temani, is the Sabbath staple of the Yemenite Jewish people, who prepare the soup on Friday evening and allow it to slowly cook and infuse with it’s delicious Middle Eastern spices ready to eat on Saturday. Some people believe that this soup is in fact the original ‘Jewish Chicken Soup’, with the European version having developed in to the easily recognisable chicken and dumplings through the absence of the pungent Middle Eastern spices. The addition of spoonful or two of compulsory hot Yemeni chilli relish sahawiq (Arabic) or skhug (Hebrew), this soup will get you right on the way to feeling cosy and better!

Ingredients

 Skhug                                                                  

  • Fresh coriander
  • Fresh chillis
  • Cumin
  • Cardamom
  • Garlic
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil

Hawaij Spice Mix

  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • Cloves
  • Coriander seeds
  • Cardamom
  • Salt & Pepper

Chicken Soup

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 onion
  • 7 small potatoes
  • 10 carrots
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Fresh coriander
  • Salt & Pepper

Method

First of all start by making your hawaij by mixing together all the ingredients in their powdered form. If you have whole spices toast them in a hot dry pan until fragrant then tip into a pestle and mortar and pound into a powder. This mix can be used to season meat, add flavour to soups and stews and pretty much season most Yemeni dishes!

In a large pan place a whole chicken, a whole onion, garlic cloves and 5 of the carrots then top with water so that the chicken is fully covered. Add pepper corns and coriander stalks to the broth then leave to simmer for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile make skhug by combining all the ingredients in a mini chopper.

When the chicken is cooked remove from the broth and set aside to cool. Strain the broth into a bowl to seperate the stock vegetables.

Once the chicken has cooled, strip the meat from the bones and return the stock with a little more water to a low heat and add hawaij to flavour the  broth. Peel the potatoes and the rest of the carrots then add to the broth, once cooked add the shredded chicken and a generous portion of coriander.

Serve with a spoonful or two of skhug and extra fresh coriander.

12202169_10156135189020332_2047962381_n

Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

 

 

 

PALESTINE

Palestinian Proverb: الجاهل عدو نفسه – The ignorant is his own enemy

Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of news about increasing violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Unfortunately this is not ‘new’ news. For this post I have chosen to concentrate on one issue which places great restrictions on the freedom and development of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).

al- Khalil, or Hebron is the second largest city in the oPt and is home to more than 250,000 Palestinians. There are also over 500 illegal settlers, many of whom have come from America. Upwards of 1000 IDF soldiers are stationed to protect these settlers and impose curfews and strict restrictions on Palestinian movement. Hebron is divided into two territories, H1 which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and H2 which is under Israeli control. The Palestinian population in the area of Hebron which falls under H2 has been greatly reduced by the imposition of restrictions and IDF presence as well as settler harassment.

Frequent assaults on Palestinians by the settlers include throwing stones, eggs and glass, as well as verbal and increasingly violent attacks. The complacency, and often involvement of the IDF, who mostly ignore incidents of aggression towards Palestinians and international aid workers has come under great scrutiny, yet perpetrators are rarely apprehended for their actions. In most cases, it is the victims of the attacks who face the repercussions. Settlers in Hebron are more and more frequently entering Palestinian homes and refusing to leave, relying on the protection of the IDF to facilitate their illegal actions.

As the Israeli government continues to pose trade restrictions on the Palestinians, huge numbers of the population rely on foreign aid to survive. In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 543,468 people by providing support to local farmers and traders.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

12182159_10156131483560332_1539592666_n

The Wall

Three years ago I spent three months living and working in a part of East Jerusalem called Sheikh Jarrah. I was lucky enough to make many friends and had the opportunity to travel. Here is one of the memories I wrote down while I was there:

In Bethlehem I met Yusef; an Arabic teacher and taxi driver. His wife, a teacher of Arabic and Islamic religion, also had two jobs alongside being ‘the greatest cook in the world’. Yusef offered to take us to the Shepherd’s Field – on learning that I speak Arabic and have a cousin called Yusef, he quickly refused any payment for the lift.

After a short drive we stopped at the gate to the Shepherd’s Field. Yusef explained that he would have to wait outside as he was not an official tour guide and would likely get in trouble with the police. I asked him if he couldn’t just walk with us as a friend; we had not expected him to act as a guide, but he was adamant that he could not enter. Luckily, a group sat outside a café opposite the gates informed us that the police had packed up for the day. And so he came with us and as we walked together down the path to the ancient church Yusef began telling us a story;

‘A friend of mine in al-Khalil (Hebron) has a small house with a tiny shop attached to it. The house has only two rooms and is poorly maintained with bad electricity and water supplies, and no access to rubbish collection. This house is very close to the Ibrahimi Mosque [which is known in Judaism as the Cave of Patriarchy]. One day a Jewish settler came and knocked on my friend’s door. He says to my friend, “I will pay you $60,000 for your house.” Of course my friend refused, his house has been in his family for many generations and even though it is very modest, he feels lucky to have been able to hold on to it for this long. A few weeks pass and the settler returns. He asks my friend again if he can buy his home, but this time he offers $200,000. Of course my friend refuses even though this money would help him and his family greatly. Months pass and the settler returns for a third time, this time he has a contract with him. He says to my friend, “I will give you $1.6 million for this house, with this money you can go to America and start a new, better life with your family.” My friend looks at the settler and at the contract and at his tiny house surrounded by rubbish in the street. He turns to the settler and says, “Brother, why do you want to pay this money for my home?” The settler with tears in his eyes replies, “because this home is close to the Cave of Patriarchs and Abraham is my grandfather.” A few minutes pass and my friend hands back the contract to the settler and once again refuses his offer. The settler surprised, asks my friend “will you not take this opportunity to provide for your family?” My friend picks up a stone outside his home and shows it to the settler, “I would not accept this money for one stone that makes my home.” The settler asks why, and my friend smiling replies, “because Ibrahim is my grandfather too.”’

Before we left, Yusef happily told me that the previous day (Friday during Ramadan) he had been able to pray at al-Aqsa. For the first time in five years he had been allowed to cross the checkpoint into East Jerusalem. As I left to get the bus back I felt the shadow of the Wall follow me, knowing that Yusef would never be sure when his next visit to the Mosque would be.

Kunafa Nabulsi

12182140_10156131484030332_1030328878_n

Kunafa is a traditional Arabic dessert found across North Africa and the Levant. Made with filo pastry and a smattering of pistachios and rose water, it vaguely resembles another Arabic/Turkish favourite – baklava. It is said that that the idea of Kunafa was originally brought to the region by the Ottomans. Palestinians in the city of Nablus added cheese between the layers of pastry and created what is now an internationally recognised and loved dessert.

Ingredients

Serves 10

  • 1 pack of Kunafa pastry – buy this from any middle eastern shop
  • 250g Ghee or butter
  • 250g Mascarpone
  • 300g mixed nuts and sultanas
  • 100g Dessicated coconut
  • 50g Pistachio
  • A sprinkle of rose petals
  • Water
  • 2 tbls Rosewater
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 250g Sugar

Method

  1. Make a syrup by adding sugar and a cup of water to a pan. Bring to the boil without stirring. When the sugar has dissolved squeeze in the juice of one lemon and add rose water. Take down to a simmer, never stirring, until the syrup has become thick and shiny.
  2. Set the syrup aside to cool.
  3. In a bowl toss the kunafa pastry in ghee or melted butter until covered – Kunafa pastry is just shredded filo pastry!
  4. Layer the kunafa pastry in a pan and pack down tightly.
  5. Add a layer of mascarpone and top with crushed nuts, dessicated coconut and sutanas then add a second layer of kunafa and pack down tightly.
  6. Place in a hot oven and cook until golden.
  7. Remove from oven and pour over syrup immediately.
  8. Leave to cool – when cooled tip upside down and sprinkle crushed pistachios and rose petals.
  9. Serve with fresh mint tea!

12179978_10156131484785332_1346784671_n

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Enjoy!

REFUGEE’S CRISIS

This is a slightly different post to the others. This time I dedicate the dishes and my donation to the people currently seeking refuge in Europe. Not a specific country but to the millions of displaced people currently trying to bring their family’s to safety.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are over 20 million registered refugees in the world and over 60 million people who have been forcibly displaced. UNHCR calculated that in 2014 42,500 people had to leave their homes, often in other countries to find safety – every single day.

It is reported that this year approximately 400,000 people have travelled to Europe to seek refuge from their home countries due to conflict and persecution.

Developing countries are host to 86% of the world’s refugees. Last year the UK took in 400 Syrian refugees, Turkey took in 1.6 million. So why do we keep hearing about ‘the refugee crisis’. The construction of the sentence suggests a negative situation brought on by refugees – the intention of the sentence does too. We should be saying ‘the refugee’s crisis’. This is certainly a crisis, but not for Europeans. For the people who, often running, having left everything and everyone behind them with no opportunity to turn their heads and look back. For the children who make up 51% of Syrian refugees, the crisis is that their homes have burned and they are now not only ‘someone else’s problem’ but that someone else is saying that their existence and their struggle, will create problems for the very people with whom they seek refuge.

People talking about ‘protecting our freedom from the threat of terrorism’ have clearly not thought about the fact that without exception all the refugees fleeing to Europe are doing so not from the ‘threat of terrorism’ but from real, physical terrorism which has murdered, plundered and destroyed their beloved lands, cultures and histories. The people making these ignorant comments have no concept of what freedom is having never had to lose or struggle or pine or die for it.

There is no refugee crisis, only the refugee’s crisis. This world is not anyone’s, it’s everyone’s and where there is ground to stand on all humans should be entitled to stand regardless of whether they were born on that spot or not.

For this post as well as donating to Action Against Hunger, I have donated to the charity CalAid who are supporting refugees in Calais. In addition to fundraising online: https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/CalAid they are also hosting drop off days for people to donate clothes, tents and bedding – check out their website for dates and locations near you.

I will also be attending the Solidarity with Refugees march on Saturday 12th September, starting in Park Lane and ending up outside Downing Street.

Join me there and show your support.

مجموعة مختارة من الأطباق      
11997397_10155986261330332_269413668_nbefunky

For this post I had initially decided to cook Lebanon – that is I had decided to cook what most people think of as ‘Lebanese’ food. It’s not that it’s not Lebanese food, it’s just that it also happens to be the food I grew up with from my Egyptian mum and the food which has variations of the same dishes all over North Africa and the Levant; stuffed vine leaves and vegetables, dips, salads and all the other delicious things everybody recognises and loves. So when I was deciding which country on the list to attribute these foods to I narrowed it down to Lebanon because of that and because I knew exactly what I was doing for Syria and Palestine. I have a very personal, emotional and cultural attachment to the food, people and region so I also knew that these blog posts would be more than just facts with a recipe attached. I don’t have to research any recipes or learn about the reasons why Action Against Hunger have a presence there. These are universal recipes which represent more than just one country – I will resume the challenge country by country and pick a Lebanese specific recipe to replace this post.

When I started this challenge I had the idea that I didn’t want the blog to be too personal, I wanted it to be about facts and food. I just wanted to state the reason why I was doing it, where the donations where going and why and the recipe – my opinion didn’t have to come in to it. But actually I’ve realised that I can’t do that so here are some facts, my opinion and some recipes, which while clearly Arabic, are for everyone no matter where they are from.

12007170_10155986272235332_422420691_n

Ingredients

Hummous

  • Chickpeas
  • Tahini
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon Juice
  • Paprika
  • Salt & Pepper

Mahshi Warak ‘Inab (Egyptian Style)

  • Grape vine leaves
  • Egyptian Rice
  • Onion
  • Stock
  • Garlic
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Dill
  • Coriander
  • Parsley
  • Potato
  • Cumin
  • Salt & Pepper

11992119_10155986257650332_1381993501_nbefunky

Tabbouleh (Lebanese Style with a touch of Palestine)

  • Bulgur wheat or Freekeh
  • Tomato
  • Parsley
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Zaa’tar
  • Cucumber
  • Mint
  • Radish
  • Cumin
  • Sumac
  • Salt & Pepper

Muhammara

  • Red pepper
  • Walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Harissa
  • Salt & Pepper

11994368_10155986259380332_2144407459_nbefunky

Kofta 

  • Lamb mince
  • Onion
  • Toasted Bulgar wheat or Freekeh
  • Cumin
  • Zaa’tar
  • All spice
  • Parlsey
  • Salt & Pepper

Baba Ghanoush

  • Aubergine
  • Lemon juice
  • Tahini
  • Sumac
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Rose petals

12007238_10155986259710332_2108405413_nbefunky

Spinach & Feta and Lamb Borek

  • Cumin
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Mint
  • Feta cheese
  • Spinach
  • —-
  • Lamb mince
  • Onion
  • Pine nuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • —-
  • Filo pastry
  • Clarified or melted butter

12007146_10155986255345332_1750851642_nbefunky

Method

Hummous

  1. Take a tin of chickpeas and add some of the water from the tin into a food processor. Drain the rest of the chickpeas and leave a handful aside – add the rest to the food processor.
  2. Add a clove or two of garlic, olive oil, a couple of tables spoons of tahini, lemon juice and salt and pepper then blend until smooth.
  3. Taste and add any more of anything if needed.
  4. Put aside until ready to eat – just before serving garnish with extra olive oil, the whole chickpeas and paprika.

11992458_10155986258890332_1764214965_nbefunky

Mahshi Warak ‘Inab (Egyptian Style)

  1. Soak brined vine leaves in water – leave them soaking while you complete following steps.
  2. Using who bunches, remove the stalks from the parsley and dill. Chop the end of the stalks of the coriander – Coriander stalks carry a lot of flavour and are very good to use in cooking!
  3. In a mini chopper (or with great knife skills) blend or finely dice an onion, garlic and the herbs.
  4. In a hot pan with oil cook off the rice slightly so it’s no longer translucent but white all the way through – I do this every time I cook rice for a fail safe way to avoid ‘stodge’.
  5. Once the rice is white add the onion and herb mixture, sweat off for a bit then add a small tin of chopped tomatoes,cumin and salt & pepper.
  6. Take the pan off the heat and transfer the rice into a bowl.
  7. Without peeling, slice a potato into thin circles and place at the bottom of the same pan. This will prevent the Mahshi from sticking to the bottom and burning.
  8. Drain the soaked vine leaves and rinse off with cold water. One by one you can begin to stuff the vine leaves with the rice mixture. – It is important to cut away the tiny bit at the bottom of the leaf where the stalk would attach to the plant – this makes it easier to roll.
  9. Put some of the rice mixture in the the centre of the vine leaf. Roll up from the bottom then fold in the sides and continue rolling till you have a sausage shape which is closed on all side. It’s ok if there are some which don’t close on the sides, every leaf is different!
  10. As you roll add the mahshi to the pan placing tightly together so there are no gaps – you should get several stacks on top of one another.
  11. Once you have finished filling the saucepan add stock to just above the mahshi. Simmer on a low heat until the rice is cooked.

N.B. This rice mixture can be used to stuff LITERALLY any vegetable you can make a hole in. 

Tabbouleh (Lebanese Style with a touch of Palestine)

  1. First of all bring a pan to high heat without any oil, add the bulgur wheat or Palestinian freekeh and toast until they smell lovely and nutty. Once toasted take off the heat and transfer into a bowl to cool.
  2. Chop cucumbers, radishes and tomatoes into small cubes – I use only the flesh of the cucumber and tomato to stop the salad going soggy. You can use the juicy bit of the tomato in your mahshi and if you add the juicy bit of the cucumber to water you get a drink that’s a million times better than Lucazade with the same effect!
  3. Take a lot of mint and parsley and remove the leaves from the stalks, chop very finely and add to the chopped veg. By now your wheat should have cooled and you can mix that in too.
  4. In a separate bowl make a dressing of olive oil, zaa’tar, lemon juice, cumin, sumac, salt & pepper – I also like to add a pinch of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the tomato.
  5. Mix well with the salad and serve with an extra wedge of lemon.

11997413_10155986254130332_1956860433_n(1)

Muhammara

  1. Chop red peppers into large chunks. Add olive oil and salt & pepper and cook in a hot oven.
  2. They are ready when they are soft and slightly charred on the outside.
  3. Put the peppers in a mini chopper with a generous amount of walnuts, Also add lemon juice, olive oil, harissa and salt & pepper, then blend.
  4. Set aside until ready. When ready garnish with olive oil and lightly crushed and whole walnuts.

Kofta 

  1. In a mini chopper blend onion, parsley, lamb mince, a little bulgar or freekeh, cumin, zaa’tar, all spice and salt & pepper until smooth. Roll into egg shapes and put in the fridge.
  2. When ready to cook just drop the eggs into hot vegetable oil to deep fry. Serve immediately.

Baba Ghanoush

  1. Poke holes in an aubergine and put into a hot oven covered in foil. Do other things will this cooks.
  2. Just before removing the aubergine from the oven, juice two lemons.
  3. Once it’s cooked, you can tell because when you poke it it’s soft, remove from the heat an let cool for a about a minute.
  4. Cut open the aubergine and scrape the flesh into a mini chopper. Immediately add the lemon juice – this stops the aubergine from oxidising and turning browny/grey.
  5. Add tahini, sumac olive oil and salt & pepper then blend until smooth. It doesn’t have to be a paste though!
  6. Set aside until ready to serve. When ready garnish with olive oil, sumac and dried rose petals.

11998275_10155986253835332_2079044822_nbefunky

Borek

  1. Dry toast pine nuts in a frying pan, removed to one side. In the same pan add finely diced onion to olive oil and sweat.
  2. Once softened add lamb mince, cumin, cinnamon, salt & pepper. once the mixture is cooked through remove from the pan and set to one side.
  3. In a separate bowl add crumbled feta, olive oil, fresh spinach, cumin, chopped mint and salt & pepper. Mix well.
  4. Lay out a pack of filo pastry and cut in half – one half will be for lamb and the other for spinach. Split the two halves into equal parts of leaves to make individual cigars.
  5. Taking a pastry brush, brush either clarified butter or melted butter on to each individual layer of filo pastry. Once done add some filling and roll up brushing with butter as you go – this will prevent it from unravelling. Place on a baking tray.
  6. Do this until both bowls of mixture are finished. Put the rolled borek in the oven and cook until the pastry is golden. Serve immediately.

12000099_10155986254360332_142375383_n (1)

https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie