AFGHANISTAN

Afghani Proverb: Give graciously; even an onion 

With a population just over 33 million, there are 2.7 million Afghani refugees living in Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh alone. Due to a number of civil wars in the 1970s and subsequent internationally led wars since, Afghanistan is now one of the least secure countries in the world with frequent internal violence and the third highest rate of child malnutrition. Taliban factions continue to terrorise many parts of the country, and life for women and children in particular is extremely difficult with poor access to health and education, as well as extreme limitations on their freedoms.

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 106,933 people by improving water sanitation and training people to care for children suffering from malnutrition.

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

Kabuli Palau and Bourani Banjan

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With evidence of civilisation since the neolithic period Afghanistan has a long, rich history; including it’s important part in the trade and presence on the ‘Silk Road’ not least because it was almost exactly half way between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. Once an extremely wealthy country, in part because of it’s strategic geographical location on the Silk Road, and because of it’s rich agricultural (both crops and animals) and mineral abundance.

This abundance led to an equally impressive food culture, still centred around grand banquet dishes and the sharing of food with both friends and strangers. The national dish – Kabuli Palau is a classic example of this. In Afghanistan rice, is and was, considered to be the most important element of any meal and royal families would invest time and money to impress their guests with beautiful platters of the grain. The sultanas and nuts ( and sometimes pomegranate seeds, as can also be found in Iranian rice dishes) symbolise scattered jewels and the golden hue of the turmeric emulates the precious metal gold.

Ingredients 

Serves 6

Kabuli Palau

  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 6 medium carrots (grated)
  • 300g fatty lamb (chopped into chunks)
  • 1 mug of rice
  • 100g of nuts and sultanas
  • 2 tsps turmeric
  • 2 tsps fenugreek
  • 2 tsps red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsps celery salt
  • 1 tsps ground ginger
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 4 shallots
  • Ghee or vegetable oil
  • Coriander stalks (chopped)
  • Salt & Pepper

Borani Banjan

  • 2 large aubergines (sliced length ways)
  • 1 medium onion (very finely diced)
  • 3 garlic cloves (finely diced)
  • 250g lamb mince
  • 1 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 tsps sugar
  • 2 tbls tomato puree
  • 250g natural yoghurt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1/2 bunch fresh coriander
  • Salt & Pepper

Method

Kabuli Palau

Add the diced onions to a pan with ghee and sweat until soft and golden. Once the onions are cooked, add the lamb and brown followed by the chopped coriander stalks, turmeric, fenugreek, chilli flakes, celery salt and ground ginger. Once the mixture has become aromatic, add a little water and allow to simmer until the lamb is tender. Add the rice and seasoning then stir in boiled water until it covers about an inch above the rice. Transfer the covered pot into a hot (200 degrees C) oven.

While the rice is cooking (around 15 minutes) finely slice the shallots and crisp up in oil, sprinkling a bit of sugar over them to bring out their sweetness. Toast the nuts and sultanas then put both aside till the rice is cooked.

Once the palau is ready stir in the toasted nuts and sultanas and half of the fried shallots. Serve with the remainder of the fried shallots on top of the rice.

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Borani Banjan

Sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the sliced aubergines and leave to one side. To a medium hot pan with oil add the onions and leave to sweat until soft and golden. Once cooked, add the garlic and stir until golden then add the lamb mince, cinnamon and seasoning and simmer for around 10 minutes. Once cooked through stir in the tomato paste and sugar with a splash of water and leave to simmer on a very low heat.

Rinse the salt off the aubergines and pat dry. Fry on each side in  a little oil until browned and soft in the middle. remove from the heat and place on a serving dish. spoon the mincemeat sauce over the top of the aubergine slices and finish with yoghurt and fresh coriander.

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

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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

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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!

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

Enjoy!