Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Always Time for HUMMUS

Americans think of hummus as a dip; Arabs think of hummus as a meal—especially at breakfast time. Early in the morning, children scurry down streets in their pajamas, or with a dress or jacket thrown over pajamas. Each child carries a plate and a few coins, and all heading for the nearest hummus maker. Nothing beats good hummus with fresh pita bread for breakfast—unless you add falafel.
Breakfast doesn't last all day, but hummus can. For many families in the Arab world, the main meal of the day is at midday. If someone, or several someones happen to visit at meal time, a quick trip to the local hummus maker can stretch every meal to accommodate everyone.
 Unfortunately, where we live, there is no local hummus maker. So... I make my own. We haven't found a pre-made hummus that suits us, but it isn't hard to make.

  Add a can of chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, and a little garlic in a food processor and let 'er rip. Make sure it is a smooth paste and not grainy. Canned chickpeas work just as well as cooked dried chickpeas, although there are purists who disagree. Don't forget to keep out a few chickpeas to use as garnish.

Finish the garnish with sumac and parsley. Top with extra virgin olive oil, and it's ready to go.

I did say hummus was good anytime, didn't I?

Ever have a day with no inspiration for dinner? Try this: Crumble some ground meat in a skillet, add some pine nuts that have been lightly browned in olive oil. Instead of the sumac and parsley, put the meat on a dish of hummus. Top with browned pine nuts. Serve with a veggie platter—and add some pickled turnips, or dill pickles if you can't find turnips.

If you want to top your hummus with some of the best olive oil in the world, try some made from olives grown in Palestine. I buy mine from Canaan Fair Trade. They sell all kinds of great food.

This video shows a Palestinian woman making hummus with a blender. While she doesn't use as much tahini as I would use, I love watching the family eat. Notice that they use little snippets of bread and pop the whole thing in their mouths. No double dipping, just sharing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Arabic Bread: an important part of culture

© 2010 jeffreyw, Flicker from

Arabic bread is more than just a food. It is an integral part of the culture across the Arab world, and no wonder, since historians believe that wheat and barley were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago. At that time the first grinding stone was invented in Egypt, and the first grain was crushed. The first bread was flat and thin, similar to tortillas. ("History of bread," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 23, 2015).
     It is widely thought that the Egyptian skill with brewing beer and the warm climate led to the discovery of levening. Around 2500 BC, the first leavened breads were made in Egypt. (Encyclopedia of Food and Culture | 2003 | Franklin, Peter S. COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group Inc. as quoted in
     Ever since that time, Bread has been part of each meal. The soft flat loaves can serve as a plate. Its soft, pliable texture make it perfect for dipping in liquid or semi-liquid foods. It can be folded into a scoop to pick up anything solid or semi-solid. Endlessly adaptable, it is the plate, the utensil, or the meal itself. Often called aish, which also means life, it is clear that for Arabs, bread is truly the staff of life. With a ten thousand year history, is it any wonder Arabs say that Bread is Life?
     Food plays a large part in my novels, Born a Refugee and Checkpoint Kalandia, just as in real life.  It truly is part of the culture. (
     Pita bread, also known as pocket bread, can be made from any standard bread recipe. When it is time to shape the dough, shape into balls about two inches in diameter. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise. After the dough rises, roll each ball into a disc a little less than a half an inch thick and let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Baking will puff the loaves into shapes resembling improperly inflated footballs. After the bread cools, each loaf will flatten out into its characteristic shape and there will be a pocket in the middle.

© 2010 jeffreyw, Flicker from
     Although everyone thinks of pita bread when the topic of Arabic bread arises, that is not the only kind of bread native to Palestine. Taboon (or tabun) bread is named after the domed stone ovens that villagers used to build. The ovens resemble stone igloos. On baking day, a fire is built inside the oven. As the fire subsides into embers, the village women slap the thin rounds of dough onto the oven walls. When the dough begins to fall off the wall, it is done. At least that is what I remember from a conversation with an elderly relative who lived in the small village of Burhahm. Today there are other ways of getting similar results. I have seen people bake the bread on an inverted wok over an open flame. It can also be approximated at home. that suggests preheating a flat baking dish covered with small rocks or pebbles to duplicate the texture of the original.

All recipes for good pita bread. It is easy to make at home. Some people use ovens, others used large flat frying pans. There are many videos available that walk you through the process. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Friday, June 19, 2015

International Refugee Day - June 20, 2015

Palestinians are the largest and longest suffering group of refugees in the world. One in three refugees world wide is Palestinian. There are about 6.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide. More than 3.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents displaced in 1948 are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations. Another 1.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents, also displaced in 1948, are not registered with the UN. About 263,000 Palestinians and their descendents are internally displaced i.e. inside present-day "Israel".

     Descendents of refugees are included in the total population because they are still unable to realize their basic rights. About 20,000 Palestinians were internally displaced in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2001, some 3,000 of whom were newly displaced during that year. At least 26,000 Palestinians left the West Bank and Gaza Strip for Jordan and did not return between June 2000 and July 2001. Such transfer of the Palestinian population driven by hard econmic and discriminatory conditions continues today. 
The refugee camps began as tent cities in 1948. The inhabitants expected to be returning home in a matter of days or weeks.
It has now been a matter of generations. In many places they are refused permission to work. In others, access to available work is restricted by checkpoints. 
Political conditions and restrictions as well as  frequent outbreaks of violence conspire to keep the inhabitants from gathering the resources needed to move out of the camps.

(See for this and other photos of refugee camps and refugee life.)

One such checkpoint is Kalandia (often spelled Qalandia). Checkpoints Project on Youtube has a series of 6 videos focusing on the checkpoints. The first is Kalandia: A Checkpoint Story that shows the evolution of the checkpoint.

My novel, Checkpoint Kalandia, shows the impact such a checkpoint can have on the everyday life of a refugee family.

Many of these families still rely on the generosity of others
to survive. In honor of World Refugee Day, please consider making a donation to help them.