My non Middle-Eastern friends often ask me how to make typical Middle-Eastern dishes. While I am no expert at this, I am slowly picking up the art of Middle Eastern cooking, and I am always happy to share what I learn. This recipe come straight from my Mama. Growing up, we would often eat ‘Ads’ (pronounced ‘Atz’) during Coptic fasting season (in which we were to abstain from all animal products, and basically become vegan for a certain period of time). While I still associate ‘ads’ with fasting, I have come to make this soup often simply because it is healthy, tasty, filling and easy to make. Hope you enjoy as much as I do!
Mom’s Lentil Soup (adz):
1 cup red (which are really orange) lentils
3 cups water
1 small yellow onion (cut in quarters)
2 cloves of garlic
1 carrot cut into small pieces
A few sticks of celery cut into small pieces (optional)
Salt, pepper and cumin to taste
1/2 – 1 lemon
Combine all ingredients (except for the lemon) together in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes (or until carrots are soft).
Using a blender, or food processor, purée the mixture to desired consistency (you can add water if you find the soup to be too thick). Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste and enjoy.
So we have been here for about a week – and I have already found a place to buy candied chickpeas!
Lucky for us, there is a Middle Eastern grocer about 5 minutes away from our home and, though it’s relatively small, it carries everything I would have wanted to find. Besides the candied chickpeas, I was hoping to find some Pomegranate molasses (and I did!). The Lebanese use this a lot in their cooking and I’ve been meaning to try it out because the few times that I have tried it, it was just so good. My mother in law makes particularly good use of this stuff and I’m hoping to follow in her footsteps. Once I’ve had a chance to try a few recipes with this little secret weapon, I will report back. Expect greatness.
J and I found ourselves feeling particularly at home in this shop and as a result we bought a lot of items simply because they were comfort foods, and not because we had any particular craving for them (though they will not be going to waste, I can tell you that). Its amazing how just having certain items in your fridge can make your little abode feel like that much more of a home. Here is a list of what we came back with:
- Labneh: a soft Lebanese cheese made by straining yogurt
- Pickled turnips (or in Arabic “lift”): you might have had these in a shawarma sandwich
- Macedonian feta cheese: this is what my dad always has in the fridge at home. J and I are hoping that the kind we bought will be just as good
- Za’atar: a mixture made up of thyme, sesame seeds and sumac. It can be used as a seasoning or can also be eaten with lebneh.
- Mango juice: reminds me so much of my visits to Egypt
- Halawa: a sweet crumbly spread usually eaten with bread at breakfast time but it can be eaten in a variety of ways any time of the day
- Candied chickpeas: these were not freshly made in-store as they are in the roastery in Ottawa and as a result they are quite expensive here!
The funniest part about this list is that the majority of these items are not ones we are accustomed to buying. They are tastes and flavours which we are usually fed when visiting family, or which our parents will just pick up for us when they go to the Middle Eastern grocery store. In fact, save for the chick peas, this is probably the first time I have ever purchased any of these items for myself.
The outing was special to us though. Though the Middle Eastern grocery store is not a regular stop for us in Ottawa, we naturally gravitated towards it here. I think it might be because we both have an unspoken desire and need to preserve our cultures and to integrate them into our new home. When we live close to family, we really don’t need to put any effort into this. Now that we are further away, it seems to have happened organically.
Can you guess what these colorful balls of sweetness are?
My mother in law gave us a bag of these pretty little chick peas a few weeks ago and ever since that day, I have wanted to go to the store to get some more. They are so delicious. I am not sure about their nutritional value – since the amount of sugar probably cancels out the fact that you are eating chickpeas – but they are so good.
So this week I took a trip to the Lebanese roastery, where the chickpeas are roasted and candied. For those of you who don’t know, my husband is Lebanese. Being of Egyptian background myself, I did not think I had too much to learn about Lebanese culture. But these candied chickpeas, or kdaameh, are a case in point to show that I was wrong. Lebanese culture is so different from Egyptian culture in so many ways – language, food, people, history, traditions, pretty much everything. I am learning and discovering more about this culture on a daily basis. I love being able to pick and choose what I like from both of our cultures, and leaving out the parts that I don’t like as much. In any case, candied chickpeas definitely made the cut.
So, back to my story: I took my first trip over to the Lebanese roastery and loved what I saw. Bins of colourfoul chickpeas, almonds, coffee beans and seeds – all freshly roasted….mmmm. Lots of fancy chocolate and teas all imported from Lebanon. The store itself was not very fancy, and is located in a small plaza on a side street. But I kid you not, while I was in there, I felt like I was in Lebanon. Arabic music playing, only Lebanese people doing their shopping, no English to be heard in the store – it was just wonderful and I loved being in there. I plan on making regular trips to the roastery from now on. Well, that is, until we move. But hopefully I can find another one in Halifax.
And that is the story of the how the “deformed gum balls” came into my world.
What are some aspects of other cultures that you have invited into you life?