Last weekend Ron and I were guests at our very old friends’, Fatma and Abdullah, in the Bedouin village of Kaabiye. I told them about my interest in cooking luf, and their daughter Hal’la, who happened to be visiting, invited me to come to her home one day and she would show me how. This edible plant, which grows wild in these parts, is considered by local Arabs to be a delicacy and powerfully healthy. It does, however, bear a toxin which needs to be neutralized in cooking, and my one attempt to prepare luf on my own practically sent me to the hospital. But I was determined to experience the good side of luf (see my post of December 1) and this was my opportunity.
We set a date for this afternoon and I drove to her home in the village of Ayadat, about 20 minutes from my home. Just in my own yard I had managed to pick a full bug of the ornate fleshy leaves which I presented to Hal’la, along with a bag of lemons I’d picked which I knew we would need.
Hal’la is a warm and gracious woman in her late 20′s – a housewife and mother of 5. Her husband is a Hebrew teacher in the local high school. We sat at the dining room table of her neat and well appointed home and she showed me how to remove the fibrous stem and spine of each leaf, fold it in half and place it on a pile. About half of the leaves I’d picked – the young, tender-looking ones – ended up in the reject pile with the stems. They were, as she translated from Arabic, “brother of luf” and would ruin the dish.
With the de-spining finished, Hal’la showed me how to take a pile of the folded leaves, wrap a big leaf around them, then slice the whole roll in half. Then she put one rolled half on top of the other and cut through them to make thin shreds of the leaves. When that was done, we chopped onion, sautéed it in a generous pool of olive oil, and when it was transparent, added the shredded luf. Soon it was emitting plenty of liquid but Hal’la kept stirring the mixture so it would steam away. This, she assured me, would prevent any unpleasant sensation in one’s mouth from eating it.
When most of the liquid had dissipated, she added another full cup of water and again stirred constantly until that, too was gone. I squeezed juice from about 5 small lemons and we added that to the mixture – after about an hour of cooking, the luf was a deep green, thick stew, and ready to eat.
Hal’la’s husband in the meantime went to bring fresh pita bread and we all broke off bite-sized pieces and dug in with gusto. Yes, it did have a very nice flavor. But within seconds the entire roof of my mouth and throat started to tingle with little needles. It wasn’t intense enough to prevent me from smiling and exclaiming over how delicious it was. But it seems that luf and I are not meant to be.