Baking with Balkees

Posted on April 28, 2010


Balkees and her candied pumpkin

One of the most felicitous outcomes of my research on the local foods of the Galilee has been the friendship that has developed between me and Balkees Abu Rabieh of Nazareth.  Balkees is one of the most gifted cooks and bakers I’ve ever met and the love that she invests in each of her creations enhances their flavor immeasurably.   Her outstanding baked goods are in high demand for weddings and celebrations, and when I sat at her dining room table this morning, she was working on an order for a cookie called Ghreibe – the dough based on flour to which she added a silky mixture of butter, powdered sugar and rosewater.  She pulled off little clumps of the stiff dough and formed them into half egg-shell-like cups, which she filled with a teaspoon of finely chopped pistachios.  These were pinched closed and shaped into cookies with an elegant twist at each end. 

ghreibe under bowl of pistachios

She also showed me a pot of candied pumpkin she’d made for the same wedding and just taken off the stove – one of the more unusual and delicious local specialties.  The technique for making it is especially intriguing – the pumpkin (the local, large white-skinned variety) is peeled and soaked in a mixture of water and what I believe translates to lime (i.e. whitewash) for 2 days – then carefully rinsed. Then the pieces are soaked again in water with lemon juice for another half day. Finally they are cooked in a syrup made with a little of that lemon water and sugar, seasoned with lemon geranium leaves.  The result is crunchy and refreshing.  I guess that’s what the lime is for….