A Day in Deir el Assad

Posted on January 9, 2011


By happy coincidence, a friend invited me to join a cooking class she was going to, to be held by a woman living in Deir el Assad, an Arab village that is built into the mountains opposite Carmiel, in the Upper Galilee. And just as fortuitously, I happened to be free this morning, and able to attend.

Kamla and Rim checking the Mejadra

Our hosts were Kamla and Rim, two enterprising sisters and gifted cooks who established a catering company specializing in traditional Arab cuisine. They also do cooking courses in their industrial kitchen, which is perfectly appointed for this purpose, and there were baskets of fresh vegetables and herbs, and piles of spices waiting when we arrived.

We were five people in the class and Kamla very quickly put us to work – we chopped onions, zucchini, cauliflower and carrots – gave them a quick bath in boiling oil and set them into a pot – then covered them with browned noodles mixed with rice, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper, to make “Makluba”. Then we chopped more vegetables that went into a tomato sauce (home-prepared pureed fresh tomatoes), along with coarsely ground bulgar (which the sisters make themselves out of fresh wheat) for the “Shorbata”. We sautéed onions and celery to season a red lentil soup (no soup powder!), and sautéed onions in a profusion of olive oil, which were added to small dark lentils and bulgar, to prepare the requisite Mejadra.

While the pots were simmering, we set off to the house next door, where in the back yard, another sister was baking fresh pita on a wood-burning tabun. We brought balls of labaneh with us, and zaatar mixed with olive oil, and spread it on the fresh dough, which went into the oven. These are culinary experiences that are unforgettable.

 Note the “gefet” in the bucket at her feet – left over from the olive press – excellent fuel

When we went back to the kitchen, we finished up our salads – parsley-rich Tabbouleh, a salad with “Gargir” – a local green that is peppery like rocket, and a salad of whole fresh, soft zaatar leaves with olive oil and ground sumac. Need I say more? I hope to return to Kamla and Rim soon – and lucky are those who join me!

Fresh and healthy