Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Palestinian Rice Stuffing, or As My Mother Calls It . . .

It's been quite a journey that I have been on, these past few years.

I decided that I was going to become my mother's pupil, and learn how to cook all of the Palestinian dishes that my mother had prepared for our family when I was growing up in Jerusalem.  Though there were some places where I could find similar recipes, it was important to me that I learned how to make our particular foods, instead of dipping into the wider bowl of Middle Eastern cuisine.  I wanted to cook not just like an Arab, but like a Palestinian.  I was very intentional about finding the exact ingredients, the exact flavors that my Nazareth mother used to make her foods.  

I would call my mother every week, and talk food.  She would ask me how the kids were doing, and then eagerly, I would run through my list of questions:

What spices do you use for the kefta?
How do you make sure the yogurt sauce, for mansaf, doesn't break?
What is the stuffing recipe for the malfoof?  And what about the stuffing mixture for the wara' dawali?

Finally, she said, laughing over the line:  

Listen, honey.  

In every recipe, we use the same stuffing.

It's the same. damn. stuffing

Sometimes, we put it in cousa.  Sometimes, we put it cabbage.  Sometimes, we put it in peppers, or in grape leaves.  Sometimes, we stuff a chicken.   But every time, it's the SAME. DAMN. STUFFING.


How about that.

Same damn stuffing. 

Okay, then. That sure makes things easier. 

I stopped asking her for the recipe for the stuffing, or, as I like to now call it, SDS.

From then on, when I stirred up the rice and meat mixture, dusted it with a little allspice and cinnamon, and began to kneed it with my hands, I would wait to feel the waves of history break over me, to feel the presence of my grandmother and my great grandmother, cheering me on.

Instead, all I could hear is my mother's voice:  Same. Damn. Stuffing.  And this from a woman who's language is usually as squeaky clean as her kitchen.

My mother stuffs the SDS into some summer squash, or cousa.  
Oh look.  The SDS, this time, in cabbage rolls.  
I think you already know what goes in here.  
How to Make Arabic Food, then, is much more straightforward than I thought.  It turns out, all you have to do is:

1.  Buy some vegetables.
2.  Stuff them with the SDS.
3.  Put them in a pot and cook them.

It was a bit of a let down to understand this at first.  I wanted there to be more:  more to learn, more to perfect, more to master.  There was - but it was in the technique - how to core the vegetables, how to roll them beautifully, how to layer flavor into the pot, how to make sure your vegetables come out tender and flavorful.

The ingredients themselves - those are straightforward.  They are as simple as the world they come from, where the only available vegetables were the ones grown in the land, that week.  It's a little like finding my great grandmother's grocery list.

  To Buy:   a little rice, a little meat, a little spice, a little oil.     

Palestinian Rice Stuffing, or SDS

1 cup rice, soaked, rinsed and drained
1/2 lb ground beef or lamb
2 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tbsp olive oil

Mix ingredients together in a bowl, and use to stuff or fill a vegetable.

You can find more traditional stuffed recipes here.



  1. Same damn stuffing lol. I like that.

  2. I laughed out loud this morning reading your blog. You write well.

  3. I'll keep this handy when I start harvesting from my garden this summer!

  4. What a treasure to have this SDS recipe. Now I can achieve a dream ... to cook like you. Terrific. Wonderful post.

  5. lol! SDS can also be Same Damn Masalas in my mom's case :-D

  6. I'm so glad you all enjoyed a little light humor here! I think this was my mother's way of telling me that I was taking it a little bit TOO seriously!

  7. I've just returned from my first trip to Palestine, where I've been wanting to go for well over a decade. I can't tell you how happy and excited I am to have discovered your blog! I love making Arabic food and your recipes are an amazing addition to my collection :) :)

    1. Welcome back from Palestine! I am so happy to have a new reader! Welcome!

    2. Welcome back from Palestine! I am so happy to have a new reader! Welcome!

  8. I stuffed veggies for the first time ever yesterday, using this mince - it's so delicious my husband and I couldn't stop eating it! He is generally sceptical of Arabic food but I've been cooking using your recipes and convincing him :)


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