Turkish onion salad - or Arabic salsa, as my mother likes to describe it to foreigners - is an easy way to bring a sense of adventure to your mezze spread. Mildly piquant with the bite of onion, this smokey-sweet salsa has tomato, honey and cumin, but you can spice it up with other add-ins, like parsley and a kick of hot pepper. There is really no wrong way to eat this simple onion salad. Drop a spoonful onto a platter of hummus. Top your chicken kebabs or lamb burgers with a spoonful. Scoop some up in a loaf of Arabic bread. Spread a little on a slice of grilled bread. Or, if you're really crazy (like me), mix it right into your ground lamb patties destined for the grill. I promise, you won't regret it.
So . . . I'm basically eating onion, I asked my mother, when I watched her make this dish for the first time. We were in her glossily tiled kitchen in Bethlehem, and I watched her mince the onion finely, and then salt it, and drain away the liquid in a sieve. Yes, she laughed, this is just onion. But here is the secret. You have to salt the onion and drain away the onion juice, so that it becomes mild instead of scaring away the neighbors. Still, she said. You don't eat much.
Onions occupy a comedic role in the mind of the Arab. Though we love to eat them and fry them up for many of our dishes, they don't have much, well, honor. Meats, nuts, spices--these are the jewels of the kitchen. The lowly onion, or bussul, which my mother and father always pronounced in an exaggerated, throaty manner, is the butt of jokes and insult. Take, for example, this colorful little Arabic insult, which my mother translated for me a few months ago: Why don't you take your idea and go plant some onion with it?
Maybe it has more acridity in the Arabic?
So, yes, we insult with onions, and also save with onions. There is a lovely story from the first intifada, the Palestinian uprising, of a Palestinian woman who tossed onions down from her window whenever the Israeli army tear-gassed her street, so that demonstrators could use onions to counteract the effect of the tear gas. As the story goes, several people escaped the tear gas only to be hit by onions.
If you can't cry anymore, you might as well laugh, they say.
And so, we laugh, especially when we eat bussul salad.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Za'atarZa'atar (also spelled zaitar, zatar, zattar, zatr) means two things in Arabic: it is the Arabic word for the herb thyme, and it is also the word for a thyme spice mixture. The recipe varies across the Levant, and even varies within regions, as families grind their own cherished blends, but the Palestinian za'atar that I am most familiar with, the one that my mother makes, contains ground thyme, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt. This spice mixture, collected from the land that they live on, holds in it the heart of the Palestinian. To eat zait-and-za'atar, olive oil and this spice mixture, is to partake of our land.
Friday, February 8, 2013
Pomegranate molasses. It's amazing.
My mother introduced me to this ingredient, by hand-carrying a bottle from home. I have kept a bottle in my cupboard ever since. It's a thick, viscous syrup made out of boiled-down pomegranate juice. The flavor is complex, puckering tart - almost lemony, fruity, and slightly sweet.
What do I do with this?
Use it on meats, my mother said. Rub it into a beef roast, or a pork roast. Spread it over a roast chicken. It is magic, I tell you.
It really is.