In my friend’s kitchen tonight, I learned some of his mother’s secrets for simple but fantastic dishes.
Eggplants, thickly sliced, were lowered into a sizzling pan of cooking oil, browning to a melted perfection.
Hot chili peppers got a brief dip in the oil and were then pulped in a mortar and pestle, along with a head of garlic and, later, lime juice.
I’ve arrived too late to see the steps to the tomato and onion stew, but gather it began with sauteed onions and whole cloves of garlic, with pureed (fresh) tomatoes added later.
One of her sons, Z, is yet married (though he wants to marry), lacking the money to do so. It may be some time before he can marry: income is scarce as work is virtually non-existent under the siege. He does pretty well in the kitchen though, and his bride to be will be lucky to have help cooking when they do marry.
For my part, I peeled some garlic and wasn’t allowed to do any more. So, I contented myself with photographing. At least 10 minutes were devoted to photographing the finished eggplant (beytinjahn) dish, topped with the hot pepper-garlic-lime sauce. The eggplant, flesh now tanned and black skin contrasting beautifully with the bright green of the hot chili pepper, was too lovely [and later I confirmed the taste was also too lovely].
But I was mainly fascinated with how my friend’s mother did things, making do without the conveniences I know in my Canadian kitchen. No strainer? No problem: juice the lime with a knife and strain the juice of its seeds with a spoon.
She used simple ingredients, cheap but delicious, and expanded the meal with additions of rice and gergil (a type of lettuce).
As she cooked we talked about the price of cooking gas. The battered canister they have lasts about 2 months, after which a refill is required. The price nowadays for a refill canister is about 50 shekels. But months ago it was much higher. The siege on Gaza causes the prices of everything to fluctuate, mostly going up, up, up.
Their kitchen is simple, functional. They have a refrigerator, but the door doesn’t stay firmly closed and it’s old and past its time anyway. New refrigerators are among the more expensive appliances as they too must come via the tunnels, but are more cumbersome to smuggle in, raising the price.
The house isn’t connected to water lines. When the water truck comes, they fill up tanks and later pump them up 3 levels to roof tanks. Glass panels acting much like solar panels heat those water tanks used for hot showers or washing.
“Drink the yogurt first,” she advised after the call to prayer had passed. The liquid yogurt, along with dates, is one of the better ways of breaking fast, they tell me.
It’s still summer, which makes Ramadan all the more challenging, for going without water during intense days isn’t for the weak. But at the same time, when winter returns, something like cooking gas which some may pass on now, or use sparingly, becomes vital again, in staving off the cold.
One wonders with each passing day when enough will be enough and the imprisoned population of Gaza will be returned their basic rights and dignity. Though they always manage to keep the dignity.