Posts Tagged ‘Holly Warah’

Moroccan-style Lentil Soup with Chickpeas

August 16th, 2011 14 comments

I love this soup! This is a wonderful soup to eat as a meal with crusty bread—or to break your fast during Ramadan. This particular soup was adapted from a recipe in Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. (A lovely cookbook). However, I changed the ingredients to make the soup heartier and healthier.  Also, I experimented with cooking methods to be able to prepare this on the stovetop or in a slow cooker.

If you’ve never used a slow cooker, it’s a wonderful tool—especially during Ramadan. Why? First, food can be prepped and simmering early in the day. Then when it’s time to break your fast, there’s less last-minute rushing around. Second, a slow cooker can free up your stovetop when entertaining. It’s traditional when hosting a Ramadan iftar to prepare many, many dishes. The slow cooker enables you to get a dish going early on and out of the way.

The ingredients in this recipe are generally straight-forward, except for one: harissa. This Tunisian hot chili sauce comes in a tube, can or small jar. It’s normally found in specialty stores; however, I sometimes have trouble finding it in Dubai. This time I used something called “harissa paste” and it worked just fine. For those that like more of a kick, serve extra harissa on the side.

This recipe calls for canned tomatoes, chopped. I suggest avoiding any type of ready-cut canned tomatoes and opt for whole plum tomatoes, which are higher quality. Chopping them yourself takes only a few minutes, and it improves the flavor of the dish.

Moroccan-Style Lentil Soup with Chickpeas

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 carrot, chopped finely

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled & minced

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup orange lentils, picked over and rinsed

1 14½ -ounce can whole plum tomatoes, chopped (reserve liquid)

1 15½-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

6 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock (and/or water)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 to 2 teaspoons harissa

Fresh pepper and 1½ teaspoons salt (or to taste)

Fresh cilantro or parsley (garnish)

Serve with extra lemon slices and harissa on the side.


  1. In a large skillet or cooking pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and carrot and cook until softened. Add the ginger and the four spices, stirring to coat the vegetables.
  2. Transfer the onion mixture to a slow cooker. Alternatively, keep the mixture in the cooking pot to cook on the stovetop. Add the lentils, chickpeas, stock, and chopped tomatoes, including the liquid.
  3. SLOW COOKER METHOD: Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours—or on High for 4 hours.
  4. STOVETOP METHOD: Simmer gently, uncovered, over low heat for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add extra liquid if necessary.
  5. Just before serving, add the lemon juice and harissa and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve with lemon slices and extra harissa on the side.

Tell me: what is your favorite Moroccan food—or Ramadan time-saver?

Favorite Things about the United Arab Emirates

June 18th, 2011 7 comments

A few of my favorite things about the United Arab Emirates:

Favorite Book from the UAE

Whenever a fellow expat complains to me about the UAE, I say to them, “There’s a book you should read.”

I tell them about From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim. The subtitle is A Story of Abu Dhabi but because Abu Dhabi is the capital, the book reads like the story of the UAE.

First published in 1995, the book is part history and part memoir. Al-Fahim recounts his childhood, the hardships his family endured and his experiences in the UAE from the 1950s onward. This is all woven with the history of the UAE and its dramatic transformation from a tribal society to a modern nation.

The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about life in the UAE before the discovery of oil. Al-Fahim explains that as a child, the kandura had no pockets because they had nothing to put in them. He recounts traveling by camel from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi and describes the treacherous job of pearl diving. He gives insights into why Sheikh Zayed is so revered by his people. Interestingly, Al-Fahim discusses how the British exploited the UAE and why he has forgiven them.

The book was ghostwritten by Susan Macaulay. She visited my book club about six years ago and told us how she conducted a series of interviews with Mr. Al-Fahim, recorded his words and turned them into a cohesive story.

The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Favorite Food from the UAE

Dates! I didn’t appreciate them until I moved to Dubai. Now we eat them almost every day; we serve them to guests and give them as gifts when we travel. Dates are abundant in the UAE and are part of the traditional diet.

When an Emirati friend gives me a big box of dates—as they sometimes do, as many Emiratis have family date farms—I save them to make ma’amoul, date-filled pastries for Eid. Recently, on the day of the Royal Wedding, I made Date Scones.

The time of the year when dates are most important is Ramadan. For thirty days we break our fast by eating dates. Many people claim that dates have extraordinary nutritional value. I don’t know about that, but I like to think it’s true since I eat dates like candy.

Favorite Feature of Emirati Culture

To anyone who says “Emirati culture is dying,” I direct them to the UAE national dress, worn by virtually all Emirati nationals. To me, it’s evidence of strong national pride and no desire whatsoever to assimilate to the dress of the expats filling their country.

And why should they when they have a superb local dress of their own?

The women wear the abaya, a light and flowing cloak—always black, but often with a colorful or sparkly trim—loose-fitting, worn over their clothing, sometimes partially open, sometimes not. This is typically topped with the shayla, a long black scarf. The ways to wrap and pin it are endless and depend upon the personal style and modesty of the woman. Several ways to wear the shayla are here and here, and how to create those amazing head bumps.

The men wear the kandura (dishdash in other dialects)—usually white but sometimes beige, sand or even dark blue. The head cloth is called a gutra, and the black cord to secure it, an agal. The men also have choices on how to wear their gutra, depending on season and preference.

When I’m in the mall, and a group of Emirati women glides past me, their heels clicking, abayas fluttering, heads wrapped artistically in the shayla—honestly, it’s hard not to stare; they look so striking. The same can be said of the men in their luminous white kanduras and carefully folded gutra.

Tell me your favorite thing about the UAE.

Heading to Mecca, Thinking of Jerusalem

April 19th, 2011 8 comments

As I prepare for my family’s upcoming Umrah trip, my mind keeps going back to another journey—our last trip as a family to the holy city of Jerusalem. It was April, 2008, and the trip had its own unique set of challenges and circumstances.

As it becomes increasingly difficult for families like ours—with Palestinian roots—to visit Jerusalem, my memories of this trip take on even more significance. Below is something I wrote after I took that trip.


Due to the political conflict, my family had put off a trip to Jerusalem for years. At last, we decided to do it. I would return to the Old City, so magical and meaningful to me, and my husband would visit his family after nearly a decade. Our children (ages 12, 9 and 6 at the time) were excited to see their father’s country, but scared to visit this place so associated with conflict and violence.

They had a rough idea of our family history: their mother, a girl from Washington State, travelled to Palestine and snatched up their father, a boy from Bethlehem. They fell in love and were married in Jerusalem.

Two decades and three kids later, we flew from our home in Dubai to Amman, Jordan and drove to the dreaded border. Living in the Middle East and being half-Palestinian, our children had gleaned the view that Israel was The Enemy. We coached them on how to behave at the border. Stay quiet and keep your political opinions to yourselves.

A soldier questioned us at length but chatted with our children. My nine-year-old daughter asked me if he were Israeli. I told her that he was. Eventually the Israeli soldier allowed us to enter.

As we drove through the Palestinian countryside, my daughter announced, “Some Israelis are nice.” My husband rolled his eyes, but I was secretly glad their first encounter wasn’t scary.

After a tour of Bethlehem, my husband’s hometown, we were impatient to get to Jerusalem. The journey now required passage through a military checkpoint and the infamous Wall of Separation, dividing Israel from the West Bank. I had seen photos, but its vertical cement slabs were much uglier and more daunting in real life.

To cross, we passed through metal detectors and stood in tedious lines in caged corridors. Afterwards, the bus ride to Jerusalem was solemn. When the ancient stone ramparts of the Old City came into view, we all took in its beauty. A wall of a different sort, these ramparts enclose the Old City and its four quarters – Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian.

With the worn cobblestones beneath our feet, we walked amongst the extraordinary mix of people that make up Jerusalem: monks, nuns, orthodox Jews, Muslim and Christian residents, as well as tourists and pilgrims of three faiths.

Our own pilgrimage was to the Dome of the Rock. Covered in intricate blue tiles, it’s the third holiest mosque in Islam. Around it, the Temple Mount is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. We discussed the significance of the mosque. My husband and I reminded our children that the mosque was where we were married, a fact our youngest son wouldn’t accept. “No way!” he said.

Yes, way.

We took multiple trips around Jerusalem that week. We made it to all four quarters and ate kanafe pastry at Al Jaffar & Sons Pasty shop. We toured the Old City, as well as the New City.

Our oldest son, almost 13 at the time, had a bagel and lox at The Holy Bagel, allowing him a tiny taste of the other side of this conflicted country. While walking along Ben Yehuda Street, he asked me, “So, these are the Israelis?”

I told him yes and asked him what he thought.

He said, “They look like us.”