7th December 2013
The last time I ate Mansaf was in a Bedouin tent in a desert on the Eastern side of Syria.
Mansaf is a true "feast" dish - the kind of thing that can only be done to scale - traditionally cooked with dried yoghurt (jameed), lamb and rice, served on a bed of flat bread and enriched with almonds and pine nuts. It is Bedouin, and eaten in Palestine, Syria, and is the national dish of Jordan. Feast dishes such as this are rarely on restaurant menus as they never taste quite the same when made plate by plate.
Our first supperclub in December will be cooked for us by an extraordinary Palestinian cook, Nisrin Abuorf. The daughter of two Palestinian refugees, she grew up in the kind of food tradition that only other refugee communities can really understand. Food is the one thing you can cling to when you are a refugee - oftentimes you've left all your worldly possessions behind you, and maybe even your family, but food is the one thing you can try to recreate to hold on to your heritage and traditions.
Nisrin, whose two aunts still live in Gaza, now lives in London. She wanted to recreate the kind of Christmas meal for us that people would traditionally eat in Palestine. In the course of her research, calling friends and family in Gaza and the West Bank, she found that there wasn't really an equivalent of the Western turkey dinner. People eat their favourite feast dishes, which may include mansaf or m'sakhan, a delicious chicken and onion dish cooked with sumac; magloubeh, an upside-down layered rice, aubergine and meat dish; or stuffed chicken with freekeh, a kind of green wheat. As the Christians often join in the Eid celebrations, doing the "tours" of their Muslim friends' houses, so do the Muslims celebrate Christmas, perhaps invited to eat with Christian friends, or simply enjoying the public holiday and eating out for a special meal. Santas are everywhere, as they are across the world, and children hope for presents.
The fantastic meal she has designed for us is as follows:
"3 Wise Men" Bethlehem kibbeh extravaganza:
Nisrin will make us 3 kinds of kibbeh, which will be based on the 3 special feast dishes
M'sakhan - a true Palestinian dish, stone baked bread spread with onion and sumac and grilled chicken. Traditionally on very special harvest days and special occasions, trays are taken to the fields for the whole family to dig in.
Magloubeh - a tower of rice, vegetables and meat, Magloubeh literally means "upside down" - families gather round the table to see the cooking pot being turned upside down to reveal its contents
Jaj Mahshi - roasted chicken stuffed with freekeh (which means "rolled") - it's green wheat which is rubbed by hand and then roasted immediately in the fields.
Kibbeh are stuffed meatballs and she will use different ingredients and stuffings for each, to make each one taste like a mini-version of the feast dishes. This is a huge amount of work! Each will be served with its own traditional Palestinian style dip. Served with a middle eastern pickles salad.
A rich dried yoghurt and lamb dish on a bed of shrak (thin flat bread) and rice with almonds, pine nuts and parsley
The most festive desert in Palestine - for big family events whole round trays are ordered from kunafeh makers, hot melting white cheese and sweet pastry with ater (Middle Eastern sugar syrup). It is a very rich and satisfying dessert.
Please join us for this very special guest chef and our Bethlehem Supper Club. Cost for this fantastic meal will be £45 of which £35 will go direct to Medecins Sans Frontieres. Please e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org with bookings!