The Shuk

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This is a crazy city.

I mean that with affection mostly, and I suppose the same could be said of a lot of the world’s big cities, especially those outside of the often tame and manicured western hemisphere. And I am sure there are places that are more crowded, more bustling, hotter, sweatier, dustier and more colorful — but not many. This city also has the particular distinction of being a Holy City to three very major religions which means that in order to live here, you have to either believe with [what is often a very frightening level of] assuredness and conviction in your faith and god, or be able to live among the impassioned religious without losing your sense of self, or just plain not be intimidated into adopting codes of dress or observance that are not your own.

Spending day after long hot day alone in Jerusalem with Auralee, while Jeff is busy with the school work that brought us here (and I do thank him for it, just not always at 4 or 5 pm when my daughter hits her cranky hour) can make a gal a little bananas — reckless even. And it was with a certain degree of flippancy that I bounded out of the house the other evening, 5 minutes after Jeff walked in the door (to be greeted grumpily by wife and child) in an attempt to de-frazzle with a long walk.

When I was little, as well as in my high school and university days, I spent many an hour wandering the Arab shuk in the Old City, first with my parents, then often alone or with a friend, and never with even the slightest thought to my safety (much to the horror of some of my Israeli female friends). Since arriving here a few weeks ago, however, I suddenly felt differently about doing so. I wondered if I really had been reckless, or if it was more dangerous now, or different because I am married?

I decided that the only way to know how “different” it is, or how comfortable I would be, was just to dive in. I had intended to take some photos while I was there (especially of the fabrics and spices) but those of you who have been a woman walking alone in a shuk know that, unless you are ready to shop, you have to keep moving or risk encouraging the shopkeepers who already call out to you non-stop. As I approached the end of a long corridor, a youngish man called to me (for the 5oth time) “Hi, hello, hi!” and I finally just broke down laughing. I turned to him and I said, “What!? What is it with you guys? C’mon! I can’t walk three steps, it’s silly.” He laughed and said, “I know, sorry, we’re just bored. We sit here all day and sometimes it is slow…” My smile and hesitation were more than enough to garner me an invitation to ‘enjoy his hospitality’, and in an instant I was inside his shop and we were speaking first English, then Hebrew, and drinking hot tea while reviewing the usual subjects that one does in such a situation.

An hour later, after Munir and I had debriefed on politics, life in America vs. Israel, the feminist movement, cooking, a wife’s role and the future of the world’s youth (I am not joking), I stepped back out into the shuk and made my way home, awash with relief that I can still be who I was here ten years before, and feeling much more fully myself than I had been earlier that day.

Ari’s take on Arab-style lentils and rice


I’ve realized that although a lot of people appreciate a new and unusual recipe, many of you simply want to know how to prepare basic things that look easy on the outside, but are tough to get just right, and may be intimidating to those of you who have never cooked them before. One of these things for me, was always this Arab-style rice with tiny noodles. I am sure that there are millions of little old grandmas out there, preparing this thousands of different ways, but this is my way, and it works. Enjoy.

Rice

For this recipe you will need:

A smallish quantity of the thinnest egg noodles you can find, or vermicelli, broken into small pieces (~ 1 inch)

3-4 times that amount of good quality rice (basmati, persian etc. You can also use brown, but soak it for 24 hours, first)

vegetable broth or boullion cubes/powder

oil

If you are using white rice, rise it in several changes of water until the water is clear.

In a medium, wide bottomed skillet heat a Tbs or two of oil (canola or olive is fine) over a medium flame. When it is hot add the noodles (you should have enough to just cover the bottom of the pan in a single-ish layer), and stir occasionally until they are golden brown careful not to burn them). Now add enough water to cover them (a cup should be fine) and cover the pot and bring to a boil (do not walk away– this will happen quickly). When they have boiled, add the soup powder and rice (or rice and broth) your rice and noodles should be covered with liquid by 1/2-3/4 of an inch. Cover the pot and bring just to a boil, then simmer on the lowest heat possible until the rice is cooked (if you are using white this will take 20 + minutes).

Note: This is something that will get easier and better with practice. I am purposely not providing you with exact measurements, because I think it should eventually be pretty easy to eyeball a rice recipe.

Lentils

I cook all my beans in a slow cooker. I just find that to be the easiest way to prepare them without worrying about over-boiling and having them turn to mush.

1 medium-large yellow onion

1-2 tsp cumin

2-3 cups french lentils

water or broth

Pick through lentils and remove and stones or debris. Rinse thoroughly, then soak overnight (if you must leave them soaking longer, put them in the fridge).

Cut onion into quarters and thinly slice. Saute in oil over medium heat until softened. Add cumin, salt, pepper and lentils and stir until lentils and covered with oil and spices. Transfer to a slow cooker and cover with water (slow cooker should be 3/4 full). Cook on high for 8-12 hours. At the end of cooking feel free to add washed spinach or chard leaves and cook until they are soft. Season with additional salt and pepper and serve over the rice with hardboiled eggs and dollops of goat labane (like greek yogurt).

One thought on “The Shuk

  1. These photos are wonderful and the the recollections of jerusalem from your childhood juxtaposed with now are a joy to read. The sights and smells fill my senses.

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