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After a recent community gathering in the Lemon Tree Trust Liberation Garden in Domiz camp, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Aveen shares her thoughts on why the garden is so important to women living in Domiz:
The Liberation Garden has become part of the lives of every woman working here and is of great importance to our lives. The garden provides food, which is important, especially for more vulnerable families in Domiz, but it is also a huge psychological comfort to us, bringing a sense of hope after so many have lost their homes and previous lives in the move from Syria.
The garden makes us feel comfortable and calm and so we bring breakfast to eat together. We drink tea and discuss family matters. We became a family here and now feel at home in the garden. Our children want to come here to help us tend the plants and play in the soil – they love doing this!
We try to support as many people as possible with produce and plants from the raised beds we tend. We don’t have enough room for every family to have a plot, but we all grow more than we need so that we can donate some to others. We recently prepared a meal using produce from the garden to enjoy together, to give thanks for the garden and celebrate our friendship and love.
Cooking and sharing food is an important part of life in Domiz and the fresh herbs, vegetables and fruit grown in home gardens and the community Liberation Garden bring a taste of home to people living here. We hope you enjoy these two traditional Syrian recipes, gifted to us by Nosheen and Khanem.
Nosheen grew up with a strong connection to Syrian food and is no stranger to rich flavours. Her father, a beekeeper and honey merchant by trade, instilled in her a love of simple, natural flavours early in her life. Memories of sneaking bites of honeycomb with her brother while it dried in the sun colour her early memories of food as being both something that brought her family together, as well as a means for making a living. When Nosheen became a beekeeper herself, receiving a beehive from her father as a wedding gift, she took not only a love of honey with her when she moved to Damascus, but also her mother’s cooking lessons. On slow Saturday mornings, now living as a refugee in Domiz camp, far away from the beehives she once tended, she feeds her own children breakfasts of tea with honey, sun-dried aubergines and flatbreads dipped in fresh olive oil and sprinkled with Za’atar – a spice mix scented with thyme, sesame and sumac. It is a fragrant reminder of home, and the strong roots she comes from.
“My mother would cook the traditional way. That means she used a lot less ingredients then we do today, but she still managed to have more flavor. She taught me how to make Kuttelk, and Maqluba and Kousa Mahshi. All the things I now love. Sometimes she would only show me once and I would have to try on my own the next time. I still can never make it quite like hers, but I keep trying. Your mother’s cooking is always the best!”
200g medium-grain rice
6 small courgettes
6 small tomatoes
150g finely chopped green onion
20g finely chopped fresh parsley
225g minced beef
1/4 tsp allspice
salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, cut into rounds
240ml lemon juice
3 cloves minced garlic
3 tsp dried mint
Preparation Time: 40 minutes Total Time: 1.5 hours Serves: 4
Soak rice in a bowl for approximately 30 minutes, then rinse and drain until water runs clear
Cut off tops of tomatoes and top ends of courgettes. Use a spoon to empty tomato contents into a bowl to dice for later, and a corer to core inside of courgette. Be careful not to puncture sides or bottom. For added detail, use a vegetable peeler to remove thin vertical lines of skin of the courgettes.
In a bowl, gently knead together drained rice, ground meat, green onion, diced tomato, parsley and allspice, plus generous amounts of salt and pepper.
Fill each tomato and courgette about three-quarters full with the meat-rice mixture, leaving enough room for the rice to expand as it cooks.
To cook, select a deep pot in which the tomatoes and courgette can fit tightly in an upright position. Line bottom of pot with lemon slices.
Arrange tomatoes and courgette in the pot, upright with the opening on top. Add enough water to cover them, adding also the salt, lemon juice, garlic and mint to the water. Cover pot, bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes.
Simmer until rice is fully cooked and zucchini is tender. Carefully transfer to a serving platter.
Khanem and her husband came to Domiz in 2012, leaving their hometown of Qamishli, in Northern Syria, after war broke out. Since arriving in Domiz, Khanem has become something of a local expert when it comes to traditional Syrian cooking. Young women seek her out for advice and she is regularly consulted for help in planning special meals for weddings and birthdays. She explains that her family memories are often intertwined with recollections of the meals she would cook for her children, and it is clear how deeply interwoven food is into the story of her family. Potato soup with a tomato broth, sava, (a wheat based dish similar to couscous), fresh chicken, quartered and fried in oil. Spices like cumin and coriander, and sheep’s cheese mixed with garlic. These things don’t just represent Syrian cooking to Khanem, they are an embodiment of her personal memory and taste. They represent home.
Although the war has changed everything, and Khanem now finds herself in a kitchen she deems less than adequate, with a limited budget and lack of preferred ingredients, she still finds joy in creating meals for her family. She says her cooking is traditional, and like many women in Domiz, she learned the recipes and techniques from her mother.
“When my children were young, I would spend hours creating large family meals for them. As they began to grow up and leave for University, my kitchen felt so empty so I began helping my neighbours and teaching them some of my recipes. Now I have grandchildren, so my kitchen is full again, but I still love to teach. Some women here have lost their mothers, and when they come to ask for advice, it fills my heart with joy to help them.”
2 medium-sized aubergines, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1.5cm slices
10 small tomatoes (8 cut into sliced rounds, 2 diced)
5 small potatoes, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 small lemons
1 green pepper
25g finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
450g minced beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon of paprika
2 x 425g tins tomato paste
Preparation Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 1 hour Serves: 8
Coat large round pan with oil and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Layer entire bottom of pan with sliced tomato rounds, leaving a few rounds to add to the top of the dish later
Layer sliced potato rounds directly on top of tomato layer
In a separate bowl, mix minced beef, chopped onion, green pepper, diced tomato, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper and paprika
Layer beef mixture on top of potato layer in pan
Brush both sides of aubergine slices lightly with olive oil, and layer on top of beef mixture
Brush each slice of aubergine facing up with tomato paste
Add remaining tomato rounds on top
Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes
Remove from oven and serve immediately.
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