Throughout my research for this piece of writing and whenever I looked up some facts about Jordan, the word ‘small’ kept popping up. Despite its size (an area of 89.213 square kilometres-roughly the same size of Portugal), Jordan is not a country without great significance and attributes.
Sandwiched between Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Palestine/Israel, and a land with very little resources and chronic conflicts in neighbouring countries, the only card Jordan can play is that of diplomacy.
‘Peace’ is another word that also emerges when discussing Jordanian politics in the region. A tolerant and peaceful country, Jordan has for centuries welcomed a mix of nationalities and religions, constantly changing and enriching its culture. From the Turks to the Circassians, Bedouins to Levantines, Jordanian cuisine has evolved to reflect the melding together of their various identities into a food culture that is rich, varied and unique.
Politics and food tend to be interconnected. Jordan was under 400 years of Ottoman rule between 1500 till 1900. The Turkish cuisine cloned itself onto the identity of Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese and Jordanian table. It created common grounds of flavour and taste. There are always themes and variations to the same exact dish. Home cooks constructed and deconstructed elements to the dishes to suit what was available and affordable. That’s why the same dish may have a different look and name from one household to another. Also because of its location along the ancient trade routes, you will find many varied spices used in the Jordanian kitchen.
The three dominant cuisines in Jordan come from different places; East Bank Jordanians bring Bedouin customs and hospitality to the table. Their food reflect the scarcity of produce in the desert. This gave life to Jordan’s National dish ‘the mansaf’. Its main components are rice, lamb meat, jameed; which is a special spiced yogurt sauce made of dried goat milk and finally samn which is ghee.
Then comes the Mediterranean influence, inherited from the Turks and brought forward with the Palestinian refugees. Palestinians form more than half of the population in Jordanian . These dishes include a lot of olive oil, seasonal vegetables, poultry, meat or fish and tomato based cassaroles.
The third influence on the Jordanian table is that of the Circassians; a minority moslem immigrant caucasians who flew the Russian/Caucasian war and resided in Turkey, Jordan, Palestine and neighbouring countries. They brought with them dishes that were appropriate to the cold mountains of Caucasia. Dishes that have components like chilli pepper powder, garlic, walnuts, poultry, lentils and rice.
The Armenian kitchen has also found its way onto the Syrian and Jordanian tables. With the Iraqi war and the troubling situation in Syria, refugees and immigrants brought in their own culture and identity into the Jordanian Kitchen, enriching and adding more layers to the existing pot.
Foul Bil Zeit
I have chosen to cook Foul bil Zeit (broad green beans cooked in olive oil) This dish reflects the diversity of Middle Eastern cooking. It is one of many vegetarian dishes cooked in olive oil. Broad beans are picked in springtime in Jordan. Sometimes they are picked, briefly boiled and frozen. The combination of olive oil, lemon, garlic coriander freshly picked soft broad beans dipped in bread with yoghurt as a side dish makes it delectable. There are different ways to cooking this Levantines dish. I have chosen to cook it the way my mother and grandmother have.
5 tablespoons oil (2.5 mixed vegetable/olive oil) 2.5 Virgin Olive oil for drizzling at end of cooking.
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 pieces garlic, crushed with sea salt
1 coriander, washed and cut finely
700g broad beans, destring sides using a peeler, cut in half or into 1/3 length and wash.
Pinch of: cinnamon, sweet pepper powder, cracked black pepper. Add slat and pepper to taste at end of cooking
1/3 to ½ cup water.
Fry the onions in 2.5 mixed oils for five to ten minutes- add pinch sea salt. Add the garlic and fry for one minute. Add chopped coriander and cook for one minute. Add the beans and fry all together on medium heat for. Add all the spices. Let it cook for two minuets before adding water. Reduce the heat and let it all cook for 30 minuets. Stir occasionally using a tablespoon, making sure not to break the beans and mush in process. If the beans have been frozen for more than a month, you may need to cook fro 45 minutes.
Once the beans and skin are tender, taste and season with Salt and pepper and drizzle with remaining olive oil. To be had with a drizzle or lemon juice and side yogurt with bread. Eat using your hands. Bon Appetit
Muhallabiya is basically milk pudding. My Grandmother always made this desert when she had left over milk in her fridge. She made different varieties of it, some with an apricot or orange jam topping, some with rice and my favourite; plain and flavoured with mastic and pistachio on top. It is a delicate and sweet pudding.
Crush the mastic with a pestel & mortar, tie inside a small muslin cloth and place inside the milk pan(sometimes I just place directly in the milk -sans muslin- expect some crunch in your bite). In a side bowl place the cornstarch adding a cup of milk gradually and whisking until you get a smooth consistency. Heat the remaining of the left milk stirring all the time and adding the sugar to it once the sugar is dissolved, add the corn starch/milk mixture and bring the milk to a gentle boil and remove once it thickens. Sieve the milk mixture into a jug, keeping back all unwanted bits. Ladle into your serving glasses and let it cool down completely. Refrigerate for five hours and just before serving sprinkle with crushed pistachio. Bon appetit!
Ingredients (Makes 10 cups)
- 1300 ml Full Fat Milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 10 grams of crushed Mastica (tied in a small muslin cloth)
- 1 cup Corn Starch
- 1/2 cup (approx) additional milk for the starch
- handful of crushed pistachio