I started reading “Day of Honey” A Memoir of Food, Love, and War Book by Annia Ciezadlo. Married to a Lebanese journalist from New York city; Annia spent some times in Lebanon developing an extensive Lebanese culinary experience from her mother in law; while her husband was covering the war in Iraq.
The book triggered my memory about the war in Lebanon. mmm which one!?
If everyone in this world had my attitude towards life, everyone will be peaceful and overweight.
I was born during the war in the 80’s and had no perception of anything except my bottle of milk. To protect me from bombs, my parents used to hide me under the table! In desperate times like these; Mothers would hang on to chicken feathers to protect their babies if they had to, and my mother was no exception. She used to wrap me toward her chest and exchange turns occasionally with my father, whom with each attempt to get up, used to bang his head with the table.
I was told later that after 10 days of cleaning me with lotions and wipes, my mother finally had some hot water available to give me a proper bath. I probably had spider webs in my body but hey I survived!
My parents, relatives and neighbours also survived! Through the spontanity of sharing and caring: Bread distributed evenly among families, bananas reserved for elderlies, biscuits for kids…all of us sleeping in one room, with no apologies necessary if you step on someone’s neck in the middle of the night to make it to the bathroom.
And there was this particular dish that my friend Michele cannot name anymore: “Bazella w Rez” (a Lebanese stew with peas and rice). The war version of this dish was made of steamed rice, mixed with an expired can of green beans and carrots and an expired can of diced tomatoes.
The only war I witnessed was the attack of Israel on Lebanon in July 2006. My parents didn’t need any training; their plan was to consume the meat in the fridge first in case we lost the electricity power, then the pasta and assorted grains in the pantry. The neighbours did the same and offered to share their 20 kg of minced meat. The choice of “I like my steak medium rare” chez nous à Paris style was not an option.
So we met at our vineyard every night and barbequed kafta skewers. The Beqaa valley had an abundance of vegetables to spare at a very low rate due to road closures and the hardship of delivering goods to the rest of Lebanon; therefore next day lunches consisted of barbeque left overs of kafta pieces dipped in vegetable stews. This consistency remained for the next 34 lunches and dinners! Now, guess what my least favourite dish is? And we survived indeed!
The Authentic version of Bazella w Rez below is an expression of love:
Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add 1 brown onion, finely chopped and cook for 8–10 minutes until starting to turn golden. Add 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped and cook for 1 minute, then add 400g of beef or lamb mince or dice and cook for 4–5 minutes until browned. Add 2 tsp of all spices or baharat and 1 tsp of salt and cook for 1 minute. Add 150 g of thin sliced carrot and 2 tbsp of tomato paste, stir to combine then add 375 ml of chicken stock. Bring to the boil; reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for a further 4–5 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir through 2 cups of fresh or frozen peas and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, to make the rice; heat 2tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of vermicelli and fry for 3–4 minutes, stirring, until golden. Immediately add 4 cups of boiling water, 2 cups of medium grain rice, and 2 tsp of salt. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 12–14 minutes or until all the water is absorbed and the rice and pasta are tender.
I feel peaceful now that I supplied you with a war survival kit; and I hope you will never need to use one. But you never know in a world as crazy as ours.
After all, a war survival kit is something you can’t download.