Moallem Philippe, as he is called (moallem in Arabic means “master” or “teacher”) is a Lebanese farmer who is helping us out with our orchard; a seasoned farmer with over 50 years of expertise in mountain agriculture, I asked him what he was up to: ” I am going to braid the onions”, was his answer.
Braid the onions? I had seen braids of onions dangling from a rail on the rooftop of our house, but that was the extent of it; so at 7 AM the next morning, I sat down with Moallem Philippe and got a master lesson in onion growing and braiding.
These are white onions, specifically grown in the Chouf mountains in Lebanon, a variety favored by the locals here. In Dallas, when I buy onions at the supermarket, I use them right away lest they spoil within a couple of days; not so with these onions; while the local market is also replete with the lower variety of onions that are picked too early and go limp quickly, these onions are grown to term, braided and dried to last at least six months to a year.
I shared my newly acquired onion knowledge with Salah, the Egyptian gardener and handyman. Egyptian fellah (peasants) are famous for their immoderate love of onions. Salah told me the story of a man he knew who got bit by a dog with rabies: The man started to bark like a dog and was considered gone from the world of humans; so in a last ditch effort to save him, he was put on an onion-only diet; lo and behold, a couple of months later he was cured!
My Egyptian friend in Dallas, Phoebe, also told me (and the story was confirmed by Salah), about peasants in Egypt whose job it is to climb trees in 140F heat to collect dates; their daily diet, breakfast, lunch and dinner is bread and 2 kilos of onions (about five pounds): this diet makes them as energetic and fast ”as a train”and ” strong as ten men”. Salah did mention that the diet is not conducive to a good breath or body odor, but, he continued, since everybody eats the same thing, nobody notices!
Recipe for the day:
Slice some onions, spread on a piece of flatbread, douse with some olive oil, roll up and eat!