Braiding onions

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!

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14 Comments

  1. Posted July 31, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Braiding onions! How beautiful!

  2. Ann Hamze
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    About 15 years ago I worked teaching on the island of Roda in Cairo. I rode the metro from Maadi to a station that put me midway between the two bridges on the island. As my school was straight across I often took the shortcut of paying a small fare to be rowed across by Muhammed. Once I saw him dip a dried bread (similar to kaak) into the Nile (!!) to moisten it and eat the kaak along with a raw onion that he ate like an apple.

  3. Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that’s fascinating! Sounds like indentured onion servants are not treated humanely, though.

  4. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic post, so fascinating….It is an art really:)

  5. Posted August 1, 2010 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    So the onions are dried? I love onions in curries and even fresh in salad , but dont think I can eat only onions let a lone 2 kg per day!!!

  6. Posted August 1, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Hey Joumana, Moallem Philippe is a very impressive man. His fifty years of hard work can be seen in his hands. I hope I have hands like that when I’m his age! Oh, and my grandfather on my Dad’s side was part American Indian. I remember he would grab an onion, pull out his pocket knife and eat it the way some would cut a peach or an apple-the whole thing. He we would offer me a piece, and I would pucker my face and run off (smile).
    Anyway, this is a great post. Simple & lovely. Stella

  7. Posted August 1, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    nice writeup about the onions and the braiding techniques. in india when growing up, on days it would get too hot (over 45C), my mom would crush the onions and apply it to feet and head, its supposed to be good against heat strokes, or so they say :)

  8. Posted August 1, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I love food lore, fascinating post!
    Mimi

  9. SYLVIA
    Posted August 1, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    These onions look so fresh, and crisp. Our ancencers knew fantastically how to use them in everything, that gave their everyday food a real flavor boost, they also used them as antibiotic and antiseptic.
    Onions are great detoxifiers, for its boosting immunity and cleansing the whole system, they also contain full of nutrients particularly good for the blood , having a thinning effect that prevents clotting.

  10. Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen braided onions at my grandparents/uncle’s homes during some of our summer visits to Lebanon. But I didn’t know that they dry them to last longer. I love how farmers know about all these great tips. I wish more people were interested in farming to keep these traditions going.

  11. Posted August 2, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Loved reading the post.Its always nice to read about food habits from different parts of the world :)

  12. Posted August 6, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    This was a very educational post…it’s amazing the workmanship that is dedicated so passionately in this way.

    Joumana…did you find a new job after having learnt this art? LOL.

    When I buy my onions…I make sure to leave them out in the air and they usually last about 3 weeks without spoilage…as long as they stay very far from their enemy the potato!

    Ciao for now and flavourful wishes,
    Claudia

  13. Alice Accad
    Posted August 14, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic photos, Mommy!!

  14. Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Braiding onions is a well put together blog. I dont think my website http://fashion-4-girls.com has much in common with yours, though I can (and have) learnt a lot from you, cheers, Rae Francis

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