Foraging with Um Elias

blog hesh mesh

Um Elias and her husband of 50 years, Philippe, are part of a dwindling group of authentic Lebanese farmers. They married when she was 15, an acceptable age to marry off a girl in those days, and have raised six beautiful, intelligent and learned children. Even though Philippe is a sixth-generation Lebanese farmer, none of his offspring had any interest in following in his footsteps. As a farmer, money is tight, government subsidies scant, and regional competition is very stiff. This situation is pretty much the norm in Lebanon, where for the last forty years or more, most young people have either taken up jobs in Beirut or immigrated abroad. This may change at some point, as it has in the wine industry where many Lebanese expats have come back to start successful wineries.

Still, when Um Elias (*named after her first-born son, um is mother in Arabic) decides to bake her bread and turnovers on the saj (old-fashioned oven shaped like an inverted wok), heated with dried pine needles, everybody rushes to be at her side. Um Elias practices rural cooking to a fault, and it has become trendy these days.

I was thrilled when she told me “let’s go foraging!” one bright Saturday morning. I knew I would be learning something new, as is always the case when I hang out with her. She came armed with her sickle, a plastic bag, and of course, her cigarettes (she’s got iron lungs, like most Lebanese mountain folks).

blog Saide w:knifeI had never heard of this wild herb before, which grows all over rural areas in Lebanon, and is called heshé wmeshé. Come to find out, many people from the Bekaa valley all the way to the South remember it prepared by their teta (grandmother). Um Elias gave me her recipe and told me that it constituted the perfect dish for Lent (vegan). I made it that night, it was so easy, rustic, and filling; the heshé wmeshé tasted like scallions or chives, without the peppery bite. It can be replaced by any green available in mainstream supermarkets.

dup Saidé shows me the herbINGREDIENTS:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups heshé wmeshé (substitute with shredded dandelions, kale, Swiss chard, beet greens or baby arugula)
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas or white broad beans (or any beans)
  • Salt, to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper or allspice (or Aleppo red pepper)

1. Heat the oil in a skillet; fry the onion till golden, add the chopped heshé wmeshé (or other greens) and stir briefly until limp. Add the chickpeas or beans, season to taste and serve.

dup stir-fry heshshédup Said.jpge wPhilippe

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  1. Posted June 23, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful experience and delicious dish!



  2. Posted June 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like such a delightful day…I love foraging for things that grow wild. Usually by me it’s just berries, although this week I picked wild Elderflower and made syrup! Have a great day!

  3. Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Such an interesting story, and some great photos too!

  4. Posted June 26, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    How wonderful to join such an experienced forager in such an interesting adventure. They do look a little like chives!

  5. Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I am from the states, but from the country and we have something that looks just like this and has a faint taste of onion. No one uses it though they just think of it as grass and I have to think it is the same thing. Interesting how I would LOVE to spend a day with that lady.

    I also wanted to invite you to the Middle East and North African cooking club on Ya Salam Cooking. I hope you will host as well.

  6. Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I love this post. This lovely couple, this gorgeous day and what a great way to eat veggies.

    I can see this with garlic greens and loving it.

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  7. Posted June 30, 2014 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Quelle chance tu as de pouvoir aller ainsi au plus près des traditions du Liban ! Superbe moment … et jolie recette pour accompagner !

  8. Elena
    Posted July 4, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    This herb looks as a garlic chives, isn’t it?
    This is the traditional ingredient in Yemeni cuisine.

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