One of the people that I really enjoy spending time with is Um Elias (Mother of Elias, her first born son, a traditional way to call mothers here). She is a true mountain girl, a mother to six grown children, a grandmother of five and still youthful-looking; every morning she drinks her Turkish coffee and wearing her sneakers and a cap, spends her days in the fields. At dusk, she comes home, fixes herself a glass of arak (made by her), eats her dinner with her husband and goes to bed.
We had coffee and she told me that in 1982, when the country was invaded, she and her family had to flee their village for fear of being slaughtered; they took refuge in our village of Deir el-Qamar and soon the town itself was under a blockade. There was no food, no money, nothing!!!! She was scrambling to feed her family on a few kilos of rice and wheat handed by the Red Cross; she wanted to drink coffee badly, but there was none to be found; so she took acorns balloot, roasted it and ground it with a cardamom pod or two. She said everybody else was using chick peas hummos as a coffee substitute and would get inflated bellies and terrible flatulence, but not her! Her acorns kept her going without any side effects!
I sat down with Um Elias for two solid hours and could have stayed with her the whole day, but lunch had to be made in a hurry!
This dish can be prepared easily and quickly and packs a lot of flavor. Just grab a bag of white fish fillets, some fresh cilantro and parsley and tomatoes and a chili pepper. Serve with potatoes or rice.
- 1 pound of white fish fillets, cut in serving size
- 3 or 4 tomatoes, cut in dice
- 4 garlic cloves, mashed in a bit of salt
- 1 bunch of fresh coriander, leaves chopped
- 1 teaspoon of dried coriander
- a few tablespoons of chopped parsley
- olive oil, as needed
- arak, as needed
- 1 red chili pepper, cut in dice or 1 teaspoon of hot pepper paste
- flour or cornmeal or fine semolina, as needed
- salt, pepper, to taste
- Dab the fillets in flour and fry lightly in oil for a couple of minutes
- Heat the olive oil and add the mashed garlic and herbs, stirring till the herbs are wilted for one minute. Add the dried coriander, tomatoes, chili pepper or paste and cook for a few minutes; add the fish fillets, a splash of arak and simmer for a few minutes until the fillets flake easily and are cooked. Adjust seasoning and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Anahid’s Gourmet cookbook.
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