The easy greens that remind Reem Kassis of childhood walks in the mountains
The Arabesque Table author recalls the wild leaves she foraged at home and the simple substitutes she cooks with abroad
Plenty of us have taken up walking at weekends as a safe and healing pastime during the pandemic. For the cookbook author and rising culinary star Reem Kassis however, a stroll in the mountains around her childhood home of Jerusalem wasn’t simply a form of entertainment and exercise; it was a source of culinary flavour and nourishment.
“Growing up, my family would trek through the mountains and valleys surrounding Jerusalem foraging for the greens of the season,” Kassis writes in her new book, The Arabesque Table. “We would pick borage and cyclamen leaves for stuffing, za’atar and sage for drying, and various greens for sautéing or baking. Hindbeh, or dandelion greens, were a favorite at home, mostly prepared with caramelized onions and lemon.”
Some ingredients, such as the grape leaves used in her braised short ribs recipe were an easy find. “From spring through summer, anywhere you see wild grapevines you can find the leaves,” she explains.
Yet, as Kassis moved on from her place of birth and relocated, first to Great Britain, and then to the United States, she found it harder to recreate the flavours she once foraged. Take for example, hindbeh, or dandelion greens, which were a favourite of hers, which she and her family prepared with caramelized onions and lemon.
“The exact variety we foraged is not readily available abroad, so over the years I have prepared this dish with escarole, chicory, and kale,” she writes. “But one of my favorite preparations uses broccoli rabe (rapini), whose intense bitterness is a wonderful contrast to the sweetness of the fried onions. Leftovers also make a wonderful canvas for fried eggs. Simply reheat, make some wells, and crack an egg into each, then cook, covered, to desired doneness.”
It might not be a slavishly accurate recreation of Reem’s first taste of the mountains, but it remains a pretty faithful version that can be remade pretty much anywhere in the world. For the full recipe, as well as much more besides, order a copy of The Arabesque Table. It’s a one-of-a-kind collection of original contemporary recipes from across the Arab world - mountain peaks included (but none too hard to ascend).