Before I traveled to Israel, I was not aware of the Druze religion. Then, I heard about this unique immersion program called Galileat run by Paul Nirens. It offered a chance to spend the day with a family who lives in the Galilee, cook a meal with them in their home, and share the lunch together while getting to know each other. Paul would meet us there and act as our interpreter for the day.
We arrived to meet our Arabic speaking hosts, Amira and Waggii, and we were kindly offered strong coffee with cardamom, chocolate covered espresso beans, and cookies, as we joined them in their living room. While sipping our coffee together, we discussed the Druze religion. I learned that the Druze faith is monotheistic, and follows the teachings of Shia Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, as well as theories from Plato and Pythagoras. They highlight the role of the mind and of truth. They believe that everyone has their own individual relationship with God, so there is no need for decorations and symbols in their places of worship. And they believe in reincarnation. Their men and women serve in the Israeli Defense Force, and also hold powerful political offices in Israel.
Soon it was time to begin the cooking process. I thought we might do a little “assisting,” but I was quite mistaken. This was cooking from top to bottom! We started with hollowing out some eggplants and zucchinis. Then we filled them with a mixture of rice, tomatoes, and spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, baharat, chili flakes, & chicken soup powder. We used the same mixture to fill gigantic grape leaves that had been grown on the tree in their front yard. The leaves needed to be folded in a very precise manner so as to hold together during the boiling process. I placed each carefully folded leaf into an upright pot, which had sliced tomatoes on the bottom. When the pot was three-quarters full, we covered the leaves with an inverted glass plate, submerged them in boiling water, and continued to boil them for 40 minutes. After boiling, we drained the water, then Waggii carefully inverted the pot onto a serving platter….so now the cooked tomatoes sat beside the cooked grape leaves. Gorgeous!
We cooked meatloaf covered in Tahini, and a side dish of Freekah (an interesting local grain) with onions and nuts. I’ll admit, I was exhausted and ravenous by 3:00 pm when we sat down for lunch! Their son had arrived home from school in time to join us. The local man of the cloth was there as well. We had a delightful “family style” meal with everyone’s forks dipping back and forth amongst the platters and bowls. We learned about the Galilee (Northern part of Israel), and how it is often referred to as “Israel’s lung” since it is the most forested part of the country, and likened to Provence or Tuscany. There are many local farms with top quality produce located in the region. Yes, Donald Trump’s name came up in conversation. They were all very frightened about the possibility of him winning the election. They seemed to know a lot more about the USA, than we did about their homeland. Our lunch with them was the beginning of us learning a little bit more about a culture that we didn’t know existed. Isn’t that what travel is all about?
Here are Amira’s secret recipes: