Favorite spice, Za’atar (Vegan Mofo 2015)

Vegan mofo tomato

zaatarbreadThe prompt today is what is your favorite herb or spice?  Sticking with our theme of foods from Palestine I naturally chose za’atar as my favorite spice.  Za’atar is wild thyme, ground together with sesame seeds, and possibly salt, caraway seeds, flax seeds, and sumac.

Typically people will dip bread in oil and then into the za’atar.  It is also baked or fried on flat bread.  Or you can just sprinkle it onto your freshly baked bread.

Where can you find za’atar?  Well you can find it in any store that sells Middle Eastern or Mediterranean foods.  If you don’t live near a specialty international food store, you can order it from the Canaan Fair Trade Shop.  While you are there order some of their amazing olive oil and olives.

So what can you make with za’atar besides sprinkling on bread?  Well you can add it to just about anything you would make with thyme.

You can make pizza as seen on this post for the Fusion Challenge.

Add it to your fried potatoes with peppers and onions.  Here I had some with biscuits and almond gravy.


Make some pita chips to enjoy with hummus.


makingrollsMake your own Palestinian style bread-sticks, like we enjoyed during our stay in Aqqaba.  To make my mini rolls, I bought some pre-made pizza dough, sprinkled on za’atar, rolled them and baked them until they turned golden.


The possibilities are endless.  Enjoy! #veganmofo, #vgnmf15



Golden/Blue potatoes (Vegan Mofo 2015)


It is September 10th, and the VeganMofo prompt is: something blue.  I chose to cook for this prompt, because it sounded like a good reason to buy blue potatoes and purple sticky rice.  The recipe I used is adapted from Secrets of Palestine by Duha Bereh, and Anne-Claire Yaeesh.  Muhamar batata translates to golden potatoes, although in this case I used blue ones.  The dish is typically meat based, with white rice and potatoes.  I used Tofurky slow roasted Chick’n for my meal.  Full disclosure, I’m not usually a fan of things that taste too much like chicken, but I think Tofurky did a good job creating this product.


So here goes the recipe:


  • 1 package Tofurky Chick’n or the vegan friendly product you like
  • 1 cups rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 lbs potato
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 turmeric (turned my blue potatoes greenish yellow, but still delicious)
  • pepper
  • salt
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 tbls. olive oil

For the potatoes:
Peel and dice the potatoes, and slice the onion.  Fry the onion in a 2 tablespoons of oil, along with spices, until they begin to soften.  Add the potatoes and fry for a few more minutes.  Once everything begins to brown, add the vegetable broth and cover.  Cook until potatoes are soft, check frequently to make sure there is enough liquid.  Season with salt and pepper.

For the vegan chick’n:
Bake at 300 degrees F., for 15 minutes. Or until they turn golden.

For the rice:
Soak the rice for 15 mins in hot water, and drain. Toast the rice 2 tablespoons of olive oil, in a saucepan, for about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, lower the heat and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes.

To serve pour rice into a serving dish and place roasted vegan chick’n on top. Serve the cooked potatoes separately. If desired add fried sliced almonds or peanuts to the meal.


Happy vegan Mofo cooking!


Mahashi Kousa (Vegan Mofo 2015)


The prompt for today, September 7th, is make a meal inspired by a book or film.  Last fall I went to a book discussion group and read Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa.  The book is about the life of four generations of a Palestinian family from 1948 until 2003.  It offers a good basic overview of historical events that took place starting from the formation of Israel.

I could not find the exact place this meal of Mahashi Kousa is mentioned.  However, I did find it in the glossary on page 329, where it is described as zucchini, usually stuffed.

This recipe is adapted from The Cuisine of my Sister In-Law: Secrets of Palestine, by Duha Bezreh, Anne-Claire Yaeesh. I purchased it during our stop at the Human Supporters Association in Nablus.

To make this dish you will need a zucchini corer or try using a drill


  • 4 ounces of shredded seitan (I used Upton’s Naturals ground seitan.)uptonsseitan
  • 1 cup of rice
  • ½ cup sunflower oil
  • ½ tsp. ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp. ground pepper
  • ½ tsp. curry powder
  • ½ tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. salt

Soak rice in hot water for 15 minutes and drain. Mix in the remaining ingredients, and set aside.


  • 2 Tbls. tomato paste
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 liter water
  • salt
  • 2 lbs zucchini

Wash, and remove the heads from the zucchini. Cut off a small amount of the bottom if necessary, so they will fit into the pot. Next carefully core out the insides of the zucchini, and wash. Fill each zucchini three quarters with stuffing. Add sauce ingredients into a large pot, and place the filled zucchinis inside and cover. Cook on medium heat for 40 minutes.


Check regularly, and add water if necessary. Be careful not to stir the zucchinis while cooking.  I cooked any remaining stuffing in a separate pot.  Arrange the zucchinis on a serving dish and serve with the sauce.


platedzuch1It went well with a salad filled with ingredients from my CSA pick-up.  For the dressing I made a vinaigrette with fig infused balsamic vinegar, mustard, and maple syrup.

– Stephanie

Vegan Shawarma (Vegan MOFO)


It is day five of vegan MOFO, and the prompt is best sandwich ever!  Of course I stuck with the Palestinian theme and decided to create a vegan version Shawarma. If you don’t already know, Shawarma is a meat based sandwich, with vegetables, pickles and yogurt sauce all stuffed into a pita.  It is a very filling sandwich all on its own.  You easily find many different vegan versions when searching on the internet.  I found recipes using soy curls, tofu, tvp, and seitan.  For my creation I used the ingredients I already had in my kitchen.  I also used locally made Susie’s Seitan, Lemon Teriyaki flavor.

Before I started putting my sandwich together I made the Persian 7-Spice Blend (Baharat) on page 43 of Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero. If you don’t have this book, and love international foods like me, you need to run out and buy it today!

In the meantime try this spice blend, which is actually very similar to the one I used. – Arabic seven spice blend

    What you will need:
  • Seitansandwichstuff
  • spice blend
  • vegan yogurt (I used the Tempt plain yogurt.  The consistency wasn’t very good, but it made a nice sauce.)
  • lemon
  • tahini
  • Pita Bread
  • lettuce
  • tomato slices
  • cucumber slices
  • pickles/or sweet relish
  • hummus (I used my leftover Foul, because why not?)
  • French fries (If you have some)

First I cut the seitan log in half and thinly sliced it longways.  I greased a casserole dish, and laid in the seitan.  Next I sprinkled some of the spice blend on each slice, and broiled them for 4 minutes.  I flipped them over added more spice blend, and broiled them again for 4 minutes.  Meanwhile I prepared all the other fillings.  I sauteed the chopped onions, because I don’t care for raw onions.  For the yogurt sauce I just mixed in the juice from one lemon and a tablespoon of tahini.  I also toasted the pita bread a little just to warm it up.

Once all my sandwich fillings where ready, I spread some foul medames inside the pita, and layered all the ingredients in.

sandwichBest sandwich ever?  Quite possibly!


Foul Medames (VeganMofo 2015)


DSC_0640The prompt for September 3rd is, quick, easy and delicious.  I’m not sure it gets any easier then with mashed beans!  Foul Medames is a popular Middle Eastern staple, made with fava beans.  We ate a lot of this wonderfully delicious dish during our trip.  It frequently came along with hummus, falafel, pickles and olives.  I used canned beans to make this dish, but if you have the time I highly recommend cooking them ahead from dried beans.


  • canned fava beans
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • salt

Mince the onion and garlic, brown in 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan. Drain the beans and add to the onions, add a little water if necessary. Once the beans have warmed remove pan from heat. Using a mortar or fork mash the beans with the onions and garlic. I found that a mortar worked very well to puree’ the beans, especially any that where not very soft.
Next add the diced tomato. Pour lemon juice over the mixture and season with salt and red pepper flakes.
Arrange on a plate, and drizzle with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil.

Serve with bread and maybe a nice Chianti.



A culinary tour (VeganMofo 2015)

Vegan mofo tomatoDuring our recent trip to Israel/Palestine we experienced many delicious, and new vegan foods.  We also walked through markets where we saw pickles, olives, spices, and large varieties of fruits and vegetables.

In the old city of Jerusalem there where many street vendors selling freshly squeezed juice, and warm bread.  The food at our hotel had yummy potato stuffed pockets, and plenty of olives.  We stopped at a restaurant where we had falafel, hummus, bread, and pickles.

jerusalemWe shared an amazing meal while visiting the beautiful city of Jaffa, where we could see the Mediterranean, and Tel Aviv in the distance.

JaffaIn many places we saw fruit trees growing pomegranates, lemons, and oranges.  We also had the chance to visit a farm and pick grapes.  Of course olive trees are growing absolutely everywhere.



Tour of Haram Al Sharif and UN OCHA

A small contingent of our Interfaith Peace Builder Delegation went to Haram Al Sharif together.  The site encompass 35 acres of the old city of Jerusalem, and contains the well known Dome of the Rock, also known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque.   Before we could enter we went through security and had our bags searched.  Our tour guide Said told us they where looking for religious items, or national flags, as well as the obvious things that could be dangerous.  I was excited to visit this architectural marvel, and was disappointed to learn I could not go inside.  Said explained that because the site is considered holy for Jewish and Muslim people there are frequently Jewish people demonstrating in the site.  There have been examples of people trying to hang flags, religious items, or desecrate the site.  To help prevent other religious groups from taking over the mosque, all non-Muslim people are prevented from entering.  During our visit a group of Israeli residents were walking around the site with their own security.  They were followed by religious Muslims chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) in protest.  We were informed that this happens on a daily basis.  It was a strange and slightly unnerving site in what otherwise was an amazing experience.


Later that day we went to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  Here we learned a great deal about the conditions of people living in both Gaza and the West Bank.  OCHA works to advocate for and help the worst humanitarian situations.  The Jerusalem office and field offices in West Bank have had a presence, coordinating relief efforts in the region for 10 years.  Approximately 40% of the Palestinian population lives within the West Bank and Gaza.

The area of Gaza is 6km – 10km wide and 400km long.  Many of the residents are not originally from Gaza.  Around 1/2 of the entire population is under 18 years old.  There are no Israeli residents inside, and no military base.  Israel has control of the sea, airspace, and checkpoints around Gaza.  The Southern point is controlled by Egypt, but it is not open.  Since 2014 all checkpoints remain largely closed.  There are restrictions on the import and export of goods to Gaza.  The checkpoint Karem Shalom is the only place for trade of goods, but is frequently closed.  The closures prevent people within Gaza to get basic supplies.  DSC_0201The other checkpoint for people is Erez crossing. An exit permit is required for individuals to enter or leave.  Permits are only granted with a medical referral, to business merchants, or senior humanitarians.

There is generally a 100m buffer from the fences or walls surrounding Gaza.  In some areas the distance is greater or frequently changes depending on the time of day.  It is usually unclear what the limits are, and residents must figure it out through word of mouth.  As a result many people have stopped farming or switched to low maintenance crops.

Since Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, 200,000 people in Gaza have been displaced.  Entire city blocks have been completely flattened.  The region is not developing and is going backward.  Construction materials are restricted and not reaching people fast enough to help rebuild.  Visit this page for a visual map and graphics depicting the movement of goods and people.

Residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem do have more freedom of movement but there are still restrictions..  Around 18% of the West Bank is considered a military zone.  If a resident of East Jerusalem ID  is revoked the individual is not permitted to move to other parts of Palestine.  People are often pressured to leave or asked to move.  Palestinian traffic is pushed off of main roads and pushed onto poorly developed side roads.  People are restricted from entering surrounding areas.  Development is slow in the region because only 2% – 5% of building permits are approved by Israel.  Building without a permit often results in the demolition of homes or business.  Bedouin tents also require permits.  Many Bedouin people have been forcibly transferred, which is a break of the Geneva Convention.  (UN Officials: Israel must halt plans to transfer Palestinian Bedouins)  The restrictions on movement and construction in the West Bank has resulted in poor economic growth.

“Although there has been a reduction in the levels of violence in recent years, many Palestinians continue to have humanitarian needs that are created by ongoing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including threats to life, liberty and security, restrictions on access and movement of people and goods to and within the OPT, and the risk of forced displacement.” – United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ochaopt.org/content.aspx?id=1010055, August 24, 2015.

You can find additional information, including maps of the region at this site – http://www.ochaopt.org/.

The main website is – http://www.unocha.org/


A step back in time

DSC_0144Lifta is an ancient town located in the outskirts of Jerusalem.  The village is nestled within the hills.  Houses and shops were once spread out from the top of the mountain and into the valley below.  In the lowest part in what was once the town center there is a spring that is still used today by locals.  Today most of the remaining buildings in Lifta are unoccupied.  About 60 of the original houses remain, with a few that now house Israeli residents.  Lifta was once considered to be a wealthy community, where people would come to purchase fabric and embroidery.  The area around the spring was once used as a social place, and for special occasions by the residents.  The water system running through this town was established by the Romans.  The upper pool was used for cleaning while the lower was used for animals.  Many people where swimming, and playing in the upper pool area.  Residents used to maintain vegetable gardens and fruit trees within the town.  DSC_0157Today you can still see many fig trees throughout.  During our visit we explored the inside of some of the homes, a mosque, and an olive oil press.  The crumbling structures offer a glimpse into how homes where typically constructed in the region, with each new layer built on top of the other as families grew.  collage1

DSC_0162Scattered around the area we could see large cacti intended to represent spots where houses once stood.  In 1948 about 30% of the Palestinian population lived in cities and towns like this one, with the rest scattered in small farming villages.

During the time of the Nakba a coffee shop higher up on the hill in Lifta was attacked.  A nearby Jewish neighborhood claimed they where surrounded and felt threatened by the Arab people.  After the attack many moved further downhill into the homes of friends and relatives.  The attacks continued forcing more people to flee.  A few men remained to protect the town, however they soon realized they did not have enough resources.  The land was considered absentee property to allow the state of Israel to claim it.  Many of the people left toward Ramallah.  There is a small community of people from the town of Lifta living in East Jerusalem today.

Our group leader Jacob Pace from Interfaith Peace builders created the video below

Lifta is just one example of what happened throughout Palestine in 1948.  The Zionist movement at that time was well prepared for war, but the people living in the region where primarily farmers and not prepared.  In June of 1948 in Tel Aviv it was decided that the refugees would not be able to return.  Some did try to return home but where prevented.  After Israel took the land and properties it was sold to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) who then sold it to incoming residents.  About 6%-10% of the land was purchased to sharecroppers who do not live in the area.

Zochrot is an organization formed in 2002, working to preserve the history of the region.  Their mission is to promote accountability and responsibility for the ongoing impact created by the Nakba.  So far they have created records of 600 of the places that had been destroyed.  They have recorded stories from surviving families, created maps depicting where the villages are located and are working on publishing a book for each place.

The map can be viewed on their website, or through the iNakba app for iPhones.  The app provides coordinates and information for each village.


A ghost town called Hebron

Hebron was possibly the most depressing town we visited during our tour.  No where else was the discrimination so blatantly obvious.  The city is divided into two sections.  H1 is governed by the Palestinian authority, and about 120,000 people live in the section.  H2 has around 600 Jewish residents, and is under Israeli military control.streetview3 streetview

From the moment we got off the bus we were met by children, desperately hoping for money or water.  Some had small souvenirs to sell, others asked for money for photographs we took of them.  They followed us almost everywhere we went.  The city itself seemed abandoned, most of the shops had shuttered doors.  We saw buses for settlers that are bullet proof driving through the streets.

Hebron is the home of Ibrahimi Mosque and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  It is believed that the tomb is were biblical patriarchs are buried.  We were not able to visit these places, however we did learn that in 1994 a US-born Israeli military physician opened fire on the people praying inside.  Many died or were injured during the massacre.  The Israeli army killed more civilians during protests taking place in the city.  The Israeli government ordered over 500 Palestinian shops to be closed, most of which remain closed today.

Houses, hotels, stores close to Israeli settlements are not allowed to be occupied.  Many of the streets we walked down had checkpoints, staffed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  Cameras can be seen everywhere.  Palestinian residents do not open their windows because settlers will throw garbage inside.

On one empty street soldiers told our tour guide, Muhanned Qufesha who was born in Hebron, that he could not continue on, but the rest of us from the U.S. could.  Palestinians going through a checkpoint are often made to wait for hours at a time for no particular reason.

This video was filmed by our group leader Jacob Pace of Interfaith Peace Builders. (IFPB)


nettingWe walked through a market street that now houses Israeli settlers and a watch tower in the floors above.  People living in the floors above often throw trash, excrement, and cleaning water down onto the street below.  The people owning the shops below installed netting to catch the garbage.  We met one shop keeper who told us his shop was passed down by his grandfather.  Many leave the city, but he is one of the few who are determined to stay and maintain his family business.

star We walked down a called Shuhada Street sometimes called Chicago St.  A large abandoned hotel stands at one end, and a Kibbutz can be seen on the other.  All the store fronts are closed.  Many of the storefront doors have a Star of David or racial slurs toward Palestinians painted on them.  The street is completely closed to the residents.  Those living in the area are forced to exit there homes over roofs or through back doors.

To learn more about what is going on in Hebron today visit http://www.youthagainstsettlements.org/ This is a group of young activists working to end occupation through non-violent civil disobedience.

The video below is of Youth Against Settlements member Issa Amro discussing life in Hebron for Palestinians.

The video below was created by our IFPB group leader Jacob Pace.





The city of Nablus


DSC_0221After saying goodbye to our hosts in New Asker, we visited the old city of Nablus. The buildings are made with large heavy stones, and the streets are narrow. Every now and then we came upon a large open parking lot. We learned that the buildings that once stood there were destroyed during the second Intifada. Some of the buildings still have bullet holes around the windows. DSC_0213

We stopped to visit a lovely hot bath, and a spice shop that smelled delicious. Nablus was once known for its many soap factories. Many of them had been destroyed from bombing, and today only about 6 remain. The city once had a museum with many historic artifacts. The items were stolen and placed in a Jewish museum. Items they did not want were destroyed.

DSC_0207Our guide Wajdi Yaeesh told us many stories about what happened during the height of the second Intifada. In April 2002 the city was bombarded, and almost destroyed. From 2002-2009 hundreds of invasions took place. Soldiers stormed houses and destroyed everything. They shot holes in water tanks, and in one case even poisoned the water. Paramedics were prevented from entering the homes of injured residents, and could not even help injured children. In one case a child died from a stray bullet that went through his bedroom window.

We stopped at another window were paramedics had to pass food and water to people inside their home. They were forced to go to the bathroom in plastic bags. The people also had a curfew and would only be able to leave their homes for a certain number of hours. Even hospital workers were prevented from entering the building to help patients.    DSC_0210 While touring Nablus, we also learned about how the dead bodies of prisoners or freedom fighters are kept by Israeli authorities until their sentences are up before returned to their families. In one case, a martyr from 1976 (Palestinians frequently refer to anyone killed by the state of Israel as a such, not necessarily suicide bombers in the way that Westerners may think) recently had his body released back to his family as his sentence was over. We were told that sometimes they don’t even give the correct body back, as evidenced by a family who recently did DNA testing on the cadaver and it wasn’t their relative. When some people are killed by the state, the Israeli government charges the dead person with a crime and then keeps their body until their sentence has expired. DSC_0229 Wajdi Yaeesh a paramedic himself told us he was shot while rushing to help others.  The bullet went through his legs, but thankfully he is completely healed today.DSC_0208In 2002 the Human Supporters Association began with a party for children in the area, and later started a summer camp program. About 72% of the youth living in Nablus are still experiencing the effects of trauma from the second Intifada. With the support from international donations and volunteers they provide children classes in art, theater, dance, and support for under achieving students among many other activities.DSC_0233One activity they began doing is to ask children to write responses or letters for the soldiers. As part of a non-violent demonstration members began to have picnics at the checkpoint. They did not bring any children with them but did bring their messages to share along with food and music. International supporters also came with them. Unfortunately, the group was met with violence. Some people including international individuals were badly injured. While visiting this organization, they showed us this powerful short film (11 minutes) aptly titled, “Nablus: Pains and Hopes.”

The Human Supporters Association continues its work through aid from many different countries. However, they do not accept aid from the United States, because if they do they must sign a promise that the money will not be used for terrorist activities, and other restrictions on how to use the funds. The group believes signing such documents is a way to define them, or to divide the Palestinian people.

– Stephanie & Amber