Taking a cooking class on the road is my guilty pleasure. Learning how to make local food from a local cook brings me unmatched pleasure. I had to keep reminding myself of this as I followed my brother in law David down the very steep streets toward the old city part of Nazareth – down the hill from our AirBnB located in the North section. Exactly what we’d be cooking neither of us knew, but in this mostly Muslim city, I figured it would be something traditional and relatively exotic. The class we were going to take was offered through Abraham Tours
“Definitely taking a taxi home.” I said, getting my footing at the crest of another hill. The way-too-fit David didn’t respond. It was the fifth or sixth time I’d repeated myself. He just kept walking and I just kept puffing. We came to a labyrinth of narrow, level streets where children played and cried out “Shalom” at our sight. I could only manage a weak thumbs up. We turned a corner and my weary eyes were relieved to see a sign reading Fauzi Azar Inn – the beautiful hostel where our class would take place.
The renovated 19th century mansion was spectacular. The friendly receptionist of the Abraham Hostel directed us to a courtyard designed in the Ottoman style. We climbed a set of stairs and found a mammoth dining room with a 20-foot ceiling adorned with a hand painted fresco. A charmingly rustic kitchen sat just off the entry. There, we joined a group of pleasant young people – a mixture of hostel volunteers and guests from all over: Australia, Mexico, Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Paris. The love of food and travel bonded us immediately. Our leader was Mona, a Nazareth local who buzzed around preparing work stations for us. In spite of being several months pregnant, she traversed the kitchen holding a large bowl of chick peas above her head. She assured us that her secret stash of chocolate would keep her going.
Mona announced that we’d be preparing a common Arabic dish known as Frikeh (pronounced Free-keh, as in: Super Freak – she’s super FREAK-EAAY, yeow). It’s named after the green durum wheat that has been growing in the Mediterranean basin since the dawn of man. In Latin, it means “hard” because the stuff is too tough to mill, so it’s not practical for bread flour. It’s used to make pasta, but most often boiled raw with spices and meat. Under Mona’s direction, David poured a bag full of Frike into a large bowl and Mona covered it with water, “It will let us know it gets hungry.” She handed me a knife. “Do you cry?” I shook my head and she handed me two onions. I joined a work station where my classmates reamed lemons, and chopped chicken, mint, and lettuce.
“Don’t cook with olive oil” Mona announced pouring the green stuff into a large pot. “It loses all it’s nutrients once it gets hot.” A bit confused – I poured my onions into the hot oil as David stirred them around. “Don’t worry,” she assured. “We’ll get the nutrients in the salad.” We filled the hot pot with the hydrated Frike, chicken pieces, and plump chick peas that Mona explained had been hydrated for 24 hours then boiled. “Can we used canned?” somebody asked. Mona returned a blank stare. “You know – canned chick peas from the grocery store?” She just closed her eyes and placed her hand on her forehead, which gently shook back and forth. “No.”
Mona presented cinnamon, nutmeg, and something called English Pepper which none of us recognized. She passed some around for us to smell – it was sweet and familiar. Somebody got out their smart phone. “Allspice” he declared, then read how it was not a combination of spices (as I thought), rather the unripe berry of the pimento tree. While the Frike finished cooking, we compiled the salad of julienne-cut lettuce, chopped onion, mint, and tomatoes. Mona poured some lemon juice over the top, followed by olive oil. “Nutrients.”
David and I helped set the table in the dining room . The Frike was served on two large platters. We cooks along with our leader gathered around the table and raised our glasses of lemonade to toast our successful meal. The Frike was delicious and had a texture like steel-cut oatmeal . It’s flavor was hearty and pleasantly spiced – a perfect complement to the chick peas and chicken. I was happy to learn Frike is sold at middle eastern markets and through Amazon.
I can’t wait to make it for my family and friends at home.
Abraham Hostels: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Nazareth
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- 4 cups of Frike
- 2 Onions
- 2 cups of chickpeas (cooked)
- Meat: chicken or lamb
- 2 tablespoons allspice
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Put chickpeas in a bowl of room temperature water for 24 hours.
- Boil the chickpeas well and then leave to the side
- Heat olive oil in a large pot
- Slice the onion and add to pot. Fry for 4 minutes until they began to brown.
- Cut chicken into small pieces and add to pot. Then cover the pot. Cook on low heat until the meat is well cooked.
- Add the frike, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, chickpeas, and water. Mix well.
- After cooking, let sit for 15 minutes with the pot covered until the frike absorbs all the water.