Everyone I met in Hebron spoke to me about this dish - it’s as old as anyone can remember and a favourite comfort food for many. Some call it raqaq u addas (which translates to noodles & lentils), others rushtayeh, or even ‘tutmaj’, a term I heard only in Hebron. It’s a warming dish, easy to prepare and perfect for vegans and vegetarians. If we want to be truly authentic, we should make the pasta from scratch, like Palestinian grand-mothers and great-grandmothers used to do. But nowadays, most people tend to prepare this dish with ready-made dry pasta.
“When I travel outside [of Palestine], the first thing I say when people ask me about Palestinian life, I tell them about our delicious food, and people want to eat it.”
This raqaq u addas recipe comes from Nareen’s family kitchen in Halhul, a town 5km north of Hebron. I first met Nareen in her house with my colleagues Ahmad and Nadim, who translated for us. Nareen is a warm and kind person. There is also something soothing about her demeanour so when she explained that she was a trained social worker and psychologist, I thought it fitted well. And like most Palestinians, Nareen is very proud of her food and she loves it. She told us that “when I travel outside [of Palestine], the first thing I say when people ask me about Palestinian life, I tell them about our delicious food, and people want to eat it.” In her view, the food they make is linked to their identity as Palestinians. And this is passed down from generation to generation. Nareen’s two daughters know that the dishes she prepares are Palestinian. “They’re smart, they know where the food is from”, she laughed. Her daughters often help her in the kitchen - it’s just the three of them in the house since her husband passed away four years ago. But they spend a lot of time with Nareen’s family.
When I met Nareen the second time in her parents’ house, we spent the afternoon cooking, talking and eating with her family and my friend Mariam (who, as an is Australian-Palestinian, could translate for us). Nareen also took us to her family’s land on the outskirts of Halhul where they grow vegetables and fruits, including the famous Hebron grapes. It’s beautiful out there, the typical landscape that makes you fall in love with Palestine. It’s with Nareen that I learnt about the meaning of the Arabic word baladi. Baladi translates to 'my land', or 'my country'. So in Palestine’s food world, baladi refers to anything that comes from one's land, anything that grows locally. Nareen and her family value this above anything else and try to use food from their own land as much as possible. It’s not just healthier, there’s also a symbolism to it as it’s their own and not from Israel.
This dish is one of Nareen’s favourite. “When I was pregnant I used to eat it every day. I love it”, she told us. Sumac is a key ingredient in this recipe - the burgundy spice is what gives it a unique Palestinian or Middle Eastern flavour. Nareen cooked her raqaq with fresh sumac from her land but it works well with the ground one you can find in most Oriental/Middle Eastern shops. Adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice when it's ready to serve also brings out the sumac's tangy lemony taste.
|RAQAQ U ADDAS||Pasta with lentils & sumac|
|Difficulty||Easy to medium|
|Cooking time||50 minutes|
Two things before you start:
Serve warm with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Ikteer zaki! (very delicious)