On Running

First published: 2012 on The Big Olive. The truth is, although I gave up running and replaced it with yoga, I never stopped being a runner.

Dedicated to all women runners.  Actually to all women out there who seem to always be running to something or from something. Here is to running towards your dreams and not away from your fears…

The road does not ask questions. It does not care if she is wearing hijab, or shorts. The road does not judge if she runs fast or walks slow. It is not bothered by her earphones or her choice of music.  It does not label her as liberal or  conservative.  It does not question her ethics based on her hair color or her clothes.  The road never wonders what she does for a living, or how many children she has. It does not ask  about her age, or when will she get married. It does not encourage her to get married young or old.

The road is present every day, she can go to it at her leisure. The road curls around her village, her town, her neighborhood or around her house; it offers her solace from the noise that is her life.  The road will not beat her, it will not put her down. It will not judge her for being Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu for that matter.  It will not ask her if her shoes are expensive or cheap.  The road will not stop her from pursuing her dream, it will not pull her out of school and marry her off to a man triple her age.  The road is there for her to run on it, to free her mind, to rest her soul from all that is ugly, all that is violent.  The road will not rape her, or rob her of her innocence.  It will not leave bruises all over her body. It will not promise to love her only to control her.  The road with its dark asphalt, its sharp turns and soft hills, will offer her a good morning summer breeze or a good evening winter chill.  The road does not care  if she gave birth naturally or if she even opted for a C-section. The road will not ask her how many months did she breast feed and then judge her  motherhood based on that.  It will not label her too skinny, too fat, too dark or too light. 

The road will not ask why her dress is too short, or her skirt is too long.  It will give her space to think, because she can think. It will give her a place to feel because she can feel.  The road will not debate with her whether she has the right to open bank accounts for her children, or if she can remarry if the love of her life died. The road does not care if she was single, married, divorced, widowed or none of the above.  The road will not promise to love her, marry her, father her children and then slaughter her over a custody battle.  It will not throw her in a well for a crime she did not commit.  It will not kill her because she is a woman.

The road will never question her honor, and it will not kill her in the name of honor.  The road is there for her to stand, demonstrate, RUN, walk, play, laugh, scream.  And sometimes the road is there for her to get away or at least try to get away, so the next time you see a woman running frantically, if you are not ready to propel her to what she is running towards or protects her from whatever she is running away from, just make way so she can at least get away…

To Paris: A letter to the Jaba Checkpoint Soldier

Back when I was commuting between Abu Dis and Ramallah daily, and most especially when I was pregnant with twins and my belly was doing all the driving, I was stopped on my way home every day to be on the Jaba Checkpoint and asked where I was going… Everyday I had to fight the urge to say Paris!

Dear Jabaa’ Checkpoint Soldier

                I am going to Ramallah. I will always be going to Ramallah when I pass you.  Day in day out, that will always be my destination.  Where else could I be going in my Palestinian plates car and Palestinian ID passing through your precious little checkpoint? Paris, mathalan [for example] ? For the thousandth time, I do not speak Hebrew.   No, I do not carry any fancy foreign passport.  Yes,  I speak English fluently, because I am smart, I worked hard, and instead of spending my teenage years learning how to use a gun, I spent them holed up in my room, reading books and learning how to use my pen.

Much to your surprise,  I am a professor of chemistry, of all subjects.  Please collect your jaw off the floor.  I spent eleven years studying abroad, in the United states to be exact.  I did not consider remaining there, and I did not apply for a green card. The only green card I carry is my Palestinian I.D. It does not grant me any privileges, in fact it has sometimes deprived me of  basic rights, like the freedom of movement in my own country.  But I hang on to it dearly, and  will not replace it with the “good” green card, as you so eloquently put it. Where is that accent of yours from? Russia? Is that why you came to “Israel”, looking for the equivalent of a”good” green card? 

Don’t you get tired of stopping my car every day? Isn’t it a bit monotonous to be asking me the same question? “Where are you going? Lawain?” Every day I have to discipline my urge to get  lippy with you .  I have to stop the words from throwing themselves at you and then exploding in your face (no pun intended, or maybe it is).  What I really want to say in response to your ridiculous question: To Paris!! I am going to Paris!!  Through your checkpoint I hope the world will receive me with wide strong arms. I hope it will cradle my dreams and handle them with care, and that it will not crush them like you have managed to do with the hopes and dreams of all Palestinians in the past present and many generations to come.  To Paris, so I can have creamy butter croissant, and good coffee early in the morning, and fine aged wine with my deliciously fresh salad in the evening. To Paris, so I can attend contemporary dance festivals  and poetry readings. So I can walk in open air markets.   To Paris, so I can meet smart educated people, and have endless philosophical discussions filled with rhetorical questions pondering the state of the world.  To Paris, so I can sit on my window sill and yearn for better times at home.  So I can live and breathe everything Palestinian like it was the last breath after a long struggle with a terminal illness.  To Paris, so I can never forget your checkpoint and the long boring humiliating unnecessary delays, so I can carry the cries of a pregnant woman giving birth at your checkpoint in the creases of my wrinkled dress, and the endless spaces of my soul. To Paris, so I can tell the world about my students sitting on the ground, shirtless, handcuffed for one reason and one reason only…they don’t carry the “good” green card.  So I can write countless blog entries about men, women and children who were once trying to get somewhere but never did because of your checkpoint.  To Paris, so I can write about Palestine like a distant land that inhabits the warmest chambers of one’s heart, so close yet so unattainable.

But wait just a second!  I do that already, all day every day right here, just twenty minutes beyond your checkpoint in a tiny little town called Ramallah. So NO of course I am not going to Paris, I am still going to Ramallah.  And I still yearn for Palestine and better times, every day, all day.

Please wipe that shocked look off your face.  Release the grip on your gun. And relax the angles of your mouth, it appears that you are smiling, or maybe just smirking.  I am not an untamed animal trying to escape my cage, I do not have a tail growing out of my behind. This is not a zoo.  I am a woman, and to your grave disappointment you and I belong to the same species. We are both Homo sapiens, a.k.a  humans.  Contemplate THAT  while you wait to harass the next car passing through your precious checkpoint.  In the meantime, I am still going to Ramallah!!!

Not So Sincerely,

An Educated Palestinian Woman ( possibly your worst and your government’s worst nightmare and Palestine’s best potential) 

A Note on Writing

First Published on The Big Olive. Was dedicated to my students in AbuDis, and is dedicated today to all my TOK students writing their essays and asking for more time…

I found me-happy liberated soulful me- in sentences and punctuation. I found fresh air in paragraphs with long descriptive adjectives, loaded with sarcasm once and emotional flourish other times.  I found happy unhindered me lost between question marks and exclamation points.  I found ME in writing.  Writing was an old hobby that was pushed away with structures, reactions and jarring scientific literature.  But thankfully, gratefully, writing found me and saved me.

I write out of this quiet space, in the wee hours of the morning, when my mind is still quiet, and the sounds of life, the noise I should say, has not awakened into chaos.  It happens just before the coffee aroma takes over the kitchen, and movement takes over my day.  It happens away from the road, Abu Dis, the twins, and far away from Ramallah.  My thoughts breathe steadily, and the rhythm of it all takes shape.  My chest tickles as the words pour uncontrollably on my screen, and my spirit battles with my very scientific mind that wants to correct every sentence and spell every word correctly on the first try.  And then it all takes a life of its own, and I no longer can control what is it I am trying to write. I often sit down inspired by many things, Qalandia, the chaos on campus, the wide eyed students coming to terms with their intellectual ability, my children’s smile.  I sit in front of my screen intending to take this inspiration for a specific ride with very defined parameters, but rarely do I ever accomplish this goal.  Writing shapes itself, thoughts come out of their hidden compartments and find refuge on paper.  Sentences huddle together to make paragraphs and paragraphs slowly gel to tell a story.  Deep in my brain, feelings dislodge themselves from their shelves and slowly undulate towards my fingers to take their rightful place on paper.  As I sit and write, I slowly sink into my inner soul, and  find an inner peace that  is not of any other place.  The silence deepens, the writing quickens, my breath steadies a cool energy like a fresh Fall breeze uncoils like a serpent  from the  bottom of my spine and rises up towards the center of my brain, and sssshhhhhh there it is…divine silence just breath. Breathe in…breathe out….

The sounds of life stirring on the street scare away my thoughts, and my meditative state slowly coils back into my tail bone. My thoughts and feelings scurry back into their compartments and shelves deep in my brain, and my soulful moment abruptly ends as life takes over again…the coffee is ready, the babies are crying, Abu Dis awaits, and the day has begun.  I take comfort in the hope that I get to feel this again soon, in the quietness of another morning  and the details of another piece.

 Writing has made me whole, writing has made me more human, more motherly.  I found happy peaceful ME in between comas and exclamation points. Writing for my soul is running for my body.  It has shed the extra weight of unwanted thoughts, negative ugly feelings, and left my soulful self to explore and become a better mother, wife, lover, daughter and most important of all, as one of my students put it, a better teacher and human being.

A Letter To Motherhood

This is an entry from my old blog The Big Olive: The Tales of Two Professors . I wrote a letter to motherhood during my first few months. We assume that one turns into a wife/husband the moment they get married, and then turn to a parent the moment a child is placed into our arms. Truth is I am still learning to be a mother, and I am not even sure I am good at it, there are days when I think, yup this is it, if I am going to fail at anything it is definitely parenting. Without further delay, here is the Letter to Motherhood

Dear Motherhood;

Hello. I don’t suppose you recognize my voice. In fact I am quite sure you are stunned at my audacity in contacting you so early in the game. After all it has only been four months since I joined your fearless frontlines, but if you could, just for a few minutes, listen to me, I would be forever grateful…Moherhood, you are kicking my butt, any chance you can ease up on me? I know the request is quite funny. I can only imagine your graceful, beautiful goddess self-you know the kind that glides not walks- having a hearty laugh over this rooky’s plea, my very not so graceful, disheveled, not showered for days, spit up filled shirt wearing self. I should probably not ask or pray for easier days. I should just be surprised and thankful when they do happen. Right? After all I have the toughest job in the world-I am a mother (maybe if I stand in front of the mirror, and repeat it over and over it will sink deeper into my brain, oh don’t worry my heart has no problems with it, it was sold on this new title on the first day; it is the practical part that wants everything systemized that gets challenged every now and then.)

Please know that it is not the obvious big sacrifices that are so painful to make. It certainly is not the I will become a stay at home mom for the coming seven months and give up the promotion of my life sacrifice. And it certainly is not I will choose a different career path to accommodate my new post in life-Mother. Those are obvious and come to me as second nature. It is the I will sacrifice my shower to feed my child and risk everyone avoiding me at Friday morning brunch, because I STINK. Or I will give up sleep, until the babies sleep, and risk becoming legally insane. Or I will give up an hour of rest to cook dinner early so I can feed the babies, put them to bed and have one uninterrupted meal (that NEVER works by the way). Or I will sacrifice eating altogether so I can change the babies and get them ready for their doctor’s appointment, only to arrive LATE yet again…And the list goes on..

I am sure you are in stitches over this letter and wonder why anyone would bother telling you any of this. Actually I am almost ashamed to be saying these things outloud. But I am sure that every new mother has thought about these things and was too afraid to admit them. So forgive me for asking again, can you please go easy on me, and other mothers like me. I ask you to please remember that just a few months ago, we were carefree, sometimes careless individuals who could have not fathomed holding a life in their hands. And by the way can you please ask other more trained soldiers in your frontline to stop telling the biggest white lie known to human beings? It does not get easier after the first three months. I KNOW, by now, that the shit has yet to hit the fan (excuse my French, I should probably learn new vocabulary now that I am raising children), that once those little feet hit the ground, they will hit them running and that is most certainly accompanied by cyclones of chaos, toys, and long hours of baby tv. But I am also SURE that with these tiny cyclones of madness come hurricanes of contagious laughter that can melt icebergs, and floods of excitement for the countless firsts, and endless days trips, play dates, and lunch dates with Teta, Khalto and Amto (grandma, mother’s sister, and father’s sister). I understand that the happiness that has come my way will only get bigger, louder and better…and the challenges will also get bigger, louder and harder…

Motherhood, I fully realize that my daily sacrifices seem trivial in the face of world hunger and the many starving children that do not have neither breast milk nor formula, so forgive me for my selfishness. I am also aware that given the country I live in, I am so lucky for the plethora of bounty we have, and that unlike most mothers who live elsewhere I don’t need an Oprah special to remind me of poverty, hunger, apartheid, oppression and suffering as it resides just a couple of streets away. I am fully aware of all my fellow mothers whose children are sick, or imprisoned or injured. And I KNOW that it is only a stroke of blessed fate that my children were born into this family where they will find endless nurture, love, and colorful childhood memories to cheer up an entire nation. Please know that I am thankful for the plenty of everything…

But, I still cannot help but want to ask for your help. If you could just grant me the grace, the intelligence, the patience, the compassion, the strength and most important the health to live it all, the bravery and the courage to admit not to always enjoy it all and the long life to look back and smile at it all, for me, my husband and our tiny village of loved ones helping us through it all. That is all I ask. See, quite simple isn’t it?

Thank you for entertaining my words and taking the time to listen. I think I am done for now…Oh no, rest assured you will be hearing from me again…very soon. Oh and one more thing, before I let you go, since it is mother’s day here, and I really want to bake a cake for my mother, is it too much to ask for an easy day today? Thank you, Motherhood. Talk to you soon.



Lentil Sweet Potato Soup

Lentil soup is a staple in Palestinian cuisine, this recipe brings together my Palestinian self an my sweet potato loving southern self together.


3 medium to large sweet potatoes cubed

2 medium to large regular potatoes cubed

1 large onion chopped

2 cups lentil

A piece of ginger (2 inches long)

1 cube chicken bullion in 2 L of boiled water (you can use chicken broth)

1 Tbsp Butter

Salt to taste


  1. Heat your sauce pan and add the butter to melt

2. Add the chopped onions and saute until they become clear

3. Add the sweet and regular cubed potatoes and sprinkle with salt

4. Stir around a bit then lower the heat and cover the pot for a minutes allowing the potatoes to steam cook and become tender

5. Add the washed lentils stir a bit

6. Add the water and chicken bullion, bring to a roaring boil then let simmer until everything is cooked (around 30 mi)

7. Turn the heat off, allow soup to cool, then pure using a blender

8. Pour the pured soup in a pot and warm before serving

9. Serve with lemons and a dash of ground cumin.

Orange Cake

Oranges are a Palestinian national treasure, a staple on our tables, and most definitely in our desserts. Orange cake makes an appearance on birthday tables, and with afternoon coffee and tea. We have all grown up eating orange cake, some are made with semolina and drenched with kater (qater) , others made with flour and decorated with a sugar based glaze. The recipe below is adapted from vibrant book of Palestine on a Plate and have been changed in many ways to reflect my style and love for baking and cake decorating. It is one of my attempts to make Palestinian orange cake into a layered cake.


3-4 oranges (depending on size)

115 g butter

115 g olive oil

250 g sugar

6 egg whites

437 g flour

3 Tbsp Baking Powder

5 drops vanilla flavoring or 2 tsp vanilla extract

For the Butter Cream

340 g Butter

680 g powdered sugar sifted

40-60 mL whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract or 5 drops vanilla flavoring (whatever is available).

Edible Gold Dust for dusting.

To Make The Cake

  1. Boil the three oranges for 30 minutes in turning water, let cool for a while, until you are able to handle them. Then cut up, remove seeds and puree in a food processor.
  2. Sift flour, and measure baking powder.
  3. In a bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, whip the olive oil and the butter together for a minute, add the sugar and continue whipping until mixture is light and airy. Slowly add the egg whites, and continue whipping at medium speed. The mixture should become more fluffy and soft.
  4. Add baking powder to orange pure and stir, the mixture will start to bubble.
  5. Switch from whisk to paddle attachment on your stand mixer and alternate adding the flour and the orange-baking powder puree. Once all are incorporated, add the vanilla.
  6. Allow the batter to rest while you grease and line three 9 inch round pans. Preheat over to 170 C.
  7. Divide the batter into the three pans, and bake each layer around 16-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Check with a toothpick, if center comes out clean, remove immediately.
  8. Allow to cool, then turn over and remove parchment paper from the bottom.

To Make The Butter Cream:

1. Sift 680 g of powdered sugar.

Place 340 g of butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the butter for a minute. Add the lemon juice and vanilla (if you are adding any) and continue beating. I like to add my flavors to the butter first before adding the sugar.


2. Start adding the sugar 1/4 cup at a time. Please be sure to add slowly and allow the sugar to incorporate so that you continue to have a smooth buttercream and avoid graininess.


3. Halfway through adding the sugar, add 60 mL of room temperature-warm milk. Whisk well then continue to add the sugar.

To Decorate a Regular Cake:

  1. I made a chocolate butter cream along with the vanilla butter cream for the filling, in addition to the ingredients for the butter cream above add 4 Tbsp chocolate powder.
  2. Once the chocolate butter cream is ready, place one layer on the turn table and apply a generous layer of chocolate butter cream, place the second cake, make sure it is level. Here you want to get in there really, and make sure everything is sitting right. Add the final layer.
  3. Add a crumb coat and smooth it out. Refrigerate for thirty minutes.
  4. Add another butter cream layer and smooth out for a final look

For the Crescent Cake:

  1. Carve out the shape of a large Crescent. You can find templates on the internet, just print them in the size that you need and use it to guide your carving. I eyeballed it and it worked well.
  2. Apply crumb coat to the crescent, refrigerate for thirty minutes.
  3. Apply a final coat in the color you prefer, and decorate as you wish. I used star cut out and dusted them edible gold dust to capture the Ramadan Spirit at the time.

Palestinian Coconut Layer Cake

Coconut cake soaked with qater (Sugar Syrup) is a staple in many Palestinian homes and across the Levant: Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to name a few. It is usually made as a one layer cake then served warm or chilled with tea or coffee. Simple, but absolutely delicious. Some versions use semolina, others use flour.

I am presenting today, my own version of coconut cake, which still can very much be made into a one layer cake, or it can be made into a layered cake. I developed this recipe especially for Ahmed (my husband’s) birthday.

What you will find is a meeting of East and West. Middle eastern notes of rose water and lemon, come through and mix with vanilla and creamy butterness in the cake icing…exactly what I want to accomplish when I set out to make this cake


For The Cake:

115 g Butter (room temperature)

115 g Canola oil

300 g sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

5 drops vanilla flavoring

6 large egg whites (room temperature)

360 mL Yogurt thinned with water

1/4 cup Labaneh

437 g Cake Flour

100-150 g Coconut Shaving

For the Syrup

60 mL Lemon Juice

175 mL Water

175 g Sugar

2 Tsp Rose Water

For the Butter Cream

340 g Butter

60 mL Lemon Juice

40-60 mL whole milk or cream (slightly warm)

680 g Powdered (Icing Sugar)

5 drops vanilla flavoring

10 mL Rose Water

30 mL Lemon Juice

Various gel food coloring.

Edible Gold Dust


For the Cake:

1. Separate egg whites and let stand. Cream oil, butter and sugar until they become light in color and fluffy. Add egg whites gradually and continue to whisk using stand mixer or hand mixer until it becomes white in color and fluffy.





2. In the mean time, sift the flour and baking powder, measure coconut, labaneh, and yogurt and switch from the whisk to the paddle attachment.


3. Start by adding the labaneh. Then alternate the flour, yogurt, and coconut. Make sure that every time you continue to scrap the sides every now and then. Add 2 tsp vanilla extract and 5 drops vanilla falvoring


4. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C while allowing the cake batter to rest. The batter will double in size.

5. Divide the batter into three cake pans greased and lined with parchment paper.


7. Place pan in the oven and take down temperature to 160 C. Bake each layer for 20 minutes watching closely and checking with a toothpick before taking out of the oven. Please do not open your oven door the first 15 minute. Start checking the cake after fifteen minutes. Depending on the heat of your oven, the cake should be ready in twenty minutes or so.

For the Syrup

Mix 125 mL lemon juice with 175 mL water and 150 g sugar. Bring to a gentle boil. Let it simmer until syrup thickens slightly, then remove from the heat.

Add 2 tsp rose water and let the syrup cool for a few minutes, then pour onto baked layers, one layer at a time.

Vanilla, Lemon and Rose Butter Cream

1. Sift 680 g of powdered sugar.

Place 340 g of butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the butter for a minute. Add the lemon juice and continue beating.


2. Start adding the sugar 1/4 cup at a time. Please be sure to add slowly and allow the sugar to incorporate so that you continue to have a smooth buttercream and avoid graininess.


3. Halfway through adding the sugar, add 60 mL of room temperature-warm milk along with vanilla flavoring and rose water

Finish adding the sugar.

4. If you are going to use this butter cream with various colors, divide into different bowls and add the coloring to each separately. I used Turquoise, purple and orange gel color to produce three different colors.

I then created the water color illusion using the three colors.

For a magical touch, I finished the cake with gold dust. See Gallery below!

Cake Decoration

Happy Birthday!

Lemonade Summer Round and Ramadan Round

This is a very simple recipe:

For every one cup of lemon juice add 1.5-2 cups sugar. Stir at room temperature for a couple of days until all sugar has dissolved. Pour into clean dry glass bottles and seal.

Ready to be poured into the

Bring out one bottle at a time. Use 1-1.5 cups of lemon syrup in a large pitcher, pour 1L of water and add ice…Enjoy the lemonade!

Of Black Lily and Green Leaves

This article first appeared in This Week in Palestine April 2013. My background in medicinal organic chemistry, along with two years spent in Palestinian Medicinal Plants research motivated the writing of this particular piece. Back then, i was still searching for my voice as a writer and a foodie, and I could not reconcile my PhD self with my writing self. So I used science to justify my love for writing and for cooking. Today, I have come a long way, and i am no longer afraid to admit that I love to research and write about food and that I wish to use food as a tool to tell bigger stories of love, hope, family, sumood (perseverance and steadfastness) struggles medicinal and scientific knowledge. Enjoy the read, and leave me your comments.

Cut the leaves right at the stem, slice in half and remove the main vein. Place in a strainer and wash repeatedly with water, squeezing the leaves between washes….

Arum Palaestinum, Black Lily, Loof Falasteeny, is a beautiful plant with bright-green leaves and a black calla lily flower that blooms in early spring in Palestine. This unassuming beauty is a busy manufacturing centre of antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-many-other-diseases compounds. It belongs to the plant family Aracea (a-RAY-see-eh), the genus Arum, and the species so appropriately known as Palaestinum. Reports of this particular plant flowering in California are found in the literature; usually it is reported to flower alongside its white calla lily cousin. But in Palestine, Loof blooms in shady warm areas, on its own. It is a culinary delicacy served in a variety of forms – sautéed in olive oil with onions, cooked in a tomato-based sauce with wheat flour or whole wheat bread – a delicacy enjoyed for years in the kitchens of those who appreciate it and know how to prepare it. 

Photo credit: Mirna Bamia, IG: @mirna.bam and @palestine_hosting_society

You must wash and squeeze the leaves to get rid of their bitter taste, which causes numbness in the mouth. A sign of a master chef is a Loof dish that does not numb one’s tongue. Some might prefer to boil the leaves and decant them several times to get rid of the toxins.

It is this exact toxicity that makes Loof an interesting plant to study for biological activity. Herbal medicine in Palestine forms an integral part of medical care and has been largely unchanged for many generations. All Palestinians are subject (throughout their lifespan) to all types of decoctions, macerations, and oil-based remedies. Mothers get their knowledge from their own mothers who have inherited this information from their own mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, etc. For an upset stomach, drink sage tea; for a cold, make chamomile tea, quickly and hurriedly, and infuse with fresh honey from this year’s harvest. For beautiful hair, massage your head with olive oil before washing it. For beautiful skin, use sugar, lemon, and olive oil to scrub your face, the resulting glow competes with the best and, of course, most expensive spa treatments. And for anti-aging or anti-cancer effects, a Loof-based cream, or pill? Maybe? 

Also important to note here Palestine as a region holds 3 percent of the world’s biodiversity, including medicinal plants.

Although Palestinian herbal medicine is deeply ingrained in the culture, a serious and central effort to document the ethnopharmacological knowledge and support it with a comprehensive natural-product-screening programme is still lacking (at the time it was lacking, and was limited to individual effort, this may have changed in this day and age). Many brave efforts of young scientists in various Palestinian universities exist, but a more central project is needed. Much like everything else, traditional medicinal plant knowledge is being hijacked by Israeli culture and scientists. 

Pour a good amount of olive oil into a saucepan on medium heat. Chop an onion or two into fine squares; add to the warm oil, and sauté. Add your chopped Loof leaves and stir. Keep stirring until the onions are clear and barely visible, and your bright green leaves are dark and wilted.

Studies show that Loof has antioxidant activity. Chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and ageing are all associated with the presence of high levels of reactive oxygen species, in other words radicals. In general, radicals (as chemists like to call them, not to be confused with other types of radicals such as political ones) are reactive species that can pretty much eat through anything. They can attack proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates, and cause both structural and functional changes. Radicals are serious troublemakers for those in search of eternal youth. They can break down skin tissue and cause wrinkles, age spots, and fine lines. So imagine if in Palestine we find the one plant that can seriously stop such damage, or, to be less vain and more humble, at least significantly slow it down. Radicals are also associated with cancer. Cancer, till this day, remains a shape-shifting disease. It has many causes that range from lifestyle, nutrition, age, weight, and genetics on the macro level, to the more precise causes, such as the uncontrolled cell proliferation – the inability of our cells to stop dividing. The presence of radicals that can cause genetic damage to our cells and render them unable to stop dividing is hypothesised to be a cause of cancer. Medicinal plants with antioxidant compounds that can neutralise these highly reactive species may be another mode of attack. It may be just another weapon that can help secure at least one victory in a battle in the war against one of the worst diseases in the history of modern medicine.

According to the literature, Loof has significant amounts of phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds are a special family of alcohols that exhibit interesting biological activity. For example, they are responsible for the red colour in berries, which also exhibits antioxidant and anti-aging activity. Phenolic functionality has also been associated with other biological activities and has made excellent medicinal compound targets. The key feature of phenols is their acidic alcohol group, which is significantly more acidic than a regular alcohol (for example, ethanol). The presence of a benzene ring (a special unsaturated six-membered ring) causes this high acidity as well as the ability to react with radicals to form more stable compounds. We call benzene rings a conjugated pi system that is capable of resonance stabilisation. In other words, the presence of the benzene ring stabilises the compound and accounts for its ability to react in various ways. 

To serve this in a tomato sauce, peel your tomatoes, chop them into fine pieces, and gradually add them to the saucepan and stir. Then add water, a dash of salt and some pepper, and let the mixture simmer over low heat.

As Loof blooms around this time of the year, we natural-product explorers and foodies alike feel a bit of hope, a tinge of potential, and a skip of the heartbeat as we macerate leaves in the lab, or chop in the kitchen. A sense of stability mixed with a dash of aspiration engulfs us as we serve Loof to a sick relative, or as we push through a small extract on the HPLC in the lab.

We hope that perhaps this time next year, we might hold in a test tube an extract that promises a treatment for cancer or a wrinkle free old age. We hope that Palestinian research will blossom into efforts to document a long history of herbal medicine and further support what is recognized to be folk knowledge with scientific results that can preserve this tradition and protect it from theft and appropriation, as well as provide a basis for serious research efforts, achievements, and publications. The importance of research-active academics cannot be highlighted enough. Not only will it provide working opportunities for many highly educated Palestinians but it will ultimately make us better teachers. 

Once the Loof stew is ready you can serve it with whole wheat bread for dipping, or with whole wheat maftool (couscous), or with bread crumbs covered with the stew.

Equally, food research and anthropology is just as essential. Understanding the ethnobotany of Palestinian plants, the traditions by which they are prepared and served on tables for centuries now is a fundamental factor in preserving and dispersing our story and narrative.

You may choose to garnish the stew with lemon… Bon Appetite!

Photo credit: Mirna Bamieh

Tomato and Onion Salad

This is a simple recipe, for what could be the most perfect salad of my childhood. Salata Fallahiyyeh is a staple on every breakfast table in Palestine.  You can serve it with breakfast dishes like Manae’sh, Ijjeh (egg fritters), Falafel, Zaatar o Zait (fool), or you can use it to garnish labaneh and spruce it up, or fava beans.  I have even served the traditional version as an appetizer with tortilla chips and yogurt. The traditional version is made with finely chopped tomatoes, onions (red, white or green, depending on what is available) and a dressing of lemon, olive oil and salt.

I have seen modern versions of it were tomatoes are sliced in larger pieces with slices of red onions. And what I share with you here, errs on the modern side.

This may seem like a simple and easy recipe, which for all technical reasons it is. However, I think it is far more significant than just a simple salad. Tomatoes are a life line crop in Palestine. In the winter, with the cold weather, and restrictions imposed on Gaza transporting produce to the West Bank, tomatoes can become expensive ( a conversation I am going to delve into in a later piece).

Palestinian baladi tomatoes taste earthy. When sliced open, the smell of acidity and sweetness travel through your nostrils and awaken your taste buds. You can almost smell the nitrogen rich earth they were grown in.  

This salad has a sister, which is also a staple on the Palestinian table, where vegetables, usually freshly picked from the land, like green onions, cucumbers, bell peppers and lettuce accompany the tomatoes. A simple chopped salad dressed with freshly harvested, Palestinian olive oil known for its sharp after taste, and fresh lemon juice and salt.

Sometimes the greatest gastronomical pleasures are found in the simplest of things.


Two to three large tomatoes sliced

1 medium red onion (2 small ones)

One to two lemons juiced (depending on the time of the year, and the amount of juice the lemons have)

Sea Salt to Taste

2-3 Tbsp of Olive Oil

1 square of Arabic Cheese

Served on its own with a piece of warm bread and olives.

To Make the Salad:

  • Slice the tomato into two longitudinal halves and then slice each piece into half circles.
  • Layer into your salad bowl
  • Slice the onions into thin needles and layer on top of the tomatoes
  • Sprinkle the salad with sea salt, lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Cut the white cheese into thin rectangles.
  • Heat a skillet until sizzling hot, and place the cheese on it until it is golden brown on both side. Place on top of your salad.
  • Serve your salad with Ijjeh, or Hummus, or on its own!


Salad served with Ijjeh (Egg fritters)