15 January 2019


Here’s how to make this.  It’s really easy, and better than garbanzo bean falafel in my opinion.

Soak 1/2 kilo of split (white) fava beans in water for 24 hours.  You can maybe get away with 16 hours but starting them in the morning to eat in the evening isn’t early enough, in my opinion.

Drain the beans and dump them in a blender or food processor, in batches if needed.  A food processor is better since this is thick but I just have a blender and it works.  Add 1 bunch each of parsley, cilantro, and kurrat/jusay/garlic chives, plus salt and pepper, cumin and coriander, lots of garlic (at least 6 cloves), and a medium onion.  Blend it up till you have a thick paste. You can fiddle with everything, but don’t let it get too liquidy or they’ll turn into mush when you try to fry them.

I shallow fry these, topping them with sesame seeds.  They’re crispy and brown on the outside and lovely and green on the inside.  They can be eaten inside of flatbread, but usually they’re not.  I think they’re best with some kind of tahini sauce, or you can use any of the other ful ideas I suggested a few days ago.

13 January 2019

I had more stuff than usual to buy at the market today, because I’d barely been keeping up on food over the holiday.  But school is back in session and things are normal again so I could get food again.  The total cost for all of this was $7.50.

1 kilo each of onions, tomatoes, fava beans, and red lentils
1/2 kilo each of cucumbers and zucchini
1/4 kilo sesame seeds
2 kilos strawberries
2 bell peppers
3 lemons 
3 bunches of kurrat/jusay/Asian chives
1 bunch each of parsley and cilantro

I don’t go to this market because of the prices, although that’s a nice side benefit.  I go to practice some Arabic and to support the businesses there.  It takes me an extra ten minutes to go there instead of the nearest grocery store.  And the produce is better with more turnover, in my opinion. I keep trying to get my US friends to go with me, but no one has taken me up on that yet.  

09 January 2019

Instant Pot Ferik with Chicken

This is one of those “national dishes” I mentioned yesterday.  Pigeons are raised all over the country and this is one of the most popular recipes. I’m not convinced the ferik I buy here is green, but it is roasted and has a good flavor.  It’s sold everywhere, much more than bulgur, and I’m happy to make the switch for a few years.  An instant pot certainly isn’t necessary, but it works nicely, especially with frozen chicken, which is what I generally use here because I’m not really interested in getting a live pigeon. This one isn’t just dumping everything in the IP, but it’s not much more complicated than that.

Cook around a kilo (or less, it really doesn’t matter) of frozen, boneless, skinless chicken breast in about 2 cups of water at high pressure for 20 minutes.  Also add some salt, pepper, a couple of peeled small onions, and some spices (cardamom and cinnamon are traditional) to the water before cooking. While the chicken cooks, sauté one large chopped onion in olive oil till it’s golden brown. Or you can wait till the chicken is finished and do the onion in the IP, but I don’t think that works as well.  Once the onions are golden, add two cups of rinsed and drained ferik and stir for a couple more minutes.  Turn off the heat.

When the IP beeps, do a quick release and scoop out a cup of the broth.  Take the chicken out and set aside and poke the sauté button to cook the broth down a bit.  Take that cup of broth and add it to your ferik and stir over medium heat for about five minutes till the broth is absorbed.  When the broth has cooked down to about 1 1/2 cups, add the ferik and onions then lay the chicken on top.  Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes, then do a quick release and serve.

I’m sure this can also be done more simply by browning the onions in olive oil, then adding the ferik and cooking it a bit, then topping it with 2.5 cups of water, the seasonings, and the chicken, then cooking it for 20 minutes, but you’d lose some flavor and the other way really isn’t that much more complicated.

08 January 2019

Instant Pot Ful

This one is obvious for the instant pot.  There are plenty of ways to make ful, but this is the quickest. I think it’s easiest (and most traditional, for Egypt at least) to cook the beans on their own and add other flavors later, according to taste. This is an essential basis for any Egyptian meal, and really common for breakfast.  I see people eating ful and flatbread all the time on the street.  In some parts of Cairo, garbage was burned to eat the hammams and cook fava beans overnight for the entire neighborhood.  There are plenty of Egyptian “national dishes” out there, but it’s hard to find a dish that is so widely eaten by just about everyone in a country as ful.  

Soak a bunch of unpeeled, brown, dried fava beans in plenty of water.  One nice thing about the IP is that you can forget to soak the beans the night before and start them in the morning instead.  And you can even entirely forget to soak them and just pressure cook them.  But soaking them in the morning is a good idea.  Drain them and dump them in the instant pot with plenty of fresh water at least 90 minutes before you want to eat.   Cook them on high pressure for 60-75 minutes.  I’ve found that you really do need 75 minutes sometimes which is a very long time under pressure, but the skins can be very slow to soften.  After they’re soft, drain off some of the water if they’re too soupy for your taste, add some salt, and mash or purée them as you like.  These are really very flexible and you’ll see anything from whole beans in lots of liquid to a chunky purée.

Meanwhile, make anything you want to go with the ful.  Flatbread is a must, but my favorite is tahini.  Combine equal amounts of tahini and lemon juice (or less lemon, if you think that’s too much), plus some minced garlic and salt and stir.  When it’s getting hard to stir, add water till it’s the consistency you like.  

Chopped herbs and onions with tomatoes and cucumbers are also very nice.  Or yogurt.  Or cucumbers with yogurt.  Or tomato cucumber pomegranate salad.  Or hard boiled eggs. Or pickled vegetables.  Or olive oil.  Or lemon juice.  Ground cumin. Crushed red pepper.  Black pepper.  Other spices.  Really, the beans are very bland but give you so many options of how to flavor them.  

07 January 2019

We have been the biggest slugs ever during Christmas break this year.  We get three weeks off here, because of Coptic Christmas (Merry Christmas!) so we’re still off and we’ve all loved having a break after some very intense months in Cairo.  And this summer.  And in Riyadh before that.  It will be nice to get back to normal on Sunday, but no one is feeling like the break has been too long.

I did finally get my own copy of The New Book of Middle Eastern food.  I’ve checked it out of the library more times that I can count over the last 20 years.  Since Claudia Roden grew up in Egypt, it’s perfect for here.  I like to have a few paper cookbooks around and I still haven’t found one I like better for the Middle East, overall.

I wanted to try using the instant pot for some Egyptian recipes, beyond the kushari version I posted last year.  Ful was an obvious choice, and I also did ferik with chicken.  They both worked very well, but I’ll post the recipes separately to make them easier to find later.

The basic grocery store by my house sells halloumi cheese, a decent-sized block for three dollars.  Fried halloumi is appearing for dinner much more often that it should be.

It really is fun to be cooking in Egypt.

31 December 2018

Goodbye 2018

Here's what I posted a year ago for what I hoped for 2018.

  • Blog more, at least in Cairo
  • Two more successful semesters for oldest son
  • Enjoy the last few cool months in Riyadh and survive getting out of here
  • No medical crises
  • Second son decided on his next plan and enjoy whatever time I get with him this year
  • Manage the move to Cairo the way we've planned, complete with a non jet-lagged child on the first day of school.  I can dream, right?
  • Some sort of trip with just the two of us
  • Effective political advocacy
  • Explore CAIRO!
  • Jerusalem
  • Arabic and be ready for a new branch, plus histories
  • Good food, good exercise

This mostly happened, except we didn't go to Jerusalem or a trip with just the two of us and I broke my foot less than two weeks after posting this so my last few months in Saudi were neither enjoyable or free of medical crises.  I am tired of foot problems, but at least I never again should have to spend three months on crutches in an abaya.  I'm amazed I didn't break anything else.

The move has mostly gone well, although that's at least in part because I managed my expectations well.  Everything has moved slowly but since I'm giving us six months to get settled in, we still have nearly two months to get organized and that will happen since we're nearly there.  But really, this whole year was either dealing with a broken foot or moving.  I'm ready to be done with that.  

But then there was Cairo.  I've had so much fun exploring so far and can't wait for years more of it.  Arabic is my other big thing for this year.  I was able to spend three hours/day for a few weeks in the fall between moving events so I know it's doable, and I'm planning to make sure that happens consistently.

This year's list is much simpler:

  • Cairo website ready to launch in the summer, keep exploring
  • Good college plans for both older boys
  • Good good, good exercise
  • Find a local volunteer option starting this fall that's effective and works for me
  • Buy a condo/house?
  • Jerusalem?

19 December 2018

I've mentioned there are lots of things I see but don't take photos of.  About 10 days ago I had just set a friend off through Bab al-Futuh and I was waiting for a ride home when a funeral procession of men carrying a coffin came through the gate, crossed the street, and headed north.  There's a large cemetery in that direction so I'm guessing they were heading for that.  I wish I could have seen where they were coming from. 

18 December 2018

Something you'll see in Cairo are things that look like wooden crates on top of lots of apartment buildings.  We had an idea that they were for pigeons, but when I asked someone, I made a classic Arabic mistake and thought they said it was a bathhouse which didn't make much sense, but that's what I heard.

The problem is that the word for bathhouse is hammam, but the word for pigeon is hamam.  You can probably understand why I got confused. Hamman still registers as bathroom in my brain, although it shouldn't because few Arabs use it that way anymore so I just need to drop it from my vocabulary unless I am talking about a historic site.  And we lived near Um al-Hamam in Riyadh which isn't about bathhouses so that's another reason I should have realized I was wrong. 

You can hear the difference between the doubled middle consonant sound in a word like bookcase.  The middle consonant sound is doubled in that word, but you can say it without the double k sound.  There's a difference, but one that's easily missed.

I do love the pigeon boxes though.  A couple of weeks ago I was on top of one of the minarets on Bab Zuwayla when the call to prayer started, and then someone in the dovecote below us started waving a flag to call her pigeons home and they circled over the building until they landed.  It's very common to see flocks of pigeons flying around Cairo and it was so beautiful to be up high, listening to the call to prayer, and watching those pigeons swirl into their home.

17 December 2018

Here’s this year’s nativity.  It’s nice to be back in a country that makes them.

15 December 2018

Another busy week.  Maybe next week will be more normalish? I'm supposed to be gone now but my foot has been weird since Tuesday and is hurting more so I'm seeing if staying off it today helps.

Last weekend was so much fun.  Some friends of ours had another friend visiting, but our friends already had a commitment they couldn't cancel, so they asked if I could take their friend around Cairo for a couple of days.  She was ready for anything and spoke Arabic so was a great person to go out exploring with.  The first day we went up the Qasaba all the way to Bab al-Futuh with detours over to the Church of the Virgin and the Maimonides synagogue.  The second day we started at the north end of the Northern Cemetery and walked all the way down and over to Sayyida Zaynab through Bab al-Wazir with a stop at Ibn Tulun.  I'd been wanting to walk all along there, but not many people are interested in that much walking.  Ibn Tulun was closing when we got there but we were able run in for a bit.

The rest of the week was all over the place.  AUC on Sunday, the Coptic Museum on Monday, Saqqara on Tuesday, a big grocery trip on Wednesday since some other plans were blessedly canceled, and Shari' Saliba and Sultan Hasan and al-Rifai on Thursday.  The only new-to-me thing was the Coptic Museum which I liked, but for me, I'd rather just go to the churches.  However, there are a few things from the Church of St. Barbara and the Hanging Church that I'd been looking forward to finally seeing, like the very old door and some sanctuary screens.  The screens were particularly interesting because the current reproductions are clearly based on those older screens.  Oh, and we went inside the Saliba of Qaytbay on Shari' Saliba which is one of the few places in Cairo where you can go inside a fountain and also down into the cistern.  There are cisterns all over this city but they're almost always closed.

I only had my cell phone camera all week, but there were still a few good photos.

Next week really should be much quieter, at least till the last day of school for the year.  I'm hoping to go to the Northern Cemetery again a few times if I can.

06 December 2018

I didn't mention that other day that I also went to a petrified forest.  You can Uber to it.  I never would have expected to be able to go to something like that here  My son was in charge of the camera and needing to take photos of rocks, but he did get a few usable photos.

04 December 2018

Bab al-Wazir

I'd been near this area several times, usually when I was walking from al-Azhar park to Sultan Hasan, but I kept going down Suq al-Silah instead of Bab al-Wazir, so a couple of weeks ago we focused on exploring here.  I like Suq al-Silah too and I think people should go there, but if you're only in Darb al-Ahmar once, see Bab al-Wazir instead.

The Aga Khan has done a lot of work here too and the good monuments books are pretty much all out of date, especially since some of the work was finished since 2011, but it's interesting to compare what they say about the buildings from 10 or 20 years ago.

Heading south from al-Tabanaa, you come first to an area with restored buildings on both sides of the street.  Bayt al-Razzaz and Um Sultan Shaban are on the right and the waqf of Ibrahim Agha Mustahfizen is on the left with a sabil and house, and there's a leftover minaret behind which is one of the oldest Bahri minarets (and was from a building called Zawiya al-Hunud, referring to India, since Bukharis lived here which may not seem straightforward if you know your geography but still).  Further down is the waqf of Umar Agha with a sabil, house, and tomb with Aqsunqur across the street.  This one was locked when we arrived but someone showed up after a bit with the key.  There are also more buildings from  Ibrahim Agha Mustahfizan here.  Then there's Kharybak's mosque on the left and the Palace of Alnaq al-Nasri. If you keep going, you'll get to Bab al-Wazir cemetery.