Fatteh Ghazzawiyyeh | الفتة الغزاوية | Gazan Fatteh

Fatteh Ghazzawiyyeh | الفتة الغزاوية | Gazan Fatteh

To some, the idea of eating wet bread might seem weird and gross (unfamiliar is probably a better word), especially since it’s paired with rice. I mean who eats rice with bread, right? It’s a carb fest, but let’s not sit here and pretend that there’s anything wrong with that! Because that ship has sailed when we started eating mac and cheese pizza.

There are Palestinian dishes that I sometimes find myself hesitant to share, because deep down I’m inclined to believe that Palestinians love them and everyone else hates them. But listen, it might be unpalatable if wet bread was eaten by itself, sure. But the accompaniment of other ingredients and varying textures really makes this dish. For this reason, I wouldn’t skip garnishing the fatteh with fresh parsley and fried nuts – these elements are integral to it.

If all this talk about wet bread has you salivating, keep reading, or scroll down to the recipe if you don’t want to hear all the interesting things I have to say.

Background

Fatteh (sometimes pronounced fattah) derives its name from the Arabic word فتات which kind of means “torn apart,” and describes the process of tearing apart bread pieces. It is a celebratory dish that some Muslims consume during the first day of the Islamic celebrations of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, but it is also cooked all year round during large gatherings, for guests, and during non-religious celebrations.

There are debates about the origins of the dish, as some believe it was the ancient Egyptians that first consumed it by pouring meat broth over bread, and some believe it is Levantine in origin. Fatteh became very popular during the Fatimid Caliphate in the 10th-12th centuries, and especially during Eid al-Adha.

At first, fatteh was made with red meat, then people started making it with chicken “fattet dajaj,” chickpeas “fattet hummus,” aubergines with mince “fattet makdous,” and the list goes on. The people of Gaza used to serve fatteh mainly with lamb, and sometimes a whole lamb for just one guest as a gesture of respect and hospitality, but over the years, it became acceptable to make it with chicken, rabbit or quail, which are sometimes stuffed, because they’re cheaper. The spices people use in Gaza for the broth and to season the meat differ based on the type of meat used, and they also differ from household to household. For example, lemon is sometimes added to the broth if it’s made with chicken, whereas vinegar is added to lamb broth.

Gazan fatteh is made with plain Egyptian short grain rice, as long grain rice is a recent addition to Palestinian cuisine, and way before that people didn’t even eat rice, just bread, bulgur and other cheaper grains. The fatteh rice is cooked in the broth and flavored with butter or ghee, then it is served with a sprinkling of spices, mainly cinnamon and allspice. It is then served on a bed of very thin bread called farasheeh/shrak/r’gag/marqouq, depending on where you’re from. The bread needs special equipment to be made perfectly, but attempts have been made by cooking it on an upside-down wok in a home kitchen. It tends to harden quickly, but that problem is easily solved by sprinkling the bread with a little bit of water before it’s consumed. It can last for months, and also does really well in the freezer, which is why I always have an endless supply of it in case of emergency. Unlike the more internationally known versions of fatteh, the Gazan version doesn’t involve toasting or frying the bread, and it has rice, and it is made with broth rather than a yoghurt and tahina sauce. But one thing that all fattehs have in common is that they come in deconstructed layers, there’s no mixing of ingredients here.

What characterizes Gazan fatteh as such, is that it is served with dagga, a spicy and tangy sauce. Dagga (not to be confused with dugga, a spice blend) is a noun derived from the verb “to pound,” and it is a generic name given to different versions of dagga depending on the dish it is served with. For example, this dagga is different from the spicy tomato and dill dagga salad, and it’s different from the dagga served with fish. This one consists of garlic, chillies and lemon, the latter two probably being the two most prominent ingredients that characterize Gazan cuisine. Some people add broth to the dagga, and that’s how my family has always made it. Gazan fatteh is probably closer to Egyptian fatteh in that way, since Egyptians serve their fatteh with a dagga made of vinegar and garlic, but is also slightly different since the Egyptian version is served with tomato sauce and crispy bread. Gaza borders Egypt after all, so we have some things in common.

A little lamb called Kharoofy

Not the most creative of names, but it was what I called the young lamb that was kept in our neighbor’s back garden for days before the advent of Eid Al-Adha. Kharoofy, which means “my sheep,” was the name child me had given to an animal that I was slightly afraid of, but also recognized the fear it felt. Every night, when the neighbors weren’t looking, I’d go check on it, feed it, give it a few pats and talk to it. It always stood closer to the fence, where a window to the outside world was in sight.

On the day of Eid al-Adha, I sneaked outside and witnessed Kharoofy being slaughtered. That was the first time that I had seen any animal getting killed. I started screaming and crying and went to my mom shouting “They killed him!” – I don’t know, I decided it was a he. It was traumatizing, but not just for me, you see. Almost every year after that, there was a different Kharoofy, but after some time and repeated disappointments, I stopped trying to bond with the sheep. I couldn’t look them in the eye knowing the fate that awaits them. I’d look from a distance and get overwhelmed with feelings of anger and despair. I’m not going to get into more gruesome details, and I won’t turn this into a religious debate either, although it always seems to end that way—a debate about sanctity, about people’s feelings, but never about the animal(s) and the conditions they live (and die) in.

I always feel like I need to tiptoe around this subject, or I risk losing (more) people that I care about. These conversations are supposed to be uncomfortable, and it’s very difficult to have them from an ideological perspective without the person taking it personally rather than seeing it as a systemic problem. Unfortunately, these conversations are seldom without losses.

But needless to say, I never ate lamb since, even when I ate other animals. I know, I know, I never said I made sense. Funny how we feel about animals once we get to know them. I never even touched sheep milk, or cheeses or labneh made with sheep milk, or even lamb broth. My family tried to change that to no avail. Whenever my mom made fatteh with lamb, I’d demand that my rice is cooked separately. I’d eat the rice, bread, toppings, broth-free dagga, and I’d mix them with a Gazan spicy salad. It was still so good despite the weird looks I’d get. I like to believe that that incident led to planting seeds that manifested in the form of a nagging feeling that refused to go away. And I’m glad it didn’t. Because it led me to stop eating animals.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this story, but what I can tell you is this, fatteh is one of those dishes that people understandably cherish very much because of the symbolism it holds–religiously, culturally, personally. And those feelings about food aren’t limited to Palestinians. I get the feeling no one would flinch if I took the meat out of a green bean stew, but FATTEH! STOP RIGHT THERE! To a lot of people in my life, the main component of fatteh is meat, and to suggest that you can enjoy a fatteh that is just as delicious but without any animal products would not only be ludicrous, but also insulting. I know, because I tried, and I offended and angered many people. Imagine the look on my mother’s and aunties’ faces when I even hinted at that. They were ready to smack me in the head with a tray full of fatteh that they spent a lot of time and effort making.

I have, time and time again, felt alienated the moment it was announced in a room that I didn’t consume animal products. And that announcement was almost always followed by accusations of being “westernized” or “americanized,” as well as questions such as “do you think you’re better than others?” or “why are you disrespecting our culture?” There’s a strong “us vs. them” sentiment when you stop eating meat, almost as if you’re no longer allowed to identify with the food of your own culture because you “chose to abandon it,” you no longer “own” it and shouldn’t “mess with it.” I am Palestinian, and I am Arab, and a lot of those dishes have been an integral part of my life, my childhood, my relational memory, and I’d like to continue to enjoy them in a way that takes into consideration how the food is sourced.

I’m also a (recent) food blogger. I mean, I guess I am… amongst other things? I probably cook more than I sleep. Food is such a big part of my life. I’m also a feeder. Making food for people I love is how I tell them I care. But ironically, I have complete strangers that love the food I make, when a lot of the people in my life will never touch or even taste it, simply because it doesn’t have meat in it. And I can’t even begin to describe how much that saddens me. It hurts. I go out of my way to include many delicious dishes in a spread, but even if someone accidentally reaches for a dish because they don’t know what’s in it, I’ll have relatives that warn them “that’s veg*n!!!” and their arm will slowly retreat. If I ask them to at least try it, I’m often met with snarky remarks such as “إن حضرت اللحمة، بطل الباتنجان” – something to the effect of “why would I eat aubergines when there’s meat? Ha ha ha.”

For the longest time, I dreaded Eid al-Adha (sorry), and I still do, but being able to sit around a table with loved ones and enjoying the same meal, but without the meat, makes that time of the year a little bit more tolerable. I know this is an emotional, complicated, nuanced and multifaceted issue, and I’m not trying to demonize or pigeonhole Eid al-Adha. Besides, examining our relationship with animals shouldn’t be limited to one time of the year. I worry when I discuss similar issues that people who want to have prejudices against Palestinians or Muslims will use these experiences to further their narrative, but I believe they’d feel that way either way. However, none of that should mean that we remain silent about issues that we need to talk about. I could start rambling about the classism, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in the vegan and animal rights community that are all related topics, but maybe next time. Everything that I say, I say with all the love; love for my family, my people, and also for the animals. There is a lot of good that comes with Eid al-Adha, especially since there’s an emphasis on distributing the meat to others in need instead of keeping it all to yourself. According to the Hanafi and Hanbali Islamic schools of thought, the udhiya, or animal sacrifice, should be divided into three parts: a third to be donated to the poor, a third to be gifted to family and friends, and a third to keep to yourself. Other Islamic schools of thought don’t have specific divisions and leave it up to the individual. But I wish others would realize that having an animal-free Eid with their community and enjoying it is a possibility.

I chose to make this fatteh with cluster oyster mushrooms and ALT. lamb-free pieces that I found in London. While mushrooms aren’t exactly the most Palestinian ingredient, Gazans still eat them, and there are in fact Gazan specialties made with mushrooms. Funnily enough, Gazans call mushrooms عيش الغراب “eish el ghurab,” which means “crow’s bread” because mushroom caps look a bit like Arabic bread, and it appears that crows eat them. That being said, I understand that not everyone has access to those ingredients, so as you can see in the recipe notes, I suggest replacing them with a variety of meat analogues, or if you’re not into that, aubergines would work really well, and so would a mix of cauliflower and chickpeas. After all, as stated above, people do use and enjoy these vegetables in some versions of fatteh (but not this fatteh AFAIK).

Fatteh might look a lot more complicated than it actually is, but it is easier than it looks. Let me know if you have any comments or questions, or if you’d like recommendations for ingredient replacements.

If you’d like to find out more about Gazan cuisine, I highly recommend grabbing your copy of The Gaza Kitchen by Laila El-Haddad.

Recipe

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients

Maraga/broth

10 cups water

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, quartered

4 garlic cloves

5 celery stalks, chopped into large pieces

6 carrots, chopped into large pieces

6 parsley stalks

¼ – ½ cup dried mushrooms

2 bay leaves

2 tsp black peppercorns

10 cardamom pods

3 cinnamon sticks (sometimes I add some ground cinnamon for a stronger taste, but it depends on your preference)

4 mastic pearls (optional but recommended)

1.5 tsp allspice berries

4 cloves

1/3 piece of a cracked nutmeg

½ tsp marjoram

½ tsp rosemary

2 tsp tomato paste

2 tbsp white miso paste (optional but recommended, see note)

2 tsp marmite (optional but recommended, see note)

4 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (optional but recommended, see note)

3 tsp salt, or to taste (the broth shouldn’t be too salty, but it shouldn’t be bland either, as it will flavor the bread and rice)

Mushroom & lambless pieces mix

450g cluster oyster mushrooms (you can use other mushrooms), chopped lengthwise or pulled apart by hand

480g lambless pieces (I used the ALT. brand – see note)

1.5 onion, chopped

10 tbsp olive oil (or you can use a mix of olive oil and water)

3 tbsp tomato paste

3 tbsp lemon

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp turmeric

2 ¼ tsp allspice

2 ¼ tsp cinnamon

¾ tsp 7 spice (omit if you don’t have it)

Small pinch of nutmeg

¾ tsp black pepper

½ – ¾ tsp salt, or to taste (you might want to add more if you’re using flavorless meat-free pieces – see note)

Rice & bread

2 cups Egyptian/short grain rice

½ cup basmati/long grain rice (see note)

2 cups water

1 cup maraga/broth

1-2 tbsp plant-based butter or ghee (you can also use vegetable oil)

Approx. 2 ½ large 55x55cm shrak/r’gag/farasheeh bread (found in most Middle Eastern shops)

Dagga

2 garlic cloves

6-8 green finger chillies, or to taste (I like mine spicy, but note that the heat will be diluted when mixed in with the rice)

3 tsp lemon

¾ cup maraga/broth

Garnish

1 cup almonds

2 tbsp pine nuts

1 cup chopped parsley

Large pinch of ground cinnamon

Large pinch of ground allspice

Equipment needed

Knife and chopping board

Stockpot

Colander

Baking tray

Mixing bowl or any bowl to soak the rice

Medium-sized cooking pot for the rice

Small frying pan

Mortar and pestle

Small bowl to soak the almonds

Ever so slightly deep serving plate (so the broth doesn’t leak)

Two small bowls or pitchers for the liquids

Method

For the maraga/broth

You can make this a day in advance to save time, or you can make it much earlier and store it in the freezer. I always prefer to make it in advance and notice that the flavor develops over time. Heat up a large cooking pot, then add the olive oil followed by the remaining ingredients minus the water, tomato paste, white miso paste, marmite and nutritional yeast. Cook for a few minutes then add the water and the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours.

Strain the liquid, making sure you press the vegetables in the colander to squeeze more liquid out. There is so much flavor in them.

For the mushroom & lambless pieces mix

Pre-heat the oven to 200C, or 180C in a fan assisten oven. Mix the ingredients from the olive oil all the way to the salt. With a brush, coat the mushrooms, lambless pieces and onions until well combined.

Toss them in a baking tray and bake until they brown and the onions have a slight bite to them but aren’t too crunchy, for about 30-40 minutes. Vegetables are very rarely cooked al dente in Middle Eastern cuisines, but I find that a light crunch will contrast nicely with the soft bread and rice. Please note my oven doesn’t distribute heat evenly and it sometime takes longer for dishes to cook. Check your oven regularly and watch out for browning. Set aside.

For the rice

Wash the rice several times until the water runs clear. Soak it in water for 30 minutes, then drain. In a pot, add the butter or ghee, then add the rice and toast it for a couple of minutes. Add the water and maraga, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover until the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

For the nuts

If the almonds aren’t blanched, soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes, rinse with cold water, then squeeze them with your fingers. The skin should peel off quite easily. If they are peeled, shallow fry the almonds followed by the pine nuts until they turn golden. Pay close attention as they can burn quickly, especially the pine nuts.

For the dagga

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and chillies with a little bit of salt until they form a very fine paste. Mix with the lemon and maraga and salt to taste. You probably won’t need salt if the maraga is salted. Pour into a small bowl or pitcher.

Assembly

Tear the bread into large chunks and place on a serving tray. Using a large spoon, soak the bread with some of the maraga until it gets absorbed. Don’t pour all of it. The bread shouldn’t stay dry, but it shouldn’t be soupy either – it should be soft and fairly easy to cut with a spoon. Pour the remaining maraga in a small bowl or pitcher so that others can add more in their plates to their preference.

Top the bread with the rice, then sprinkle the ground cinnamon and allspice over the rice. Top with the mushroom and lambless pieces, then garnish with the parsley and nuts. Serve with some of the dagga drizzled on top, then add more to taste.

Traditionally, people would cut some of the bread pieces and use them instead of a spoon to scoop up the rice and other ingredients. Enjoy!

Notes

If you don’t want to make the maraga, don’t let that be the reason you don’t taste this dish. You can use a commercial vegetable broth, but cook it briefly with some ground cinnamon, allspice and mastic (if you have the latter).

You can also use faux beef, faux mince or soy curls. If using the latter, soak and follow package instructions, and marinate for a few hours. If you don’t want to use meat alternatives, use only mushrooms, or aubergines, or a mix of cauliflower and chickpeas.

Dried mushrooms, miso paste, marmite and nutritional yeast aren’t normally used in maraga, but I like to add them since they provide a nice umami flavor in place of the meat. If you don’t have any, you can omit them and instead add a little bit more of the tomato paste or some soy sauce to taste.

Mixing the short grain rice with a little bit of long grain rice helps make the rice less clumpy, as short grain rice has more starches in it, making it more likely for the grains to stick together. I recommend doing that, but you can still use either short grain or long grain rice with this dish. If you do, adjust the quantity of the cooking liquids accordingly.



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