Cooking Up Some Wild Arab Delicacies in a Kibbutz Kitchen

Over a decade ago, Meidan Sadeh abandoned some of his Arab origins and became a member of a kibbutz. But once he entered the kitchen, he went back to foraging and returned to his roots

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Dishes prepared from foraged greens, by Meidan Sadeh (Ahmed Hamdoun), of Kibbutz Lotem in the Galilee, in northern Israel, Jan. 2021
Dishes prepared from forage greens by Meidan Sadeh. Credit: Noam Preisman
Dor Vanger
Dor Vanger

The Hamdoun family has lived near Kibbutz Lotem in the Western Galilee since the early part of the last century. They are very familiar with the area, and with the plants, fruits and vegetables each season brings there. While most members of the nearby kibbutz, which was founded in the late 1970s, relied on more conventional agricultural methods, the Hamdouns continued to gather and eat produce from their surroundings as they had done for millennia.

At Kibbutz Lotem, we recently met a member of the Hamdoun family, Meidan Sadeh (Ahmed Hamdoun) in order to join him collecting and cooking the wild plants that grow near his home. The surprising name Meidan Sadeh has intriguing origins.

The story behind it, as told in David Deri’s 2006 film “No Longer Achmed,” involves a young Bedouin who wanted to assimilate into an Israeli kibbutz and take on its way of life, including the collective dining hall and small living quarters. This is a poignant story about a young Arab man who wanted to integrate into a community that was erected on the ruins of his home, and even changed his name.

Meidan Sadeh, foraging for greens. His is a poignant story about a young Arab man who wanted to integrate into a community erected on the ruins of his home, and who even changed his name. Credit: Noam Preisman

As far as foraging goes, an interesting process is occurring today in Israel: While Jews are becoming experts at roaming forests and fields and enjoying their bounty, explaining every leaf and shrub, and reviving ancient cultures and methods – Israel's Arab community, which long relied on seasonal foraging, has been undergoing an accelerated Americanization, abandoning once-favored types of wild sorrel and embracing things like corn schnitzel.

When he became a kibbutznik, the young man in our story also left the foraging culture behind and went to eat in the communal dining hall. But now that he has become a father, he is returning to his roots and to delicacies made with arum, mallow, sorrel and the rest of the abundance provided by the region in which the Hamdoun family settled many years ago.

Ultimately, as much as he wanted to assimilated and be a regular kibbutznik, when he goes into the kitchen, Meidan Sadeh cannot leave Ahmed Hamdoun behind.

Fennel leaves with lentils

Ingredients:

½ kilo green lentils

¼ cup olive oil

1 level tsp. salt

½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Preparing fennel leaves with lentils. When he goes into the kitchen, Meidan Sadeh cannot leave Ahmed Hamdoun behind. Credit: Noam Preisman

½ tsp. baharat

1 bunch fennel fronds

1 coarsely chopped onion

water

Preparation:

Cook the lentils in boiling water until soft.

In a separate pot of water, boil the fennel fronds for five minutes; remove them from the hot water and pour cold water over them so they retain their green color. Drain and set aside. (You can also place them in ice water.)

Meidan Sadeh in the field. When preparing dishes with hubeiza, or wild mallow, he suggests using leaves with green stalks, not brown ones. Credit: Noam Preisman

Cover the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and saute the onion until brown. Add the lentils, stir together for five minutes and then add a ½ cup boiling water and the fennel. Stir for 10 minutes over a low heat, while also adding the spices (salt, pepper, baharat).

Correct seasoning and serve.

Hubeiza (wild mallow)

Note: Be sure you use hubeiza with a green (not brown) stalk

Ingredients:

3 cups hubeiza, rinsed well

1 onion, coarsely chopped

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cumin

½ cup olive oil

juice of ½ lemon

pita or other bread, plus labane balls for serving

Preparation:

Heat a skillet with olive oil and sauté the onion until golden. Chop the hubeiza very finely and add to the skillet while stirring. Season to taste with salt and cumin. You can add up to a ½ cup of hot water to keep the leaves from drying out.

Hubeiza does not change color. It should be simmered over a medium heat for 15 minutes until soft, while tasting occasionally to check if it’s ready to serve.

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