In 1923, Jiryas Sallum, left his village in Syria with the dream of farming in Saskatchewan. A year later, he was joined by his wife Shams and their two sons. They homesteaded south of Swift Current in an area where several other friends and relatives had already settled. Shams kept a large garden and did her best, with some improvisation, to prepare the familiar foods of the old country. This included yogurt, burghul, lentils, chickpeas, flat breads and honey desserts. They ate very well – and very different – compared to their European neighbours.
One of their sons, Habeeb, recalled how self-conscious he was of their strange foods. As a schoolboy, he longed for an ordinary bologna sandwich on white bread. But years later, he credits his family's good health through the Dirty Thirties with the ancient, healthy foods of his ancestors as prepared by his mom.
Today, Saskatchewan farmers have discovered lentils and chickpeas. Canada is now a leading supplier to the world. Perhaps it should be no surprise as wheat originates from the same place – Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Palestine. Wheat was the first "settler" from the Arab lands.
Habeeb published his memories and his mom's recipes in a charming cookbook called Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead. Yakhnit 'Adas is a pioneer recipe every bit as much as perogies and Shepherd's pie.
(Lentil and Meat Stew)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 lb beef or lamb in 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small hot pepper, finely chopped
1 cup lentils
5 cups water
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the meat and sauté for 5 min. Add onions, garlic and hot pepper. Cook 10 min. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer over medium heat until the lentils and potatoes are cooked, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours. Add more water if needed. Serve hot.
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This column first published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.