Monday Meal Review: Libya

THE SCENE:

I take off Ava’s fuzzy hat and coat, give her a kiss and off she goes – into her classroom. As I turn to leave, her teacher calls after me.

“What are you cooking today?”

“Libya!” I exclaim, perhaps a bit to excitedly, “I’m trying their version of shortbread. They put a whole clove in them!”

“Sounds great!” she smiles, and gets right back to work, helping the kids with the day’s craft project. I pause for a moment to watch them work, admiring how carefully their little hands stamp stars and hearts onto the paper.

Thirty minutes later, I am home, ready to work. The Libyan cookies whip up easily and, while they aren’t very sweet, the whole clove makes them taste like the holidays. Once cool enough to handle, I pack them up in tissue-lined tins; red, green, and white. In the afternoon I pick up Ava from school and hand one to each of her teachers as a thank you for their hard work so far this year.

Over the next several days I am surrounded by family, festivity, and friends. Ava has two weeks off school and the classroom slips into the shadows of my thoughts. Christmas morning arrives and we begin the work of opening presents.

My hand falls on a small white paper bag decorated with stars and hearts. It crinkles as I pull it from under the tree.

“Is this from you?” I ask Ava, remembering her project days earlier.

I look inside to find a glittering star filled with a photo of Ava in her angel costume. My eyes float up to Ava, only to see her beaming with pride. She is so happy to be a part of the giving.

Tears well up in my eyes. I am crying from happiness (which is, to quote Doctor Who, “so humany woomany”). My heart bursts in a million tiny pieces.

I wish in the moment, for her teachers, and teachers everywhere, the world around, to feel the love in their hearts they create with these simple projects. They make memories. They change lives.

So this is a thank you. A thank you for her teachers and your teachers and my teachers.

Thank you so much, today and every day.

THE FOOD:

Libyan Shortbread Cookies (Ghraiba) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

When I saw Ava’s teacher the next time, she ran over to tell me how much she adored the cookies, especially the plain, white ones. Interestingly, she said they reminded her of some Italian cookies she ate growing up. After I heard this, I was thrilled. It no longer mattered what I thought of the cookies – seeing her happy was the best part of it all.

What I liked least about this dish:

They weren’t very sweet but that can be a good thing if you’re tired of going overboard on sugar – like we did with the gingerbread you can see below (even Mr. Not As Picky did, exclaiming yesterday that we should throw out all our candy – which about made me ask him to do a fingerprint test).

Stuffed and Fried Potato Wedges (Mbatan Batata) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

Everything. Crispy, crunchy, full of great flavor… and hard to stop eating. We actually enjoyed these while building a gingerbread house with friends. Every once in a while I’d drop a batch of frozen ones in my hot oil and we kept munching away. Fantastic, especially the hints of ginger and cinnamon with the lamb.

What I liked least about this dish:

Nothing. Yes, they take time to make, but they can be made ahead and are so delicious and creative. Keith adored these. As for Miss Ava, she was rather hesitant to try them. Once she got 2 bites in, however, she kept going.

Ava’s Corner:

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your words… you can’t even begin to imagine how good they made me feel. I have teens in class so we don’t do crafts anymore, but I assume they leave with something imprinted somewhere in their souls. It’s so good to read something uplifting and positive for once ! Thank YOU !

    • Sasha Martin says:

      What subject do you teach? Teenagers crave good inspiration and leadership – you are wonderful! :)

    • Jessica Bennett says:

      A good teacher can leave a student with lasting knowledge, no matter what age (including adult students). And while one person might not see a teacher as being particularly useful in their lives, others might see that same teacher as having inspired them for life or leaving a huge lasting impression. So, I know you’re doing wonderful things for at least some of your students!

  2. Jessica Bennett says:

    Sasha, you confuse me by what you’re making and when. I thought because of the holidays, you were actually making Libya last week, but I guess you made this the week before Christmas? What country are you actually up to in terms of what you have made (not what you have shared with the rest of us)? Just curious.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Well, when there are holiday weeks, I like to go ahead and cook the week before the holiday, that way I have a “full” week off. So I cooked Libya before Christmas, nothing the week of Christmas, then Liechtenstein last week, and this Thursday I cook the next one :) I’d be lost without routine!

      • Jessica Bennett says:

        Routines can be necessary! I took a day trip to Liechtenstein and went on a lovely hike in the mountains- gorgeous country!

  3. ahhh, LOVE ghribia, we have these in algeria as well as the rest of north africa. my husband is not so into them, they made them so much. but i love these, a good one is pale in color and melts into the mouth without too much crunch. I’ve been too afraid in the past to use the clove as a garnish/flavouring in the past, but maybe its time I tried it maybe this time he’ll like them

  4. OH, and mbtatan is heavenly, my friends mother who is liyan makes these when i come round, as well as tuna, harissa and olive stuffed bread, which are amazing.

  5. Thanks for posting Libyan food recipes. I lived there several years as a teenager. Which was before, during and after the coup that brought Ghadaffi to power. After what the Libyans had long suffered under him. I hope them peace and much happiness. If you want any more recipes to try I would recommend a Sherba recipe. Which is lamb soup with orzo pasta. I have the recipe but I would have to look it up . E-mail me if you are interested. Wonderful site, the recipes look great and great photography. I will have to go back into the archives to catch up now that I found you online. Thanks.

  6. CanadianLibyan says:

    Hi there,
    I just came across your site and thought I’d see if you have any Libyan recipes, and was pleasantly surprised to see you do:-) Thank you!
    Ghrayba, like many Libyan sweets, are not too sweet (and are also quite dry) because they are meant to be eaten with tea or coffee, which in Libya is usually made quite sweet. A little different than North American cookies, to be sure!
    What can I say about mbatan???? I haven’t met a person yet who doesn’t love them. They are just mouth-wateringly wonderful.
    Your description of opening your daughter’s gift to you brought tears to my eyes. Children are the most precious thing in life…

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Yes, definitely! Thanks for making me hungry for Libyan food again … I have to revisit those Mbatan for sure. :) And, yes… children are what it’s all about… thank you for reading.

  7. This is amazing I didn’t know people knew much about libyan food I’m glad you liked it but like one of the comments said try shorba leebeya (libyan soup) it’s one of my favourite and I’m sure you’d like it especially with bread !!!!!

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