Dinner with haifa

9 Dec

Dinner with haifa


During my stay in Saida, Lebanon – volunteering with SB, I had the chance to spend a lovely afternoon at Buthaina’s place, learning some of the secrets which make her one of the best cooks of the shelter. Since I was very curious about the life of such a wonderful woman, Buthaina and I tried to have a conversation so that I could have the opportunity to know her better: imagine the result of it with my very poor Arabic and her sweet English…

To break the ice, I asked her a silly question and I got a funny answer: “Buthaina, why do you like cooking so much?” She replied: “Because I like eating very much! But I would also like to lose some weight!!”

Buthaina learned everything she knows about food from her mum. She is the eldest of many siblings and for this reason, she had to start helping and supporting her mum when she was 13.

During the 4 months I spent with SB, Wednesdays had always been my favorite day of the workweek: Lunchtime would be greeted by the aromatic smell of Syrian cuisine, followed by Buthaina with a huge tray of scrumptious dishes in her hands. She never stayed for the meal, Before leaving us to enjoy the food, she would walk into each classroom to ensure that everyone was aware that lunch was served, Although lunch was only 40 minutes tops, she would only come back an hour later. She would walk into the office grinning from ear to ear at the sight of the now-empty trays knowing that we appreciated her amazing gift.

Her favorite dish to cook is Shish Barak. Cooking Shish Barak brings her back to when she was with her family and especially her dad, the one who taught her how to do it. Buthaina wanted to cook it for us (volunteers) but she could not, since many of us were vegetarian. The first time she ever prepared it was during Ramadan; when she was only with her father and brother. It is common, during Ramadan, to cook the most special dishes of their culture – of course in large quantities – and to share the desired meal with their loved ones.

Buthaina told me more about her Ramadan traditions since I didn’t know much about it.

During Ramadan, she cooks in large quantities to share those exact trays of food she shared with us, with her neighbors who are like a family to her. To her, sharing her cooking brings her the greatest pleasure. In fact, she feeds half the number of people who lives on the same floor as her in the shelter! She is known as the cook of the Ouzai shelter – when there are huge celebrations, she is the Head Chefand: instructs her sous chefs on what to do, and how to cook!

When Buthaina came to Lebanon with her family in 2011, she had to learn new recipes to adapt to the local traditions and to cook according to the ingredients available in Lebanon. She does her grocery shopping in Saida or in a make-shift fruit and vegetable store in the shelter.

Cooking for us volunteers meant taking care of us, and it is easy to feel it when you are being fed with love every week. She told me that she does this to thank us for our presence and support we have been providing the community with. On top of that, it is to thank us for the support we tried to give her with a resettlement procedure; she is trying to get the family’s documents in order so that she can leave Lebanon to join her husband in Germany.

She is very thankful to SB Overseas because her children’s public school grades are improving and she also enjoys the empowerment program where she gets to interact with volunteers and use the safe space to hang out with her friends. Her English is improving very fast and she is determined to make it better for herself and her family!



  • 1 red cabbage
  • 1 white cabbage
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 5 cucumbers
  • 5 tomatoes


  • Cut all the ingredients in small pieces and mix together in a large bowl.
  • Add lemon, water and salt before serving.

FOUL – Beans


  • 500g of Kidney beans (or brown beans)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Oil
  • Parsley
  • Lemon
  • Mint (and dry mint)
  • Pepper
  • Salt


  • BoiI the brown beans until cooked and soft. Leave them to cool.
  • In a mixer, add the beans, garlic, a bit of parsley, lemon, mint, salt and oil. 
  • Mix till the ingredients are mildly chunky.
  • Taste and it is ready to serve!

KABSE – Rice with turmeric and carrots


  • 500g Egyptian rice
  • 50 g margarine
  • 5 big spoons of sunflower oil
  • 7 carrots
  • Cloves
  • Black pepper
  • Turmeric


  • Cut carrots in small cubes.
  • In a big pot, heat margarine and oil.
  • When the oil is really hot and ready, fry the carrots for 8-9 minutes, until it softens.
  • Add a tablespoon of salt, cloves, black pepper and two tablespoons of turmeric.
  • In a large bowl, put 500g of rice and cover it with water; mix and rinse it.
  • Leave it for 10 minutes.
  • When carrots have softened, add water and more salt.
  • When the water boils, add the rice and the water used to rinse it.
  • Add turmeric if does not look yellow enough – cook for 30 minutes.
  • Transfer the rice in a nice tray and serve it!

LABAN W TAHINE W FOUL – Brown beans with Yoghurt and Tahini


  • 500 g brown beans
  • 2 garlic
  • 5 tablespoons of Laban
  • 8 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoons of Tahini
  • Few leaves of dry mint


  • Boil the brown beans till it softens.
  • Smash the garlics
  • Mix the Laban with water
  • Mix all the ingredients together and serve them on a tray!


Haifa and I were colleagues – she had been my co-teacher for the period of time I had spent with SB. Haifa’s passion is working with children. She is committed, passionate, talented and full of imagination. While I got my materials settled in the classroom, she would invent a game or an activity or a sing and dance session on the spot. I would walk into class smiling, knowing that I can depend on her for last minutes ideas to perk the class up or to get the students’ attention again. Her smile is magnetic, her patience is endless. Her bright eyes let her optimistic soul shine. I would like to thank her because I learned from her every single day; not only how to manage a class of 25 little cheeky students, but also how to stay optimistic, react kindly and be smart in during a chaotic class. In my opinion, she is the perfect teacher and a wonderful mum.  Her children absolutely adore her. She has definitely instilled great values in them – they are the sweetest, kindest and funniest little humans I have met. She was and still is the model teacher I tried to follow and imitate while I was with SB. There have even been times when I have had thoughts that one day I would have been a mum like her.

Then one day, she invited me for dinner in her home; I was enthusiastic about that I imposed some conditions: we spend the afternoon chatting about life (not work), sharing recipes from each of our cultures and playing with her children. Agreed! And this was the result…



  • Mint
  • Roman Lettuce
  • 3 tomatoes
  • Parsley
  • 3 lemons
  • Olive oil
  • 200g of Burghul
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Cumin
  • 1 spring onion
  • Half a litre of boiled water


  • Finely chop parsley, spring onion (also the green part), tomatoes, lettuce and mint.
  • Mix the chopped ingredients in a bowl
  • In separate bowl, add Burghul, salt and pepper. Pour half of a litre of boiled water and leave it for 15 to 20 minutes until tender. Drain excess liquid.
  • Add drained Burghul to the bowl with chopped ingredients.
  • Add cumin, salt to taste, 3 squeezed lemons and olive oil.
  • Mix and the salad is ready to serve!



  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 potatoes
  • Sunflower oil
  • 300g of American rice
  • Butter/margarine
  • 1 Onion
  • 3 Vegetable stock
  • 1 kg of cut chicken
  • Salt to taste
  • Ashtray
  • 3 pieces of carbon
  • A quarter of a ginger
  • Baharrat Spice Mix to taste


  • Cut the eggplants and potatoes into small cubes and fry them in sunflower oil. When they are ready, drain out the oil.
  • Put the rice into a bowl to rinse with some water.
  • In a big pot, add 2 sliced onions, 3 pieces of crushed garlic and 3 tablespoons of butter (or margarine).
  • Sautee until the onion is brown. Add some of the fried eggplant and potatoes. Fried while ensuring that the large pieces are softens to a puree-like texture.
  • Add 4 cups of water and wait until it boils.
  • Add salt, 3 vegetables stocks, ginger and Baharrat spice mix.
  • Cover the pot with a lid and cook over low heat until the rice has absorbed all the water.
  • In the meantime, prepare a clean ashtray with 3 carbons in it. Place the ashtray on the surface of the rice and cover the pot.
  • Leave it for 5 minutes, then strain the liquid from the carbon into the rice and mix it all together to have a smoky flavor.
  • In separate pot, add some oil and the chicken pieces. When the oil is hot, add the leftover of the fried vegetables. Leave the chicken to cook for 15/20 minutes and then add all the rice into pot.
  • In a small pan, fry cashews in some oil. When brown, add them to the rice.

Giulia, a teacher faraway who keeps all these dear memories in her heart

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