belhaj family reflections and recipes

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Brothers and Sisters

I am grieving the loss of my Muslim brother and sisters in North Carolina today. This crime is indicative of contemporary false allegations towards Islam that contaminate our perception of humanity and breed catastrophic violence.


No walk felt as long as that great cement desert between a-hall and the south main bus stop. In winter my knuckles cracked in that dry cold wind. I remember the bright sky illuminating the snow as it skirted across the black top after seventh hour.

I used to catch The Ride out there to get downtown early so I could nestle back into my favorite book store, Dawn Treader, and look at books about Morocco and Palestine before those Breakin’ Curfew meetings at UMS. I was lonesome for Homeland.

Lots of us used to wait out there for the bus. Sometimes we’d run to catch it if the time lined up. But usually we just waited.

I remember this once my friend was tapping his toes, shaking his head, grasping his dark green Qur’an in his gloved hand. We always acknowledged each other. Through foggy eyeglasses, after long days, beneath a grey Michigan sky.

A car rolled up on the side of the stop and a man got out. He had strawberry blonde hair long like those aging Ann Arbor hippies did and he started walking silent around us handing out these pamphlets.

They were black. Flames at the bottom. The words Islam is from Hell intermingled in the fire.

I said some things. Some things about my family. My spirt. My people.

The wait that day felt as long as the walk we had taken to get there. When the bus arrived my friend and I sat next to each other and he opened his Qur’an flipping thin pages as I watched South Main pass by.

The following day I walked from my parents house to school and straight into the front office. Mr. Brown was out there, I remember. I headed towards the back room where the principal was. He was an army cat, our principal, used to chase kids down the hall way. I found him up there. I told him the story I just scribed here.

I said I felt uncomfortable. I said I felt violated. Homeland ached.

He said, freedom of speech.

(Later my Uncle Mohammed would tell me to be careful when I rock the boat that I probably shouldn’t and I think now I somewhat understand him although I regret not my attempt and I wonder why asserting cultural dignity is considered rocking the boat; His words are a living testimony of the intergenerational trauma of Colonialism.)

I excused myself. Back into the hallway straight out the door again. Officer Foster was there and said hey how you doin’ and I said hey and kept walking. He followed me in that way Officer Foster did sometimes.

All I wanted was Dimos. And my Baba’s Baba who I never met.

I wished I spoke Arabic.

The Bus Stop Saga continued for a week. I stopped saying some things.

I started reading the Qur’an at Dawn Treader. The next Monday I found Officer Foster. I said, freedom of speech?

He would circle the bus stop from then on. Once I saw him and the strawberry blonde brother and I never did see those pamphlets at the stop again.

I finally bought the Qur’an I would read on those afternoons. And whenever I visit my folks I head straight to Dawn Treader to read the same copies of books I flipped through after those bus rides, still lonesome, trying to soften the image of the flame and the words it enveloped.

The process of healing is ongoing. My uncle reminded me that this process is intergenerational. I am healing for my Baba’s baba, for my baba, for him, and for the others who have come before me. My children will continue to heal for me, for all of us.

My loving, dynamic, and vibrant community is a direct byproduct of my Muslim faith. My compassion, my generosity, my desire to learn are Pillars of my Muslim faith. My inherent flaws my introspective quandaries, my glass jars of figs and dates, my preserved lemons and rose water are my Muslim faith.

This is the Muslim Sister that I am.

The crime in North Carolina illustrates modern verbal, emotional, sexual, physical, and psychological abuse towards people of colour. Towards my Black Brothers and Sisters, towards my Palestinian Brothers and Sisters, my Indigenous Brothers and Sisters, my LGBTQ Brothers and Sisters, my Muslim Brothers and Sisters.

And may those of us who get to be here still Live in the spirit of our lost ones, let them intoxicate us with the ideas and thoughts and senses that they had and may have to continued to grow. May we embrace the healing of our generation and uphold our cultural and spiritual dignity.

That we may enjoy life with our Lost Ones, in fortitude, in peace, in Homeland.

Rosewater Fekkas

Fekkas = Moroccan biscotti

a.k.a., Dream Cookie.

Americanized, cause I’m mixed.

Rosewater Fekkas
First things First:
I found out this week that Bobby McFerrin has a son. Can’t believe I’ve been missing this. Bless this world, all the Biscotti, and all the McFerrins. Put this on your stereo while you toast almonds and measure flour.

You’ll need
3 1/4 cups all purpose white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
3 eggs (plus: 1 egg white, whisked and set aside for later use)
2 tablespoons rosewater
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
Part One
i. Preheat your oven to 350. Pull out a cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper and set aside.
ii. On a small tray, lay out slivered almonds, toast in the heating oven for about 5 minutes, or until they are light brown in colour
iii. In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, mix together butter, sugar, eggs, and rosewater.
iv. Combine flour and butter mixtures into one, stirring thoroughly to ensure that all dry ingredients are hydrated. Add sesame seeds and almonds.

Part Two
i. Divide the batter into two balls. Roll out into logs and place onto prepared cookie sheet
ii. Brush your frothy egg white onto the tops of both logs, this will make the “outer crust” of the biscotti golden and crunchy.
iii. Bake for 35 minutes
iv. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack, leaving unattended until they are completely cool – this should take an hour to an hour and a half.

Part Three
i. Once the logs are cool, cut them on the diagonal and lay out your biscotti back onto the cookie sheet with parchment
ii. Bake at 350 for another 12 minutes. Remove from oven, flip biscotti and return to the oven, baking for 8 more minutes.DSC_0800



The key turned in the ignition during the middle of a surah. The sign out front read Aladdin’s – Al-a-deen – my father reminded me as the bells rang against each other upon our entrance. We walked to the back, past refrigerators, to an ivory counter with a swinging door, behind it an industrial cutting machine the same color as the counter. Allo my father questioned calling to the back. I wandered away picking through bagged spices, dried sage and sumac, turning glass jars of floating olives, pinching date paste packed in plastic. Allo, Abdulwaheb. Asalaam. Bonjour. In the shadow of the aisle I watched the man tie his apron, Walaikum salaam I heard my father say, resting his wrinkled hand on the counter. Melika, qu’est ce que tu veux?

I blushed soft. Cheeks the color of water after beets have been boiled. I passed through the shadows, my rouge transparent. Ca va? I said. Bonjour hbibti, he returned and I stared at the knot tied in his apron imaging untangling and retying it. My stomach fluttered, I could feel the monarchs ready to hatch batting in my center crawling and stretching and flying. I thought of lamb cut for harira and for tagine with prunes and ground with fat like they make in the medina. My mouth watered and I caught his eyes. Chops, my father said, she likes them on the grill, no? Eh-yeah. I smiled beneath my eyelashes.

He turned to the back where the lamb hung and I turned my head to follow him. The criss-crossing string of his apron at the bottom of his spine above the length of his legs moving as he walked. I disappeared back to the glass case on the other side of the shop peering at spinach pies and stewed eggplant kibbeh and baba and hommous. My father greeted the short woman who appeared behind with strawberry blonde eyebrows and asked for rice pudding. I thought about my hajja mama whose hair was red beneath her hijab, the Spanish in her, my mother always said. Shucran he whispered nodding his head. The swinging door creaked as he spoke, soft steps on the aisle’s shadows. Lamb chops, I heard behind me.

Ah merci, merci beaucoup, my father said in the colonist’s tongue as they shook hands. Wondering what the lines of his palms would feel like pressed against mine, the monarchs released themselves and I breathed in and out and they batted around the butcher and my father and rested on the glass counter and marveled in the aroma of cardamom and fennel and star anise in packages stained with my fingerprints. I hoped one found its way towards the ivory, batting its wings, resting on the shoulder that moved untying an apron.

I caught up with my father who stood at the front counter and the prayer beads reflected sunlight making prisms on the cashier’s hand as he punched numbers. I thought about the lamb in the back, the way the butcher’s shoulders leaned forward as his arms wrapped to tie his apron. I saw my father standing in the door, the bells ringing, the evil eyes watched me, royal blue, yella, and I headed to the door, frozen beneath the painted sign and a Midwestern winter sky.

In the front seat of my father’s car, a double wrapped bag of lamb chops on my lap. I rested my hands on the plastic, the lines of my palms hugging bones, and we reversed over ice and gravel, the Qur’an singing on the stereo.

Mosque Textiles, Fes

How to Open a Pomegranate

Before we get started:

Send some gratitude and blessings to whomever picked your pomegranate, packed it away, shipped it to your town, and put it in the grocery store cause let’s be real that thing is not growing anywhere near you.

Especially if you live in Washington or Oregon or Michigan.


(detailed steps i-vi below video)

i. Fill a bowl half way with water

ii. Score your pomegranate at the top and remove it’s cap

iii. Score diagonally around the firm skin, breaking fruit apart into quarters

iv. Hold one quarter skin side up in your hand and (kinda) gently tap it with a wooden spoon

v. Repeat iv. with the remaining quarters

vi. Strain out water

…et voilà: Baba’s kitchen trick #1,865

Baba, Je t’aime

Today is my Baba’s 68th birthday.


Every year when I write him a letter and send it across the Cascades and through the Great Plains, he responds by saying,

Binti, sometimes I don’t know if I deserve this praise.

And every year I conjure up various reasons why,

certainly you deserve this praise, Baba.

This year I found words I have been seeking:



Is always built upon this foundation:

The ability

To appear, speak, and act

As the most




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Joyeux Anniversaire, Baba.

Je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime.


I did this thing that really annoys me. I’m preparing eggplant to make Zaalouk, this ridiculously delicious fried eggplant dish. It’s one of those Quintessential Moroccan Salads. As if other Moroccan food wasn’t quintessential. Who decides these things? Can I be on that Board of Directors?

Anyways, I’m preparing eggplant, and listening to Mississippi John Hurt on the record player, and the rain is falling and it’s something beautiful and soft and calm and special.

I get carried away and I start making this recipe my dad always made when I was a kid. It’s called Tomato Dish and it’s another quintessential. So now I’m preparing eggplants, simmering tomato sauce, flipping records, and roasting green peppers.

Before I know it the tomatoes and the eggplant are together frying in the pot and the peppers are ready to be skinned. I’ve accidentally combined the dishes. This is what happens in the kitchen, I suppose. Experimentation.

I’m annoyed because I’m about to give you a recipe for a Moroccan dish that isn’t, well, really Moroccan. It’s eggplant-tomato-dip-with-Moroccan-spices. It reminds me of when I go to the grocery and there’s something that says “Moroccan” it’s usually nothing any where close to anything Moroccan because it has something silly in it, like rice, that those advertisers definitely didn’t consult with the Board of Directors on. Just to clarify: this isn’t the “real” Zaalouk. My aunties would probably be like, Habibti. That’s cute but, nah.

W/E. Yum trumps.

Zaalouk + Tomato Dish = something delicious

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4 green peppers
1 ½ cups crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cinnamon
s & p to taste
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 F
Stripe eggplants, like you would a cucumber for slicing.
Chop into small pieces
Toss with salt in a large bowl
Place in a colander, set over a large bowl and let the eggplant “sweat.” All of those bitter juices will be released within a half an hour.

Meanwhile… prepare Green Peppers:
Coat your peppers in olive oil
Roast in oven for 30-40 minutes, or until skins are falling off
You may need to turn them, careful that the oil doesn’t sting you
Remove from oven, let cool.
Peel skins off and cut into long stripes
Set aside.

…Back to the eggplant
Now that it has sweated properly (ew), throw it on a baking sheet.
Bake in your 400 F for 5-7 minutes, slightly roasting
Set aside.

Over low-medium heat, throw your tomato sauce in a cast iron pan
Add cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper
Simmer until slightly thickened.

Incorporate eggplant to thickened tomato sauce
Add ¼ cup olive oil and mix thoroughly
At this point, you’re going to be slowly turning your sauce, scraping the sticky residue at the bottom, letting the eggplant break down, and the oil seep into everything and taste, adjusting your spices. After about 45 minutes of that,

Voila, “Zaalouk-ish

I was lucky enough to share this with some of my favorite people at the winery where I work. We even made bread – nothing at all like khobz Marocaine – in a wood fired stove. Major yum. Any old bread will do – just sop it up with your hands.