When Wardeya Al Okla lifts the lid on her steaming pot of peas, beef and rice, it smells like home. Cardamom and cinnamon turn this simple dish into a special treat, often made for Mother’s Day in Syria.
In most Arab countries, Mother’s Day is celebrated March 21.
A group of Syrian refugee women are marking the occasion by cooking up a brunch to introduce others to the dishes they learned to cook at home.
It’s part of something called the Baraka Syrian Home Cooking project, which began as a way to help refugee women get out of the house and connect with each other.
As Al Okla explained, she joined the group for one simple reason: “I love to cook.”
The group started getting together a little more than a year ago, and one of its first brunches was held for Canadian Mother’s Day in May.
But since this year’s Canadian holiday happens during Ramadan, when they’ll be fasting, the women opted to mark the date earlier.
Shehnaz Karim got the group off the ground.
The plan was to “use [cooking] as a vehicle for these women to get out of their little apartments and to get together to share recipes. But also, to share what their their concerns are, what their hopes are, what their dreams are, what their memories are of back home. And just move past some of the trauma that they’ve gone through, really,” she explained.
The brunches are hosted at the Lotus Community Corner, a non-profit cafe and bookstore in Beacon Hill where Karim is executive director.
An added bonus of the project is that it creates a forum for Syrian women to show off what they do well without any language barrier. Al Okla, for example, spent three years in a refugee camp in Jordan before coming to Canada, and is still learning to speak English.
“Of course, food speaks its own language, especially for these women who have so much difficulty communicating but want so much to communicate and to share their gratitude for being here, and also their desire to participate fully in society,” Karim said.
The Mother’s Day brunch is being served Sunday, March 24 at the Lotus Community Corner on Montreal Road. It will have two seatings and a menu including kibbah, cheese puffs, fattoush, baba ghannoush, kebseh and sweets.
Ruz ma bezella, or rice with peas
- 3/4 cup canola oil.
- 1/2 kg ground beef.
- 1/2 kg peas.
- 1 tsp salt.
- 1 tsp black pepper.
- 1 tsp ground coriander.
- 1 tsp ground cardamom.
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon.
- 2 cubes beef stock.
- 3 cups rice.
- 7.5 cups water.
- Pour oil in a big pot on high heat.
- Add ground beef, peas, spices (everything except the beef stock cubes).
- Stir until browned.
- Add rice, stock and 1.5 cups water for every cup of rice (7.5 cups in total).
- Cover and allow to simmer until rice is cooked.
- Serve with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, red pepper on top of platter, and with a side of salad.