Jasmine Soukieh is a Canberra-born and raised Lebanese-Australian, currently spending her days between New Zealand, Lebanon and Australia while she pursues a doctorate in nutritional sciences. Jasmine is one of the Founding Co-editors of be:longing.
Fatteh (or Tis’iyeh, تسئية) was not a dish I grew up with in Australia. The first time I encountered it was at a restaurant in Syr (سير), a town in the mountainous region of el-Dinniyeh (الضنيّة) in northern Lebanon. My cousin and her husband had taken me up there to break our fast one evening during Ramadan. I remember being so fascinated by the dish when it was set down before us, and overjoyed, when I took a bite, to discover a new combination of ingredients that were otherwise so familiar to me from myriad other Lebanese culinary contexts. It stood out as “the undiscovered dish”; a marker of all that still lay uncharted on the fragmentary map I had pieced together of “life in Lebanon”. I wondered what other dishes had not made the move to Australia with Mum, and why they had not.
My answer came when I got back home and excitedly got to making it. A lot of researching and guessing went on because I had trouble pinning down the name of the dish, which changed from Lebanon to Syria, and from one town to the next. Mum stayed silent during my efforts, which was odd, as she was usually just as enthusiastic to embark on a cooking adventure as I was. As she watched the tahini being mixed in with the yoghurt, she began to have an inkling of what it was I was trying to reproduce. The garlic and cumin just about confirmed her suspicions, but still she waited. Then, as the whole chick-peas tumbled into the mix, there could be no mistake. “Tis’iyeh?” She asked. I beamed at her, “You know it! Is that the name??”
As it happened, she did know the dish. She knew it well, actually. And she was not a fan. She had been silently hoping the dish would remain undiscovered in our household, and that those whole chick-peas that she found seriously unpalatable would continue sensibly to be pummelled into a smooth, hummus-y dip for all our days, instead of appearing on our table in such a form.
It hit me then that the idiosyncrasies of a person – their preferences – would always necessarily inform what they identified as being valuable enough to carry along with them and to transmit. The map of “life in Lebanon” I thought I had been constructing didn’t exist in any tangible form; instead, it was several maps, each corresponding to a unique life – one that was autonomous and did not simply act as a passive and dutiful conduit through which “objective culture” passed. Although Mum embodied the most significant link I had to Lebanon, she was not, and needn’t ever be, SparkNotes on “Lebanese culture”, a concept too variegated to ask a single person, family, town, or, indeed, governorate to represent.
To that end, my version of Fatteh is, perhaps, less conventional than what you’re likely to find across restaurants of the Levant. As for the Levantine home kitchens, I’ll venture to say that culinary convention is meddled with unreservedly across the board and to tasty result!
- 1 cup Greek-style yoghurt
- 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
- ¾ cup chick-peas, boiled until tender
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- ¾ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- generous handful of pine nuts
- 2-3 sprigs of chopped parsley
- 1 large loaf of pita bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon sumac (optional)
20 minutes, if your chick-peas are already boiled and tender.
(Note: if you don’t have a ready-for-the-apocalypse stash of boiled chick-peas stored conveniently in your freezer, canned chick-peas will do just fine.)
For the base
Stir the tahini, garlic and cumin into the yoghurt until you have a creamy, thick consistency. Gently mix in ½ cup of chick-peas, along with your salt. (If you’re using canned chick-peas, rinse them off and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes, before draining and incorporating.)
For the top
Slice up your pita bread into medium-to-large pieces and toast until crunchy. Lightly brown your pine nuts in butter, then let the artistry begin. Top your Fatteh with the remaining chick-peas, your golden pine nuts (along with their brown, speckled butter), a sprinkle of sumac and some freshly-chopped parsley. Finally, drizzle olive oil over the lot, admire your handiwork for at least 2 minutes, and eat.
Comments: it is much more common (dare I say, traditional) for the pita bread to be fried, drained and then incorporated into the base with some liquid left from boiling the chick-peas, the overall base consistency being a bit runnier than what you’ll get from the above. If you happen to be a crushed-Weet-Bix-in-warm-milk kind of gal or guy, this might be the method for you.
(May you eat it) in good health!
© Jasmine Soukieh, 2017