The aroma of fresh, homemade stuffed eggplants permeates Jbeil Zoreob’s home.
“Despite food shortages and growing poverty here in Gaza,” Jbeil says, “I have managed to harvest these eggplants from our newly restored and planted land.”
Out in his field, Jbeil walks through rows of neatly planted olive trees, eggplants and green and chili peppers. They were not planted at random: Jbeil has a strategy for each of his crops.
“I planted the eggplant seeds in August, with the expectation that they would flourish in October,” he says, while bending down to pick some more eggplants. “My expectations proved true, and we’re going to have stuffed eggplants for lunch,” he smiles.
Since the beginning of October, 150 farming families have harvested their produce under Anera’s land restoration program.
But Jbiel’s crops aren’t only used as ingredients in delicious family meals of traditional Palestinian cuisine. He also sells the surplus in the Gaza market through retailers who pick up produce from him twice a week. The vegetables then make their way to local markets or small grocery stores.
Each harvest season yields at least 300 kilos (660 pounds) of eggplant, which helps him to earn $1,200 from his small family farm every harvest season. There are three harvest seasons per year.
Palestinian Cuisine is about “History, Land and Family”
In the kitchen, the farmer’s wife, Safia, explains that the recipe she’s using for the stuffed eggplants was passed down through her family for years, right here on the piece of land that Anera recently helped them restore. To her, the recipe is about more than food.
“It is about history, land and family,” Safia says.
Safia proudly recites the recipe: “After you hollow out each eggplant, add rice, meat, allspice, one teaspoon salt and half a teaspoon of pepper to a bowl and use your hands to mix it with onion,” she says. “Then stuff the eggplants with rice and meat mixture — be careful not to pack it tightly because the rice will expand during cooking.”
The zesty allspice smells of cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper, connecting Gaza’s ancient history with the present.
“When the land stretches before us out in the horizon, a sense of pride swells in all of us. And when the air is filled with the scent of home-cooked food, we are filled with glee and hope for the future.”