What comes to mind when you think “comfort food?” My mind typically starts thinking of something warm and soothing. A dish that’s going to feel like being wrapped up in a ridiculously heavy, winter blanket with a huge rose or lion design plastered on it (if you know, you know). Like a saucy bowl of bucatini pasta or a steaming pot of fluffy, white rice ready to be decorated with a sprinkle of sugar and salt. They’re the foods that have soothed me when I’ve been homesick during travels and when my anxiety has gotten the best of my appetite.
But then there’s a different category of comfort foods. Dishes that aren’t rich in carbs or decadently sweet. Dishes that don’t fit the “treat yourself” qualifications. They’re the foods that spark nostalgia. The dishes that bring memories back to life every time they are prepared. While some comfort foods fill a belly, these are the type that leave hearts full.
For my mother, Buraniyyah is one of those comforting recipes close to her heart. The base is dried Mlukhiyyah, a green leaf vegetable from the mallow family commonly referred to as Jew’s Mallow or Nalta Jute. It is combined with a few, simple ingredients and typically prepared in summer months when tomatoes and chilies are at their peak freshness and flavor. While I always enjoyed this salad, I didn’t understand why it was such a special dish to my mother. But as she’s taught me how to prepare it, from smashing the tomatoes with my hand to get just the right consistency and toasting the pita on an open flame until the edges are slightly burned, I’ve also learned the memories she has attached to this dish. Every time we make it, I learn something new about it and why it’s so dear to her, and it’s slowly made its way to my list of comfort foods.
I assumed Buraniyyah was a common Palestinian dish and that I’d eventually find others who shared a love for it through social media. But every time I shared something about it, I only received endless inquiries and curiosity about Buraniyyah. Researching the internet left me with little information or history about the dish. So the need to document everything about it became even more pressing to me. Here is everything I’ve gathered about this recipe from my mother and why she cherishes it so much.
My mother was born and raised in Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank, but this recipe dates back to my grandmother and great grandmother’s lives in Yaffa, Palestine, before they were displaced in 1948. As their years in Al-Amari went on and the temporary refugee camp life became a more permanent idea, a new community formed between all the different people in the camp. And with that came sharing food and recipes that were specific to the cities and regions people left. While Mlukhiyyah is a favorite in coastal areas like Yaffa and Gaza, my mother says it wasn’t a very common ingredient in many homes when her family resettled in the camp. In fact, many neighboring women learned how to cook Mlukhiyyah from the women in our family. The more common way we see Mlukiyyah prepared in Palestine is cooking the chopped leaves with chicken broth to make a distinctively green and slightly, slimy soup. This can be done with fresh Mlukiyyah in the summer season and with dried Mlukhiyyah stored for the rest of the year. But Buraniyyah‘s preparation is unique because the dried, chopped leaves are not cooked in any way and are solely reconstituted by the other ingredients in the salad.
As the accessibility to Mlukhiyyah became more available, the soup-style preparation became more popular. Not only in Palestine, but the accessibility to frozen and dry Mlukhiyyah in the U.S. helped it become a dish in regular rotation in many Arab-American homes. Despite that, Buraniyyah seemed to be a recipe that was kept in the family. My mother attributes the recipe to simpler times when people made the best of what they had. Dried Mlukhiyyah in the pantry, fresh seasonal produce and the best olive oil came together to make a whole meal. Contrary to now when we might dismiss salads as side dishes or just see them as supporting characters to a full spread. The image of my mother’s family all gathered around a spicy bowl of Buraniyyah prepared by her Siti* with everyone taking turns dipping in their freshly, torn bread is a memory she cherishes. A memory she keeps alive by continuing to make Buraniyyah and by passing it on to the next generations of our family.
Besides the plethora of messages and my mother’s encouragement to share this recipe with you all, I’ve also been incredibly inspired by Mirna Bamieh of Palestine Hosting Society. Through dinners, talks, and interactive tours, they are working to keep the food knowledge and recipes of Palestine subject to erasure and disappearance alive. Attending one of their dinners in Jerusalem opened up my eyes to the colorful variety and complexity of Palestinian cuisine and empowered me to do my part to keep recipes from my ancestors alive however I can. Mirna’s extensive knowledge in Palestinian cuisine was also very helpful as I searched for anyone who knew of Buraniyyah besides my family. She informed me that during her research, she met a woman in the city of Ramleh, originally from Gaza, who shared Buraniyyah with her. She made it slightly different from my family, but it made me so excited that others are still making this recipe and gives me more reason to believe more people from coastal areas of Palestine also make it.
A few weeks ago, I visited Baltimore and got to share this recipe with my dear friend Tony Tahhan. We became friends through Instagram and both share a deep passion for learning about our family roots through food. His research on recipes and food culture of Aleppo has taught me so much and his focus on communal cooking has inspired me to keep finding ways to share our knowledge. Being in the same kitchen, sharing this recipe, drinking tea and catching up was not only so warming to my heart, but our own way to honor our ancestors and all they’ve passed on to us.
Tips for Buraniyyah:
- When fresh citrus is not in season, you can substitute with citric acid or good quality bottled lemon juice.
- Fresh chilis can be substituted with crushed red chili flakes or shatta (fermented chili paste).
- Finely chopped onion is an optional ingredient some add.
- The best tool for making this salad is your hands! It gets a bit messy but it is the best way to combine the ingredients thoroughly and know when the salad is the right consistency.
- As this salad sits, it will continue to thicken because Mlukhiyyah’s ability to absorb lots of liquid. If it gets too thick, simply thin it with a bit of water.
Buraniyyah | Mlukhiyyah Salad
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 5 minutes Yields: 2-4 servings
- 1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or smashed to a paste
- 1 whole lemon, peeled and finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2-3 small, ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1-2 chili peppers (jalapeno or serrano), finely chopped
- 3/4 cup dried Mlukhiyyah
- extra virgin olive oil
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, lemon, chili peppers and season with salt. Use your hand or a kitchen tool, like a pestle, to gently smash all the ingredients. The goal is help release as much liquid from the ingredients while combining them.
Add the Mlukhiyyah and mix until it’s completely incorporated. If the salad is very thick, add water a few tablespoons at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Season with salt. Finish the Buraniyyah with a generous drizzle of olive oil and serve with warm pita bread.
The consistency should be similar to a salsa or pesto, not too runny and thick enough to scoop with a piece of pita. The salad will thicken as it sits and can be thinned with a bit of water if necessary. The flavors will also intensify is the salad sits or is made in advance. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge.
*Siti is an Arabic term for grandmother.