Burgul aa Banadoora
Born in Kuwait in September 1969, I grew up there with my parents, (dad - Mehdi and mom - Fakhrei) and three sisters (Sawsan, Ghada and Hanadi).
I was the 2nd youngest. My parents were devoted to one another, and our home was a secure, happy and loving one. Both sides of my family were part of the El-Siblani clan or house. Most of the people in Lebanon belong to different clans or houses that go back many hundreds of years. In this regard, they are much like clans in Scotland.
Dad’s family lived in a small village in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon’s most important farming region. Situated between Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, the valley’s farms formed a patchwork quilt that stretched for miles.
People from the valley have a deep connection to the land. They worked its fields and ate the products of their labor – organic grains, vegetables and fruits.
My grandma used to farm the fields like many other women from the village. It was hard work in the 1930s; their hands were their machines. She would wake at sunrise and walk about two miles to work with a baby/toddler strapped to her back; my dad was her fifth child, so she was used to the routine.
While she would work, he would wait under the shade of willow trees and suck on a pacifier - an apricot or a peach wrapped around a gauze-like material. Work ended a little before sunset. Her day wasn’t done; like the many working mothers of today, she took care of the house, the kids and the dinner, too.
My grandpa being a Sheikh, a religious elder and teacher (much like a Rabbi) in the valley, imparted life values, high morals, work ethic, and strong-willed character into my father, who in turn, became our family’s role model. Since grandpa married in his forties and dad being the fifth of seven children, dad always remembered his father as being an old, wise man. Grandpa Hussein had developed some physical disabilities, which made farming impossible. He remained productive and vibrant by tutoring the villagers in reading and writing - expecting very little, if anything, in return considering the difficult financial circumstances the villagers endured.
When dad was eight, he learned to plough the fields. For his 9-hour shift, he was paid a sack of potatoes. He stopped going to school after fourth grade since he had an obligation to help out with providing for his large family which was very common practice for kids in the villages of the Middle East back in the 1940s. He eventually left the village and apprenticed in a carpenter shop in Beirut before he finally joined the army.
One of my dad’s fondest food memories of the food his mother cooked is Bulgur aa Banadoora - crushed wheat with tomato sauce. According to Phyllis Glazer in her book, Food of the Bible, “archeological evidence suggests that our biblical ancestors made wheat into bulgur.” Biblical scholars mention Bulgur as “the first of the coarse meal” that was made by ancient Babylonians and Hebrew populations some 4,000 years ago in the Mediterranean region, and was a porridge prepared from parboiled and sun dried wheat.
As a child visiting family in Lebanon, I was surprised to learn that Bulgur was still prepared the same way: Boiling the wheat in huge pots over wood fires for hours until thoroughly cooked, spreading it on flat rooftops to dry in the sun (in the Bekaa valley the sun’s intensity coupled with low humidity and light wind created the ideal drying process,) cracking the hardened kernels into coarse pieces and sieving them into different sizes for various uses. It is a ‘must prepare’ dish when tomatoes are in season, because fresh tomatoes enhance its flavor. It’s healthy, nutritious and delicious, and has become a dish that my daughter loves.
- 2 red medium size onions, finely chopped
- 3 pounds fresh tomatoes
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups coarse dark Bulgur, washed and rinsed 3 times
- 2 T. tomato paste, dissolved in 2 cups water
- 1/2 -1 pound very lean ground beef (optional)
- 1 T. black pepper
- 1 1/2 t. cinnamon
- 1 t. cardamom
- 1 t. sea salt
- 1 t. allspice
- 1/4 t. nutmeg
- Cut a deep “x” on top of each tomato and place in boiling water for 2 minutes; the cut allows the skin to peel off the tomato easily. Take out and then place in cold water and allow tomatoes to sit for a few minutes. Peel tomatoes and discard skins. Place skinned tomatoes in food processor and process into puree; then set aside.
- Place oil in large pot on medium heat. Sauté onions in hot oil until translucent. Add meat and keep stirring onion and meat mixture while breaking the chunks of meat into finer pieces. Add all the spices and keep stirring until meat is almost browned. Add the tomato puree and 1½ cups water and tomato paste to water combination also into the pot and stir for a second or two. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes then add the washed Bulgur and bring back to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat once boiling, and simmer on low heat with pot covered for 35 minutes. If Bulgur is still not soft to bite, add 1/2-1 cup water and keep simmering for another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.