Eat the country and you will understand it.
Introduction to Libyan Food
Food in Libya is one of the most important activities of any Libyan family. The Libyans always say: one must eat well. Olive oil is the main ingredient of nearly any dish or meal in Libya, and it is almost impossible to prepare any Libyan food without it. Its use in North Africa goes back thousands of years, and its healing goodness and life-prolonging properties were well known to the ancient Libyans and Egyptians. Offering of the olive branch to the Libyan oracle of the God Amon at Siwa indicates its sacred nature and antiquity.
Its use in Mediterranean diets has always been associated with good health and preventing major diseases like stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. The healing properties are found mainly in the extra virgin olive oil (and virgin olive oil), which is naturally produced, unrefined oil (also called "cold pressed"); while the active ingredients of the second type, known as "pure oil" or "olive oil", were badly destroyed by the chemical processes used to extract the oil. According to recent research extra-virgin olive oil contains a natural painkiller similar to ibuprofen (found in headache tablets), and its active ingredient oleocanthal inhibits the activity of enzymes involved in inflammation just as ibuprofen does. Olive oil is also widely used as a skin ointment for its healing properties and in perfumes and medicines.
Ancient oil lamps in Libya were also kept alight by a regular supply of olive oil; adding a bit of salt around the wick prolongs the life of the lamp and reduces the consumption of oil. In fact the first commercial advert in the world was said to have been a Carthaginian oil lamp which went for sale for one penny.
"Your balanced diet is your medicine."
Dates & Date Syrup in Libyan Food:
Dates at various stages: yellow when first ripen, dark brown when mature, black-dark-red as date syrup (rreb). The image on the right shows the seed, housed inside the date, which will go on to become another Palm.
There are four main ingredients of traditional Libyan food: olives (and olive oil), palm dates, grains and milk. These are very ancient foods and their use must go back to neolithic times, when humans first began to harvest their produce and make use of the natural surrounding ingredients. Grains are roasted, ground, sieved and used for making bread, cakes, soups, bazin, and other dough-based dishes. Dates are harvested, dried and stored for the rest of the year; they can be eaten as they are, made into syrup or slightly fried and eaten with "bsisa", or eaten with milk as a delicious delicacy. This traditional breakfast was very common in Libya until recently, when many of the traditional dishes and foods began to slowly disappear into the corridors of darkness, and supplanted by modern, bland, fat-rich foods.
Anthropologists tell us that early neolithic societies never "end the life" of female cattle and that it is always the male who is subsequently consumed; females are a regular source of both: milk and more females, to continue the cycle of families. Thus milk by itself becomes a meal of its own; and from milk one obtains ghee, yogurt, butter and cheese. Sahara's slim and dignified Tuareg can easily live on dried dates and fresh milk provided by the palm and the goat respectively. Date syrup, olive oil, and boiled dough make one of the most ancient and popular dishes in Libya: "a'eish", "utshu" or "bazin" -- names which also mean "food" and "life".
Libyan Traditional Sand Ovens:
The sand in Libya gets really hot in the summer that walking slowly on it with bare feet becomes unbearable; one needs to walk fast just like some walk on embers. Adding some real fire to that, one can imagine the effect on tender dough: instant baking.
Traditional Tuareg way of cooking bread by burying it in hot sand, which is as effective as an oven. The technique can also be used to bake potatoes (jacket potato) and eggs by burying them whole beneath the hearth. A good shake and a couple of whacks renders the bread clean and ready to eat (see photo below).
Modern bread: the one on the right is made in the bakery, and the one on the left is home-made tajeen-bread, some of which is made of real wholemeal flour and thus very filling and tasty.
Libyan Black & Green Tea
One of the most important social occasions in Libya is the daily session of tea drinking. Brings families together, to chat, laugh, discuss and gossip about the highlights of the day and about life in general. Talking in Libya is very important social activity; it firmly bonds the family.
Libyan tea is rather very strong, thick, syrup-like black tea. After boiling water in a traditional tea pot, one adds a handful of red tea leaves, and leaves to boil for a long time (ten to twenty minutes). Remove the pot from the fire, open the lid, add some sugar, and boil again for a few more minutes. The ready tea is then removed from the fire, left to settle for a few seconds, and served in small glasses (as shown in the photo). Normally this is prepared during a chat session, around which members of the family gather together to socialise for an hour or so before they each carry on with their own separate paths, and during which one drinks two rounds of tea (each round prepared as above and lasts about half an hour). The third round is served with roasted peanuts or roasted almonds (mixed with the tea in the same glass).
In special occasions and for those who still follow the old tradition, the tea is first poured into another mug, and then using two mugs, one continuously empties the content of one mug into the other and then back into the original mug for at least twenty or thirty times, to produce what the Libyans call reghwet or reghwa, which can be translated as froth or foam, which is steadily added to one glass at a time as being made. After all the empty glasses are half-full with froth, the hot tea is poured over the froth and served hot. The trick to produce the froth is to lift one mug as high as possible, by stretching your arm over your head, while pouring the content into the other mug, and then repeat the process by lowering the raised hand and rising the other one, and so on until enough froth has been produced.
After meals, the Libyans traditionally always use green tea to aid digestion, and also help eliminate stomach problems after a heavy meal. It really does work. Green tea is better for you, especially when drank without milk. Adding milk destroys much of the powerful effects of its antioxidants.
One of the main components of tea are antioxidants. The process of oxidation in the human body causes damage to our cells. A free radical is a charged atom that steals an electron from a healthy cell in order to re-establish its own stability, leaving you with a bit of damaged DNA. Given time, the damage accumulates and as a result one ages faster or even dies quicker.
Now comes the important role of antioxidants. They talk to free radicals and say: hi, I have some free electrons, do you want some? The free radicals, being lazy, care less where the electrons come from and thus happily take up the free offer and spare your helpless, healthy cells the loss of much-needed electrons.
The process of oxidation is accelerated by pollution, alcohol and smoking, and therefore regular supply of green (or red) black tea and vitamins help keep the supply of antioxidants. Ask your Libyan guide to prepare some Libyan tea for you and taste the difference. The above photo is of a tea session we prepared for an Italian group while camping in the desert - in Adiri.
Garlic is also one of the most important items in Libyan food, as it is usually added to most dishes that involve preparing tomato sauce or stew, especially for couscous and pasta sauce. It is finely chopped over the sauce as it boils, just before taking it off the ring (or the fire source) to preserve its goodness and flavour; and then served immediately while its rich aroma still in the air. Garlic can also be crushed and then either mixed with honey and eaten with bread, or mixed with olive oil and spread over food and salads.
Garlic in fact is the most important medicinal food on the planet. It contains nearly 60 minerals, vitamins, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-cancer agents; all of which are vital to human health, and many of which are said to ward off many diseases and even cancer.
For example, old people take a regular dose of aspirin to prevent stroke, year after year; but consuming regular quantities of raw garlic thins the blood and thus prevents clotting - the trigger of stroke. It was said that the Ancient Egyptian masters prescribed daily doses of garlic to the labourers who built the pyramids.
The way nature compacted the individual cloves, into one uniform head, is instantly comparable to a jar of multivitamin tablets - except that the manufactured multivitamins are said to be devoid of the raw goodness lost in the process, just as many scientists still think they are a complete waste of money.
Garlic is one of nature's seven wonders of the universe. If nature has already made them cheaply for us, why smashup our own "expensive" mix?
Is there anybody in my head that is not me?
Utshu, A'eish or Bazin
One of the main and most popular dishes in Libya. A traditional, and probably neolithic, dish made of dough and sauce. The dough is kneed into a semi spherical ball and placed in the middle of a large bowel, around which the sauce is poured, making the dish look like a rock island surrounded by water.
The Dough: the first stage is to prepare the flour which then can be stored for up to two years and used when needed: roast the grains in an empty frying pan until golden brown; grind into fine flour; sieve well and store away in a jar.
To prepare the dish, take about one kilogram of flour from the mix, boil about third litre of water in a large deep saucepan, and then as the water is boiling keep adding a bit of flour with your hand while mixing with the other hand, using a large wooden ladle. Once you start this, do not stop, just keep adding flour with one hand while mixing in a circular fashion with the other, until the dough becomes hard to stir and the mixture solidifies into dough.
Remove the saucepan off the ring, take out the dough, place in a larger bowel, and while wetting your hand with a bit of water (because the dough retains heat) start kneading the mixture into consistent dough, just as you kneed bread, and shape it into a ball, and finally place in the middle of a large bowel and pour the sauce all around.
It is eaten by hand by breaking a small bit with your fingers, pulling a small bit down into the sauce and kneading it with the sauce, before eating.
The consistency is solid and thick, where a bit of force is required to push your fingers through the finished dough. It is nothing like bread. And if you want a really tough bazin you need to visit Nafousah Mountain (say Jado) and ask for mountain bazin - tough and hard to drive the fingers through. This stiff consistency is achieved by boiling the final dough (after it has been prepared as described above).
Although in the above photo the cook is using one hand to mix the dough, usually women sit on the floor, wrap a thick cloth around the hot pan, and hold the pan between their feet, while both hands holding the wooden ladle (aghenjay) to mix the dough with their full strength - something many modern women cannot do, or instead they use white flour wich produces light and soft bazin, instead of the traditional wholemeal flour which yields hard dough, we call "mountain bazin".
The Sauce: any kind of sauce can be used with this. Normally a simple meat and a couple of vegetables are used as follows: fry two large onions, add garlic, turmeric, chili powder and tomato puree, then throw in the lamb chops (or beef or fish), a bit of salt and water, and then cook until the meat nearly done. Add potatoes and pumpkin pieces (or other vegetable of your choice) and return to heat until vegetables are done. Add more garlic (usually two or three crushed cloves), heat for a further minute or two, remove from fire, then pour around the dough and serve hot - with a squeeze of lemon on top.
A simple version of white bazin (made of white flour) is normally cooked for breakfast, but eaten with olive oil and date syrup: instead of mounting the dough like a mound, spread flat across the plate, then sprinkle with a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and pour some date syrup in the middle (or alternatively use honey or sugar). Another variant of the dish replaces date syrup with fenugreek powder - a bit bitter. It is eaten in a similar way: break a small piece of dough, mix thoroughly with oil, dip into the syrup, and Eat.
Libyan bazin with fish & potatoes
Z'ummeeta or zumita is yet another ancient Libyan dish. It is a doughy dish made of mixing water with flour until it is firm and doughy. It is eaten by dipping a small bit, taken by hand, in olive oil, and with the option of dipping in chili sauce. It is usually eaten for breakfast, but some times it is eaten whenever one is hungry, as it takes only few minutes to mix.
The flour mix is made of whole grain barley or wheat, a bit of coriander and cumin seeds. These are dry roasted in an empty frying pan until golden brown, then ground into powder, sieved and finally placed in clay jars and put away. Normally this process is done once a year, although the mixture can last for even two years. Whenever you need some z'ummeeta, just take some flour, add a pinch of salt, mix thoroughly with a bit of water, spread on a plate, and pour the olive oil on top - normally with a bit of harisa in the middle as a dip.
The mixture breaks in the hand nice and easy, and smells fresh with a hint of coriander and olive oil. The modern way of making it, however, is to mix the oil with the mixture and serve it already mixed.
Couscous is one of the most widely popular dishes in Libya and, for that matter, in the whole of North Africa. Its recent spread in Europe is a testimony to its unique qualities and special taste, rarely found in other dishes.
The dish involves cooking two things: the couscous, made of wheat or barley, ground into coarse flour just like semolina (but without the stickiness), and the vegetable and meat sauce to go with it.
The couscous: to start with, sprinkle some salt, pepper, olive oil and a bit of water over the couscous grains, then mix thoroughly by hand, from right to left, slowly rolling the couscous grains into larger balls. Keep mixing and adding a few drops of water at a time until the balls become round and about a third the size of a rice grain. Keep mixing in this manner until all couscous has been used. (Nowadays you buy it mixed and ready to steam.)
Place the mixture in a special saucepan called "keskas", which is like a steamer, or a saucepan with lots of holes, and cover with the lid. This steamer is then placed on top of the other saucepan containing the vegetable and meat sauce, so that the couscous will be cooked by the steam rising from the simmering sauce, thus transferring the flavour to the couscous itself.
The modern, commercial way of cooking couscous, by placing the ready-mixed couscous in a saucepan and covering it with boiling water for a few minutes, does not produce a proper couscous, but some tasteless stuff you buy in London's supermarkets.
Real couscous needs to be steamed over a good sauce for the flavour to soak in, and then needs to be thoroughly mixed with a bit of extra virgin olive oil to further enhance the flavour, before covering the couscous with the lamb and vegetable sauce. It seems supermarkets are there to make super money, and not serve top quality food at affordable prices.
The sauce's recipe:
Heat the oil, fry the onions until golden brown, throw in the garlic, the spices and tomato puree and mix for a few minutes, and then add the meat and about half a litre of water and cover the saucepan with the lid and cook for at least half an hour. Then remove the lid and add the vegetable and the chickpeas to the sauce, make sure there is enough water but not too much, so that the sauce comes out nice and thick, and place the steamer containing the couscous on top and cover with the lid and leave to cook for a further 15 or 20 minutes on a slow heat.
After that, take the couscous out of the steamer and pour into a large bowl and leave to cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle some olive oil and mix again, breaking the congealed clumps into fine soft grains of couscous, and place back in the steamer for a further few minutes.
To serve, put the couscous in a large bowl (if the whole family eating from one bowl) or serve small portions into plates, cover with the vegetable sauce (using a good ladle), place a piece of tender lamb on top of the sauce, then finally fry some finely chopped onions until golden and mix them with a bit more of cooked chickpeas and sprinkle the mixture on top of the sauce and the meat. Some people further place peeled boiled eggs between the pieces of meat, or more recently home-made chips. Finally, do not forget to eat.
Dried beans and grains are also a fundamental part of food in Libya. Chickpeas are soaked in water for a few hours, then cooked with tomato and meat sauce for couscous or added to pasta sauce. Broad beans are cooked in tomatoes sauce and eaten with bread.
ikerkoushen: cubes of sun-dried meat fried in oil.
The initial preparation of this dish takes a number of days (for the meat to dry in the sun), but after it was made in large quantity it is stored for the whole year and used when needed.
Portions of fresh meat are cut into long strips, spread along the washing line, sprinkled with chili powder and salt, and left to dry in the sun for a good few days, until the outside becomes hard. Then they are cut into small cubes, fried in oil, and stored in clay jars, to use throughout the year for modest use.
The oil in which they were fried is also added to the jar, which solidifies like ghee (or butter) to seal the fried cubes from the air and thus preserve the mixture. The jars are often kept in a cool, dark cupboard.
One of the traditional uses is to take a few large spoonfuls from the jar, into a heated pan, to melt the ghee and heat the cubes, before breaking a couple of eggs in the mixture and frying for a few more minutes; before serving hot with crispy bread for breakfast. The dried portions can also be used to flavour vegetable dishes when meat is scarce.
Mb'atten is really a Libyan specialty dish, prepared on special occasions, celebrations and festivities, often with Kofta and couscous. It is a unique dish never to be found anywhere else in the world (according to our current knowledge).
It is made of slicing potato lengthwise into thin slices (about 3mm thick) but keeping each two slices joined together at the base, to form a sandwich, which will be stuffed with minced meat and herbs and then fried.
The Stuffing: a good quantity of minced meat (beef or lamb), about half of the mixture should be meat, a bundle of fresh green dill, a bundle of fresh parsley, two bundles of spring onion, a bit of fresh parsley, 3 cloves of garlic (ground into paste), teaspoon of salt, teaspoon of hot chili, 2 teaspoon of turmeric, a touch of cinnamon, 3 tablespoons of tomato puree, and one egg. (Modern variants of the dish do not include dill any more in the ingredients.)
Preparation: finely chop the fresh herbs (parsley, dill and spring onion) and place in a large bowel. Spice and season before adding tomato puree, break in the egg and mix and squeeze (with your hands to force all the juice out of the herbs).
Pour some oil in a frying pan, chop in one onion very fine, and add the mince, and cook until nearly done (but not cooked yet), and then put the mince in a bowel and leave to cool down, before finally mixing it with the herb mixture.
The second stage involves preparing the potatoes: slice the potato lengthwise, cutting one slice three-quarters down and stopping just before reaching the base, then cutting the second all the way down, ending with two slices of potatoes joined at the base, each about 3mm thick. Sprinkle some salt on all the slices and dry with kitchen paper, if wet.
Hold the two slices from the joined end, stuff with the mixture, dip the exposed stuffing in egg (to hold together while frying), then in flour (just the edge and not the whole slice), throw in a deep fryer (or in frying pan with lots of oil), and fry until golden brown.
These are now ready to eat, but traditionally, they can be cooked for a further few minutes in a saucepan with a bit of tomato sauce, as follows: place all the remaining potato pieces that were left over from the slicing in the saucepan, place all the cooked potatoes on top, pour in a bit of tomato sauce, cover the saucepan, and heat over a very low heat for about ten minutes. This turns the fried potatoes into soft and sauce-covered delicious chunks, just like adding a bit of ketchup to chips.
Serve warm with couscous or salad. If there
is a lot of mixture left over, then roll into small balls, flatten onto a plate
containing white flour, then fry in oil as koftas. The stuffed potatoes
are also great cold, after being kept in the fridge overnight.
Traditional Libyan "slatha" is a main meal eaten with bread, as a full meal, and not as a side dish. This is a traditional summer salad, often prepared by the beach, for an easy and light lunch after swimming in the sea.
Preparation: cut one onion very thinly into a large bowel, chop five tomatoes into six segments each, cut half cucumber into small cubes, throw in a handful of pitted green olives, cut one fresh green chili pepper into small pieces, add a pinch of salt, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and about half a cup of water. Mix well to release some of the flavour into the water, squeeze a bit of lemon, and serve with crispy bread.
The dish is eaten by breaking a piece of bread and dipping it into the salad and lifting some of the vegetables with it by folding it over the vegetables. Many of the younger generations nowadays add a tin of tuna to the salad for richer flavour and some protein.
Pumpkins are cooked in tomato and herb sauce with other vegetables like potatoes and carrots (or/and meat or chicken), and served either with couscous, rice or pasta, or even eaten as a dip with bread.
Shorba (Libyan Soup)
Fry finely-cut large onion in ghee until golden brown; add the meat cubes (beef or lamb), spices (turmeric, chili, salt, a bit of curry powder, and a teaspoonful of sugar), tomato puree and water, then cover and simmer for about 40 minutes until the meat is cooked. Add in the orz, cooked chickpeas, and cook for 15 minutes until cooked. Chop a bit of fresh parsley and crush one clove of garlic and mix with olive oil and add to the mixture just before removing from fire. Serve with lemon wedges, raw chopped parsley (sprinkled on top) and crispy warm bread.
T'ajeen or Tajeen
Peel and cut potatoes into thick slices, boil until cooked, crush, and spread in a "tajeen" (a baking tray). Fry thinly-chopped two onions until brown, and add the mince and cook for a few minutes, then add the crushed garlic and spice up with chili, turmeric, salt and curry powder, and stir and simmer until cooked. Remove and spread on a large plate and leave to cool. Add to the potatoes, mix in the beaten eggs, and bake for 20 minutes at mark 180. Finally, take out from the oven, sprinkle some mozzarella cheese on top and bake for a further 15 minutes until the dish is covered with a light golden crust.
Boureek: Bureek: Burik
The Libyan basic boureek, also written as bourik, burik or bourek, is a deliciously crispy dish, made as follows:
Of course, there are other flavours of the dish, made by varying the filling, including one with minced meat. In other North African countries, like Algeria, the shape of the boureek is like a "spring roll" or a sausage roll.
Lebrak is a dish made of stuffed vine leaves (locally called esselk leaves). In fact any kind of green thick leaves will probably do the job. The mixture is made of rice, tomato pure, herbs, spices, garlic, a bit of salt, and either small pieces of meat or mince. Mix all well, put a bit on a leaf, roll over and fold the edges, then place in a saucepan, making sure you place a few leaves in the bottom of the saucepan to take the heat. Once all in the saucepan, you need a lid that is slightly smaller than the saucepan so that it will drop all the way down inside the saucepan and sit directly on the stuffed pieces. Then you need a heavy stone to put on the lid, to keep it down. All this is to prevent the stuffed pieces from opening up while cooking. Finally put a little bit of water in the saucepan, not much at all (maybe a small cup), and then place over slow fire to simmer gently for about half an hour until the rice is cooked. Take out gently, sprinkle some olive oil, and serve. Really nice cold too.
Mbekbka: quick macaroni:
Instead of the European way of boiling pasta or spaghetti in water and then throwing the water away (with all the goodness it contains), the Libyans boil pasta with the sauce, which adds a real pasta flavour to the sauce. You can make it with any type of pasta, and the simplest dish involves frying onions in oil, throwing in the tomato puree, chili powder, turmeric, then adding water and salt and leave to boil, before adding the pasta. But the proper way to do it is to add some lamb chops, chickpeas and garlic to the sauce. Serve hot with a sprinkle of extra virgin olive oil, lemon, fresh chili and crusty bread (optional). You can also add other vegetable like pumpkin, potato and green pepper.
Megetta' (home-made fresh spaghetti)
This dish is also probably very ancient. A fresh dough is knead from flour, and then flattened like thick pastry, (mixing with flour as you go to prevent it sticking together), cut into small strips as in photo, then cook in tomato sauce with vegetables and/or meat. You need to cook the vegetables and meat in the sauce first, and only once these are nearly cooked, you add the pasta and cook for a few minutes more.
Although it looks like spaghetti, it tastes much better, because you can taste the flavour of fresh pasta and because it is very chewy and delicious.
Owing to the time it takes to prepare, don't expect your mum to cook this yummy dish for you as often as she would dry spaghetti. But you can give her a helping hand, if you want to, and maybe do the washing up too afterwards, if you are a genius!
Rice in Libya can be cooked either boiled with sauce, just like risotto, or steamed over a vegetable and meat sauce, just like couscous. The following one is steamed rice with meat, chickpeas and potato sauce.
O's'b'an or Ma'danous
Ma'danous is in a way a thicker kind of herb sausage, made of stuffing intestines with a mixture of fresh herbs, rice and meat and liver pieces.
Preparing the intestines: clean the intestines with hot water, turning inside out and flashing all the way through, then marinate in a mixture of lemon juice and salt for at least one hour. Wash again, very well. Modern day women use bleach to clean the belly and the intestines.
The mixture: take two bundles of spring onion, two bundles of fresh parsley, a bit of mint, and one bundle of fresh coriander, chop finely in a large deep bowel, add the spices (chili, turmeric, salt, curry powder, black pepper, a handful of raw white rice, few spoonful's of olive oil, and then cut in the meat pieces of liver, kidney, lungs, heart and belly.
Mix the mixture very well, then use to stuff the intestines, tie a couple of knots at each end, and place in a saucepan in which a sauce of tomatoes, spices and salt brought to boil. Remember one thing: before you put the stuffed intestines in the saucepan, make sure you prick them with a needle in few places, otherwise they will explode when the stuffing expands with heat. This dish may not appeal to some, but its unique flavour and rich aroma makes it more delicious than ordinary sausages.
Ghrayba With Almonds
Heat the butter, add the sugar, flour, almond, mix well, cut in diamonds, place in a baking tray, and put in a preheated oven. Once cooked (when it looks firm and slightly golden by the edges), remove from the oven and sprinkle some sugar over the ghrayba.
Leka'ek or Ka'ek:
Leka'ek is a kind of shortbread, made of flour, sugar, baking powder, and olive oil. Once the dough is knead, take a small piece, roll it into a long round strip, then cut it into short lengths, and roll each one into a ring. You can leave this ring as it is, or take a knife and cut small cuts on the outer edge to give it the shape you see on the left. There are two verities, one with sugar added to the mixture to make it sweet, and the other is salty, which makes it more like bread sticks.
Watermelons & Melons:
Libyan vegetable & fruit market, traditionally built with
tree branches and palm fronds.
Watermelon market, with the scales just by the edge of the road. In the way back from work, one would often pull over, select a good melon, weigh it, pay for it, put it in the car, then continue the journey home.
But how do you know a watermelon is ripe or not? The common practice is to flick your finger against the watermelon, and if the bounced sound is sharp, and not dull, then it is ripe.
Excellent ancient breakfast.
Bsisa or Ademmin, topped with halva.
Bsisa is probably very ancient.
The plate on the left contains the powdery mixture before it was mixed with olive oil (main image, middle), with the oil collecting at the top with time; which is the traditional way of preparing the sweet dish.
Mostly made of ground roasted chickpeas, and handfuls of roasted green lentils, barely, and broad beans, a bit of turmeric (good for the stomach), a few coriander seeds; all ground and sieved into fine powder,before finally mixing with sugar and kept in a sealed jar. The powder can last for the whole year (or even longer). Whenever you want some bsisa, you would take a bit of powder into a bowel and mix with extra virgin olive oil until smooth and ready to eat.
The yellow colour comes from the colour of ground chickpeas and turmeric. Some recipes of bsisa include sweet cumin seeds. Chickpeas are very rich in iron and therefore important to vegetarians. The fenugreek seeds are very, very bitter, and their taste succulently stays in the mouth as an after taste to the sweet bsisa, similar to the zest of a sweet orange that lingers behind on the tongue.
During the last two decades or so, the practice of mixing the whole powder in one large jar has disappeared, and instead only a small amount is mixed as and when needed. The consistency resulting from the mixture, gradually condensing over time, forcing the oil to rise to the surface (as shown in the picture), is also lost; and instead it is now mixed with too much oil to achieve a "runny" consistency, which apparently the new generations find easier to digest.
Fenugreek powder has also disappeared from the list of the ingredients, possibly due to the bitter taste. Instead, there are those who add almonds, honey or halvah - which is a similar sweet of its own, made of crushed sesame seeds, flour, sugar and oil.
You can eat it in its own, two or three table-spoonfuls at a time, not more; but traditionally bsisa is served with palm dates (either fresh, or slightly dipped in fenugreek powder and fried in olive oil) and a glass of milk, or the all-favourite: a cup of hot black tea.
Filling: mix one pound of dates (paste) with one teaspoon of cinnamon and three tablespoons of olive oil. Take a handful of the mixture and shape into a small ball, roll into a long thick strip.
Dough: mix about 4 cups of semolina, one
teaspoon of baking powder, half a cup of flour and one
cup of oil. Mix into soft dough and roll into a shape of a loaf. Press a deep
line along the middle of the loaf, and stuff with the date mixture and roll again
into a closed loaf (this keeps the date mixture inside the dough), then cut into
diagonal, 2 inch pieces (like diamonds), and place in a baking tray.
Bake in a preheated oven at mark 200 for about
35 minutes, or until golden brown. Take out of the oven, and
while still hot pour the sugar syrup and/or honey over the
whole pieces, and leave to soak
for a while, before serving.
Seafood: Fish & Squid & Octopus
Libyan diet is also rich in sea food, like fresh fish, and sun-dried octopus and squids. Couscous with dried octopus is an old delicacy the new generations seem to gradually leave behind; probably due to the fact that this dish requires a long time to prepare. First, the octopus needs to be dried in the sun for days, then cut and preserved, then boiled in water for a couple of hours (or until tender), before finally adding it to the tomato and herb stew. Once flavoured with garlic and olive oil, couscous with octopus stew is really something special.
The main types of fish used include the following:
Flower and plant market. The Peugeot 404 is very characteristic of Libya.