Tag Archives: Jordan

Petra and pizza fuses Jordan with the ancients

The treasury, Petra, Jordan
The treasury, Petra, Jordan
sandstone cliffs, Petra, Jordan
sandstone cliffs, Petra, Jordan

Petra was carved into multi colored mineral laden sandstone by the Nabataeans c. 300 B.C., yet this geographically strategic region in present day Jordan generated wealth for whoever had control long before the city existed. As a center for long-haul caravans, some stretching for 700 camels, Petra was an ideal junction for the distribution of goods on their way south, west and north into the Levant, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean. As for security, Petra was a natural bank vault.

 

The massive city was carved into the red sandstone cliffs on the flanks of Jordan’s vast dry Wadi Araba. The dramatic main entrance through a long towering and narrow gorge – a Siq – was a defensive and psychological tour de force. The eyes are focused on the first building that comes into view, the impressive Al Khaznch. Popularly known as the Treasury, its purpose was more likely ceremonial – shock and awe.

entering Petra, Jordan
entering Petra, Jordan

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, chosen in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and discovered by Hollywood in the Indiana Jones franchise, Petra deserves its reputation as the top tourist attraction in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. With an international mix of visitors, the carriage, horse, donkey and camel rides, the craft and trinket stalls, local musicians and water hawkers add a visceral caravan atmosphere to a serious archaeological site.

Petra, Jordan
Petra, Jordan

Petra’s dominance of the Spice Route in the Levant continued well into the Roman era when the city became the capital of the empire’s Arabian province. Although it’s not clear what use the Nabataeans meant for many structures, the Romans added obvious flourishes – an impressive theater, colonnaded market and freestanding temples. Yet if it were not for the genius of three human accomplishments, the glory of Petra would have been impossible.

Roman era temple, Petra, Jordan
Roman era temple, Petra, Jordan

Petra’s wealth and life in the Cradle of Civilization were based on wheat, sheep and water. The domestication of a wild grain and a feisty animal in prior millenniums allowed for settled life and the rise of towns. Yet all life was dependent on water, especially in regions prone to drought. The Nabataeans mastered an efficient system of dams, cisterns and water channels carved in rock that provided this desert city with a profitable surplus of water.

preparing Bedouin bread
preparing Bedouin bread

While Petra declined after the 5th century A.D. due to changing commercial routes and serious earthquakes, wheat, sheep, people and the need for water remained. The cuisine of Jordan’s Bedouin culture harken back to the basics of ancient settled life. Flat ash bread is still buried under the hot coals while goat, lamb and poultry may be grilled or baked in a hot sand pit. Vegetables of all types are pickled and dried fruits, nuts and cheese round out the basics.

baked Bedouin flat bread
baked Bedouin flat bread

Who knows when humans first discovered that slathering toppings on flat rounds of bread and baking them were tasty and had infinite possibilities? Among the many dozens of mezze – small plates – that dominate Jordanian cuisine, Araies Iahma is a favorite among locals and visitors. Known as Bedouin Pizza, araies lahma is easy to prepare.

Bedouin pizza ready for the oven
Bedouin pizza ready for the oven

Araies Iahma (Bedouin Pizza) – 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground meat – any combination of lamb, beef, mutton or goat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 green chili pepper, seeds removed, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
  • 2 tomatoes, blanched, skinned and diced (see preparation)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • pita bread
Bedouin pizza meat mixture
Bedouin pizza meat mixture

Preparation:

vegetable ingredients (note: blanched tomatoes lower right ready to have skin slipped off)
vegetable ingredients (note: blanched tomatoes lower right ready to have skin slipped off)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
  2. Blanch the tomatoes for 45 seconds in boiling water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Using a sharp knife slit the sides of the skin and slip off the skin
  3. Finely dice the tomatoes, onion, chili pepper and garlic
  4. Add the salt, cumin, and diced vegetables to the ground meat and mix well.
  5. Cut each round of pita in half, and spread a thin layer of meat inside each pocket.
  6. Brush the stuffed pita halves with olive oil and arrange on a sheet pan.
  7. Bake for 7 minutes, turn each pita over and continue for 5 minutes more.

Serve hot with a salad as a light lunch, as an appetizer or part of a festive and elaborate Jordanian mezze buffet.

Cooking class at Petra Kitchen, Petra, Jordan
Cooking class at Petra Kitchen, Petra, Jordan

Araies Iahma is just one of a dozen dishes a visitor can participate in preparing at the Petra Kitchen. The staff of the Petra Kitchen under manager Ali and chef Mustafe have created a participatory dinner that introduces guests to the top tastes of Jordanian cuisine. Couple this with its location at the very epicenter of ancient human achievement, and dining in Petra becomes a bonding experience with the ancestors.

When you go:

Non-stop flights are available from major North American hubs to Amman, Jordan.

Petra is a 3-hour drive south from Amman on modern highways. Although day excursions can easily be arranged from Amman, to give Petra its due, an overnight in one of the new town’s attractive hotels is recommended.

As in all hot arid regions, visitors to Petra are urged to carry and drink plenty of water. Visiting the entire site entails walking 6 to 9 miles round trip, but carriage, horse, donkey and camel transportation is available. Bottled water is easily purchased in the historic site from numerous vendors.

A nighttime candle light illumination of the Al Khaznch (the Treasury) is not recommended. Candlelight at its base fails to do the vast edifice justice. Save your energy for the daylight.

Araies Iahma with cucumbers & labna
Araies Iahma with cucumbers & labna

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board North America, the Moevenpick Petra Hotel and the Petra Kitchen. Araies Iahma recipe reproduced courtesy of the Petra Kitchen.

You can read additional articles on Jordan by Marc d’Entremont at:

The historic beauty of Jordan

Four serene destinations in timeless Jordan

Not all Jordan almonds are Jordan Almonds

A glimpse at the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Not all Jordan almonds are Jordan Almonds

meze (small plates) in Jordan
meze (small plates) in Jordan

This article on the cuisine of Jordan – with recipes ­– has little to do with almonds; it has everything to do with the misunderstood terms of authenticity and fusion when it relates to national cuisines. Yet let’s take almonds as an example, in Jordan they do not coat this delectable nut in a tooth breaking armor of sugar. The reason is simple; Jordan Almonds are an invention of the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Jordan didn’t exist until the 20th century – let’s not get into the derivation of the name.

tomatoes & shredded cucumbers
tomatoes & shredded cucumbers

Salatat Khyar and Fatoosh are ubiquitous and refreshing cucumber salads, part of the common repertoire in Jordan. Yet their main vegetable, the cucumber, probably didn’t make its way into Levantine cuisine from India until circa 1000 B.C.E. – long after a thriving food culture had developed. The Spice Route and the Silk Road, legendary commercial links between Europe and Asia, intersected in Jordan and the greater Levant resulting in today’s timeless fusion Middle Eastern cuisine.

mint & lemon
mint & lemon

The many variations on classic cucumber salads found throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean mimic the layers of cultural influence made possible through commerce on the Spice Route and the Silk Road. Research Salatat Khyar and often the Algerian recipe appears, significant for the absence of yogurt in the recipe despite that dairy staple being otherwise well utilized. Why the Berbers and Moors of North Africa left yogurt out is a mystery.

raw almonds
raw almonds

Still this article is not about cucumbers, yogurt or almonds – although Jordan has wonderful raw almonds that are another story altogether. National cuisines – aka authentic – are a myth simply because cooking is regional; it’s all about what’s available. For most that was a 50-mile radius from one’s village. Yet for the Middle East that was the known world.

Pomegranate molasses
Pomegranate molasses

The delectable smoky flavor of baba ganouj – Jordan’s spelling – is known throughout the Middle Eastern culinary world. Except in Jordan tahini (sesame paste) is absent. Yet tahini was common in the region. Pomegranate molasses on the other hand was an import from Persia brought in by caravan. Concentrating juices of perishable fruits (dibs) was common. The addition of mint is a regional Jordanian variation as well not found in the more commonly known Lebanese baba ghanoush. The result for Jordan’s baba ganuj is a recipe for chopped salad rather than a dip. It’s a refreshing mezze (small plate) with notes of mint and sweet/sour pomegranate.

roasted eggplant & roasted peppers
roasted eggplant & roasted peppers

Baba Ganuj (serves 8)

Pomegranate molasses is available in better markets (Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc) and Middle Eastern groceries. This recipe comes from The Petra Kitchen, Petra, Jordan.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds eggplant (approximately 2 medium size)
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Preparation:

  1. Prick the eggplants with a fork and roast on a baking dish in a 375° oven for 45 to 60 minutes until very soft. (Roasting over charcoal in a baking dish will impart a better smokey flavor. Turn the eggplants several times.) Allow the eggplants to cool. Split the eggplants and scoop out all the flesh discarding the skins. Place in a stainless steel or ceramic mixing bowl.
  2. Add olive oil, lemon juice and salt and mash with a fork until a chunky puree.
  3. Dice the tomato, pepper and onion. Crush and dice the garlic and add all to the eggplants.
  4. Stir in mint.

Garnish with parsley and/or additional mint and serve with flat bread.

ingredients for Muhammara in food processor
ingredients for Muhammara in food processor

Muhammara, redolent of roasted red peppers and walnuts, means brick colored in Arabic because that’s the color of the dip – the color of Wadi Rum sand. Yet variations are all over the world of the Spice Road and Silk Route as far north as Georgia in the Caucuses. It’s rich tasting yet light in texture, and this Jordanian recipe is simple to prepare.

Muhammara – 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds red bell peppers
  • 1 or 2 small hot chili peppers
  • 6 ounces walnuts
  • ½ cup wheat crackers
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:

  1. Roast the red peppers until skins are blistered and charred using one of these three methods – (1) on a baking dish in a 400° oven for 10 – 15 minutes (2) over charcoal turning the peppers several times, or (3) over the open flame of a gas stove holding the peppers with tongs or a long fork like marshmallows.
  2. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover or in a paper bag for 15 minutes. This will steam the peppers allowing the charred skin to easily slip off. Discard the skins, seeds and membranes.
  3. In a food processor, grind the walnuts, crackers, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, salt and sugar until smooth.
  4. Add the red peppers and process until smooth.
  5. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and then the chili peppers. If too thick add 1 to 2 tablespoons water.
  6. Scrap the puree into a stainless, glass or ceramic bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight for best flavor, although it’s fine to eat it right away.

Serve drizzled with extra olive oil and/or pomegranate molasses garnished with walnuts or pine nuts and accompanied by wheat crackers or flat bread.

smoked salmon on flatbread with labna, dill & capers
smoked salmon on flatbread with labna, dill & capers

Labna (soft yogurt cheese) is more common than butter as a spread especially on traditional flat breads. It’s frequently on the breakfast table along with smoked fish. Flatbread with labna, smoked salmon, red onion, capers and dill is as common in Jordan as bagels and lox in America. Fusion isn’t the adulteration of cuisine; it’s evolution and creativity.

Baba Ganuj & Muhammara
Baba Ganuj & Muhammara

 

Disclosure: the author was a guest of Jordan Tourism North America arranged for members of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. Royal Jordanian Airlines has non-stop flights to Amman from Chicago and New York. Baba Ganuj recipe courtesy of the Petra Kitchen, Petra, Jordan. Muhammara, recipe “The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean” by Paula Wolfert)

You can read additional articles on Jordan by Marc d’Entremont at:

The historic beauty of Jordan

Four serene destinations in timeless Jordan

Petra and pizza fuses Jordan with the ancients

A glimpse at the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

 

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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A glimpse at the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Muhammad, Elder of his Bedouin family in Wadi Fayan, Jordan
Muhammad, Elder of his Bedouin family in Wadi Fayan, Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan may be less than a century old, but like many Bedouins, the Hashemite family share histories stretching back to biblical times.

The Wadi Rum, Jordan
The Wadi Rum, Jordan

For millenniums the river valleys, highlands and  vast deserts of the Cradle of Civilization were the epicenter of the legendary, lucrative and infamous caravan trade linking Asia with the Mediterranean world. In an age before GPS pictographs were road signs directing caravans that could include up to 700 treasure laden camels.

Travel guide Mohammad Qamhiya explaining pictographs in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Travel guide Mohammad Qamhiya explaining pictographs in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Canyon (Siq) entrance to Petra
Canyon (Siq) entrance to Petra

One enterprising tribe, the Nabataeans, carved the city of Petra (300s B.C.E. – 800s A.C.E.) into sandstone cliffs and created the wealthiest financial center in the ancient world. With only one public entrance at the end of a lengthy, towering, narrow,  canyon road, the Nabataeans made Petra immortal.

Al Khaznch, popularly known as the Treasury, Petra
Al Khaznch, popularly known as the Treasury, Petra

 

 

 

Ready for ? & fuses with the ancients

 

 

 

part of the Oval Colonnade, Jerash, Jordan
part of the Oval Colonnade, Jerash, Jordan

Coupled with its commercially strategic position,  the Jordan region had been fused, either through mutual interest, religion or conquest, with the great powers of the day from Greece to the Ottomans. The Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, founded by Alexander the Great (331 B.C.E.) and continuing as a major city within the Roman Empire,  is one of Jordan’s archeological gems.  Heavily damaged by earthquakes in 749 A.C.E., the city continued, and the remarkably preserved site is surrounded today by Jordan’s modern city of Jerash.

 

 

Triumphal Arch of Hadrian, Jerash, Jordan
Triumphal Arch of Hadrian, Jerash, Jordan
Site at which John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth, Jordan River: (left bank) the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, (right bank) Israel
Site at which John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth, Jordan River: (left bank) the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, (right bank) Israel

The Jordan River of biblical fame still defines a land that has stirred great passions in human history from Moses to today’s conflict concerning the West Bank. People that share an ageless  history are divided by a thin, slow moving stream of brown water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Present day Christian baptisms, right bank Jordan River (Israel).The site at which John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth is shared by Jordan and Israel but divided in half.
Present day Christian baptisms, right bank Jordan River (Israel).

Jordan’s storied history has created a legendary cuisine with variations of many dishes it shares with Spice Route neighbors. From breakfast to late night dinner a bounty of mezze (small plates) to aromatic wood grilled lamb and Bedouin ash bread baked in hot sand will be but a few of the dishes in a culinary repertoire as vast as the Kingdom’s deserts.

a mezze "buffet" at Sufra Restaurant, Amman, Jordan
a mezze “buffet” at Sufra Restaurant, Amman, Jordan
fishing in the Red Sea, Aqaba, Jordan
fishing in the Red Sea, Aqaba, Jordan

For the modern traveler there has never been a better time to enjoy hospitality as stunning as Jordan’s natural beauty. Despite surrounding turmoil, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan enjoys peace  within its borders and goes to great length to ensure security for its citizens and visitors. Tolerant and democratic Jordan allows the 21st century  traveler a rare glimpse at the entire history of the Cradle of Civilization from iconic archeological sites, ageless Bedouin lifestyles, the roots of modern cuisine, phenomenons of nature, accommodations from Bedouin tents to the heights of luxury and even newborn  baby camels.

Mother & newborn camels, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Mother & newborn camels, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Captain Desert Private Wadi Rum Camp, Jordan
Captain Desert Private Wadi Rum Camp, Jordan
 Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Dead Sea, Jordan
Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Dead Sea, Jordan
enjoying a hooka, Aqaba, Jordan
enjoying a hooka, Aqaba, Jordan
Discover Jordan for yourself.
Dead Sea sunset from the Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Jordan
Dead Sea sunset from the Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Jordan

Follow Travel with Pen and Palate’s articles on Jordan:

The historic beauty of Jordan

Four serene destinations in timeless Jordan

Not all Jordan almonds are Jordan Almonds

Petra and pizza fuses Jordan with the ancients

 

(disclaimer: author was a guest of Jordan Tourism Board North America )

You can read all my travel and food articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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