Madiha Hassan's country may be thousands of miles away, straddling Africa and the Middle East, but her culture is safely stowed... within.
And that makes it easy to share with people in Whistler who have never had a taste of Egypt — that exotic far-off land of pyramids, and sphinxes, and Cleopatra, and Egyptian Mahshi, a typical dish of stuffed vegetables.
Food is one way of keeping her culture alive, and ensuring it is passed down to her three children.
"The food is something basic in the busy day," says Hassan, checking on her bubbling pot during her first Community Kitchens event, where she made Mahshi, Egyptian-style.
Preserving culture is one of the reasons why her family sits on the floor for their meals.
"I have a dining room," she smiles. "I have a wooden dining table."
But sitting on the floor is tradition, it's part of who she is. And if she's raising three young children in Canada, she wants them to know where they come from.
Plus... "I feel comfortable."
A handful of Whistlerites turned out on Monday to learn how to make Mahshi, the Middle Eastern dish of stuffed vegetables — cabbage, eggplant, zucchini.
"A lot of countries make it different ways," says Hassan, who joined her husband in Whistler two years ago from her native Cairo. They form a small community of Egyptians in Whistler — four families.
Mahshi, Hassan explains, is served with a piece of meat or chicken but can also be a main vegetarian dish, too. Typically it's on the menu when someone is coming to dinner or for a special event.
As she chopped onions and peeled cabbage, moving the leaves into a boiling pot of water for a minute or two to loosen up, Hassan talks about food in Egypt. It turns out this isn't just a cooking class!
The day begins early, she says, and starts off with a good hearty breakfast that includes eggs and beans.
The biggest meal of the day in Egypt is lunch, around 3 p.m. Hassan doesn't eat anything big after 5 p.m., usually some yoghurt and fruit and perhaps some rice with warm milk for dessert.
With the Mahshi filling cooking away — onions, canned tomatoes, rice, cumin, chili and salt — and delicious smells wafting through the kitchen, Hassan turns her attention to the cabbage leaves, removing the stalk from each and putting them in a nearby pot.
Every part of the cabbage us used.
"All the leaves," she says. "I don't want to lose it."
Food in Egypt is natural, says Hassan. They use vegetables grown in their gardens, milk from their cows, chicken from their own animals.
A lot of dishes have bread.
There is 7,000 years of history, she says, with a hint of pride.
And over time there have been many influences on all parts of the culture, like Napoleon in the late 19th century.
The cuisine relies heavily on legumes and vegetables, given the country has lush farmland in the Nile valley and delta.
Hassan tests the cooked ingredients from the pot and pronounces "good."
It's time to roll.
She expertly places the filling inside the cabbage leaves, rolls them up and places them in a pot, along with a mini eggplant whose seeds have been removed. Those once-discarded cabbage stocks line the bottom of the pot. She fills it and eyeballs less than a cup of water.
It goes on the stovetop for half an hour.
And now for the taste test.
Hassan pulls out a prepared dish of stuffed eggplants and zucchinis. All agree: it's delicious but the eggplant is the clear favourite. The anticipation rises for a taste of the stuffed cabbage!
The taste of Egypt was part of the Community Kitchens program through Whistler Community Services Society, helped along by the Whistler MultiCultural Network.
Next up is homemade energy bars with Chef Sarah Uy on Monday, April 28.
On May 26, Chef Sarah is back with easy raw vegan breakfast dishes.
On June 23 the session will be about multicultural bread — bannock, Irish Soda bread, Mexican Sweet Bread and focaccia.
2 big onions
1 large can of tomato sauce
1 cup of long grain white rice
1 bunch of dill
1 bunch of cilantro
1 bunch of parsley
half a teaspoon of cumin
dash of chili
Core cabbages, peel off leaves, put into boiling water a handful at a time for a minute or two until tender.
Cook onions until soft with olive oil. Add tomato sauce. Add cumin, mixed with a quarter teaspoon of black pepper, and the chili.
Add in parsley, cilantro and dill as well as rice, uncooked.
Place mixture in cabbage and roll. Place roll in a large pot, with cabbage stalks covering the bottom.
Remove the seeds from a mini eggplants and stuff them as well with the rice mixture and place in pot.
Add less than half a cup of water to the pot.
Cook on stove for half an hour. Enjoy!
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