For many families, Ramadan is a time when they reunite to eat and pray together, but for Dalya, a Palestinian refugee living in Malaysia for the past 7 years, it’s simply a reminder that she is unable to return home yet again despite how much she longs for it. But when family is far, it’s food that brings comfort to Dalya, which is embodied in her family recipe ‘Maqlooba’ or Arabic for ‘upside down’ 😊 It is a traditional Palestinian dish for special occasions like Hari Raya and Ramadan, which is made with richly spiced rice, vegetables, and stewed meat, layered and cooked, then flipped onto a serving dish to form an impressive tower 😍
To mark the holy month of Ramadan, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has released a cook-along video, “How to Cook Maqlooba with Anis Nabilah and Dalya”, featuring Malaysian celebrity chef and UNHCR supporter, Anis Nabilah and Dalya. It’s part of a series of cooking videos produced by UNHCR in collaboration with Malaysian celebrities. In the video, the two skilled chefs convivially cooked together in the kitchen studio while Dalya recounts memories from her life in Palestine before she and her family were forced to flee.
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Food as a bridge between the past and future
For starters, Dalya wasn’t actually a cook, but a trained accountant in Palestine. However, things took a turn for her, her husband and four children seven years ago, when they were forced to flee the Gaza Strip in Palestine to Malaysia. Her husband, who was an engineer back in Palestine, was unable to find a stable job in Malaysia, forcing him to sell Shawarma to make ends meet. Dalya then decided to help her husband out and contribute by making Maqlooba and Mandi rice! 😌 Word spread of her culinary skills, and now she cooks full time to support her family.
But she realises that food was beyond a financial means to support her family, it has also become her personal way to keep her memories of Palestine alive. “I remember that it was raining on that day my mom taught me to make Maqlooba. I remember her sitting on a chair in the kitchen, giving me instructions. Now every time I cook Maqlooba, I remember my mother on that day and I am reminded of the smell of rain,” said Dalya 🥰
Moreover, when she prepares dishes from her homeland, it fosters a sense of belonging to her young children despite them having few memories of growing up in Palestine. “When I left my country, my kids were still young. So usually when I cook a Palestinian dish, it reminds them about the food and our culture,” said Dalya. “I cook dishes from home so that there are opportunities for me to tell them stories of our beloved land. They love listening to these stories and often tell me how much they long to return to Palestine.”
P.S. In the month of good, do good by donating to UNHCR via this link. It’s the little things like your help that go a long way for refugees like Dalya.
A Culinary Connection Across Two Different Countries
Dalya’s passion for cooking (she said she can cook for 24 hours straight, so long as someone else does the cleaning and washing up [haha emoji]), is something Anis Nabilah feels closely connected to.
“Cooking is a lot more than just work, it’s important to Dalya and me because it means so much more. It’s because we truly love cooking. We both agree that it brings families together, and that’s such a wonderful thing. I feel that we really connected through these values,” the international celebrity chef and media personality said.
They might be worlds apart, but their culinary thread ties their story together. Anis has spent time volunteering with projects to help refugees in the country. Through a local NGO running a refugee education programme, she also taught refugee children to bake. When her busy schedule permits, Anis also volunteers to cook meals for refugees, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan ☺️
For Dalya, she cooked about 300 meals for the frontliners working at the hospital during the first MCO in Malaysia. She also prepared many dishes to be distributed to the homeless community during the pandemic, a tradition she adapted to Malaysia from Palestine, where back home, women will cook and serve it to worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque and other mosques during Ramadhan. “It is a tradition that I love to continue here, in the country hosting me, to show my appreciation,” said Dalya with a smile 😊
P.S. "Those who in charity spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve" (2:274). " In a month where blessings are tenfold, why not do your part and donate to UNHCR via this link?
Support refugees like Dalya this Ramadan 2022
Currently, there are some 180,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, having fled their countries due to war, persecution, and complex human rights abuses. Anis shared that a lot of Malaysians have blind assumptions about refugees here. “People think that refugees have a choice to come here, but that is not the case,” said Anis. “They came here to save their lives. And even when they are relatively safer here, they still face daily struggles to survive”.
Ramadan is the month of giving, so share the blessings and generosity of this holy month with refugee families like Dalya’s who are observing the holy month far from their homes and communities, while still navigating difficulties in their host country by donating to the UNHCR via this link today. No matter how small your contribution is, it is your intention that matters at the end of the day 😌
For Dalya, her childhood foods like the Maqlooba recipe are familiar and comforting, reminders of many Ramadans come and gone. But for now, the food is enough 🥰
You can try this Maqlooba recipe at home and share it on your social media by tagging #WithRefugees.
Recipe for Maqlooba
- 1kg lamb
- 4 cups of meat broth
- 4 cups basmati rice
- 600g potatoes
- 700g eggplant
- 2-3 tomatoes
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 2 green pepper
- 2 shallots
- Spices for lamb
- 3 -4 Cardamom
- 3 Bay leaves
- 3-4 Cloves
- 3-4 Black pepper
- 1 onion
- Spices for vegetables and rice
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sweet spices
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cardamom
- Toasted almond slivers
- Boil lamb with cubed onion and spices for 30 minutes until tender. Set aside 4 cups of broth.
- Heat oil. Once heated, shallow fry sliced potatoes and green chillies.
- Remove excess moisture from sliced eggplant before shallow frying by patting eggplant dry with a paper towel. Then, shallow fry eggplant until golden brown.
- Set aside all potatoes, green chillies and eggplant.
- In the same pan, saute sliced shallots and garlic until golden brown.
- Then, add in 4 cups of uncooked basmati rice. Add in sweet spices, cinnamon powder, black pepper, cardamom powder and salt. Mix well.
- Start layering the ingredients in a large pot. Between each layer, sprinkle mixed spices. Layers are tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, green chillies, lamb pieces and basmati rice respectively.
- Pour in 4 cups of lamb broth.
- Cover the pot and cook on low heat for 40 minutes.
- After 40 minutes, turn the pot over on a plate and lift the pot up to serve the maqlooba.
- Garnish maqlooba with chopped parsley and toasted almond slivers.
This article is brought to you by UNHCR.