It’s springtime in Sinai! And thanks to winter rains the desert wadis and mountains are bursting with fresh green plants.
So we stop several times on our way to camp to collect these fragrant desert herbs. Here, Freyj collects “sheeh” (Artemisia herba-alba), a wormwood used by the Bedouin both for medicinal and culinary purposes.
For two to three months in the spring, many Bedouin return to a more traditional life in the desert. One of the main reasons being so that their herds of sheep and goats can graze on the nutritious desert plants. Each evening the women collect milk from the goats. Most of this milk is consumed fresh, without any “processing”. Bedouin call this milk “haleeb”. In the morning, the haleeb is mixed with sugar and sheeh, heated by the fire, and enjoyed – on its own or with tea – by both adults and children. Even the youngest of children drink warm goat’s milk from their bottle. Chunks of fresh hot bread are also dunked into the warm milk and eaten as a small morning meal.
If the women collect the milk for several days, they have enough to work into “samen sheehi” and cheese. To do this, the women pour the milk into a specially-prepared sac, add a pinch of salt, and shake the sac until the milk thickens. The thick curds are scooped out with a spoon and mixed with sheeh and other herbs to make samen sheehi, an herb ghee or butter. The liquid that is left is called “leban”, or simply milk, but it has fermented some and is now a bit sour, like buttermilk, and is consumed by the glass or used in savory dishes.
“Liba” or “ti-baana” is the name of the thick bread, baked beneath hot coals, which is an essential element of Bedouin meals. Prepared by either the men or women of a family, this afternoon Freyj and his daughter care for the baking of the bread together.
But it is Freyj’s daughter who has prepared the main meal, a simple dish of rice and vegetables over which we poured some of the sour leban – a feast full of springtime goodness!
Happy Sinai Liberation Day!
April 25 marks the anniversary of the final withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai peninsula in 1982.