In Part I of this story, I wrote that Eid need not worry about pests on his fruit crops growing in Zaranik. I should have been more specific. He was not worried enough about pests to spray chemicals or pesticides. His was to be an organic garden, as are all traditional Bedouin gardens. So, some caterpillars had a wee munch on the young plants but not enough to destroy the crop. Then along came some larger pests who were not deterred by the wire fencing. The camels! They had a BIG munch on the growing watermelons so Eid’s harvest was disappointingly small. Next year, Eid plans on spending more time in Zaranik so that he can keep a better eye on his crops!
Despite the small harvest, Eid delivered on his promise of baby watermelon fettah (sometimes spelled fata, fatta or fattah). Fettah, in this sense, basically means “small bits of broken bread.” It is a popular dish in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries – Morocco, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and others – each with their own unique variation. But Eid’s watermelon fettah just may be my favorite! The taste was delicious – smoky and full of garlic – and the texture perfect, chewy with a little bit of crunch from some of the more toasted bits of bread.
Although the Bedouin make several types of fettah, the baby watermelon fettah is a special dish that is not made very often. In fact, these days, it is unknown to many Bedouin, especially those living along the coast. In the past, when there was more rain and hence more gardens, this fettah was prepared more often. Many, many thanks to Eid for sharing this delicious tradition with me!
Fettah 3ajar requires only a short list of simple ingredients: young watermelons, chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Tomatoes are optional (and in my opinion, a tasty addition). And of course, flour, water, and salt are needed to make the tab-banna, the Bedouin bread baked under hot coals.
The first step, after getting your fire started, is to roast the baby watermelons. If you are using tomatoes, they won’t need as long to cook so don’t put them on the fire quite yet.
As the melons grill, prepare the dough for the tab-banna by mixing flour, water, and a bit of salt. Leave the dough to set as you wait for the veggies to grill.
Place the dough beneath the coals.
Chop the garlic and chili peppers. By now, the grilled melons should be cool enough to handle. Remove the charred skin and rinse with water. Put the melon, tomatoes, garlic, salt, and chili peppers into a bowl and mash together with a fork.
At this point, stop to check on the tab-banna. It will need to be flipped over and covered again in the hot coals. Continue baking, checking often until the bread is ready.
Once it is baked and the sand dusted off, it is ready to become fettah! Eid placed the tab-banna on an empty flour sack and began pounding the bread with a heavy stone. Once the bread has had a good beating, it will be easier to break up into small bits, which is the next step.
When all the bread has been broken into bits, mix the pieces into the bowl with the mashed roasted fruit. Add some olive oil and stir together thoroughly. Empty the fettah onto a large serving platter. Give everyone a spoon and dig in!