Thursday, December 27, 2007

Eid, Meat and Gideed

The highlight of the four hectic days of Eid ul Adha, or the Big Feast as it’s unofficially known, is a barbeque. On the morning of the first day which mark the end of the hajj an udhia is sacrificed, and a portion of the meat given to poor neighbours or to the mosque to distribute. Then there is the marathon job of cutting up the meat, and a grill-up that can be brunch, dinner or everything in between; the latter is what it usually ends up being as friends and family drop by for eid greetings and stay to sample the food.

Supper is a casserole or stew, served with a potato and herb omelette, which is eaten wrapped up in ftat, delicious egg less pancakes. Each family has a particular ‘Eid stew’ and charges of violating sibir are invoked if anyone suggests a little variation.

So the first day, unlike many celebrations, doesn’t revolve around an elaborately prepared banquet, but osban sausages, served on couscous or rice and accompanied by msayar pickles, is the dinner for the second day. Making sausages is a time consuming, labour intensive process; and with all the chopping needed for the osban stuffing of rice, meat, liver, spring onions, parsley, coriander, dill, basil, chillis, and garlic, its lucky that Libyan women know how to turn it into festive activity with gossip, jokes and even impromptu poetry battles; an experienced Haja directing operations from behind the ed’ala paraphernalia, while supplying everyone with cups of tea at a rate which keeps the younger girls busy scurrying back and forth with trays.

But the real distinctive food of Eid ul Adha is not eaten during the Eid at all; instead it provides decorations to rival Cairos’s lights and lanterns announcing Ramadan. But unlike our half-hearted adoption of the Egyptian custom, almost every Libyan garden and balcony is festooned for days after Eid with pylon rope on which meat is hanging out to dry.

Gideed might not bear comparison with Ramadan displays in aesthetic terms, but it does have an illustrious history which rivals the Fatimid era origins of fawanees Ramadan: dried meat has been found buried with Pharaohs to sustain the mummies on their journey to the afterlife, it formed an essential part of the diet of Phoenician sailors, and the nomadic tribes inhabiting the sea of sand that is the Libyan desert also depended on this portable and virtually unspoilable protein and calorie rich food.

Every family sets aside a portion of their udhiaa sheep to make into gideed, marinating well salted strips of meat in olive oil, turmeric and red pepper. Once sundried the meat is chopped into bite-size pieces, then fried and stored in containers sealed with samn and olive oil. It’s more economical than fresh or frozen meat as the intense flavour means a little goes a long way, and it saves time too as it’s precooked, qualities that make it an essential store cupboard standby in Libyan households.

Gideed, tomato paste and water cooked for a few minutes is all that is needed for a versatile base for one pot meals: spicy soups, stews with all knds of vegetables from beans to pumpkin, and the wintertime favourite haja jarya of pasta, rice, cracked wheat or mgata noodles cooked in a rich sauce. The addition of spices, herbs, and pulses like lentils, fenugreek seeds, and chickpeas makes endless variations possible.

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