Olive JarBy Naomi Shihab Nye
In the corner of every Arab kitchen,
an enormous plastic container
of olives is waiting for another meal.
Green tight-skinned olives,
planets with slightly pointed ends—
after breakfast, lunch, each plate
hosts a pyramid of pits in one corner.
Hands cross in the center
of the table over the olive bowl.
If there are any left they go back to
the olive jar to soak again with sliced lemon and oil.
it was a good year for the trees.
At the border an Israeli crossing-guard asked
where I was going in Israel.
To the West Bank, I said. To a village of
olives and almonds.
To see my people.
What kind of people? Arab people?
Uncles and aunts, grandmother, first and second
Do you plan to speak with anyone? he said.
His voice was harder
and harder, bitten between the teeth.
I wanted to say, No, I have come all this way
for a silent reunion.
But he held my passport in his hands.
Yes, I said, We will talk a little bit. Families and
my father's preference in shoes, our grandmother's
love for sweaters.
We will share steaming glasses of tea,
the sweetness filling our throats.
Someone will laugh long and loosely,
so tears cloud my voice: O space of ocean waves,
how long you tumble between us, how little you
We will eat cabbage rolls, rice with sugar and milk,
crisply sizzled eggplant. When the olives come
in their little white boat, we will line them
on our plates
like punctuation. What do governments have to do
with such pleasure? Question mark.
YES I love you! Swooping exclamation.
Or the indelible thesis statement:
it is with great dignity
we press you to our lips.
Sizzled Eggplant with Yogurt and Almonds
Slices of eggplant sauteed in a pan with generous amounts of olive oil until melting and tender on the inside but just crisped on the outside. They truly sizzle as they cook. A simple topping of thick yogurt and some almonds and parsley.
4-5 small size (5-6 inches long) firm eggplant
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt or labane
1 small lemon
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup blanched almonds
pinch or two of Aleppo pepper or other mild chili pepper
equipment: optional, but a splatter screen is nice to have here
1. Trim off the top and bottom of the eggplant and then slice it vertically into thick strips. Sprinkle salt on one side of the strip.
2. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large pan over medium (not high!) heat. The olive oil should fill the bottom of the pan by about 1/4 inch deep. When the olive oil is hot, add the first batch of eggplant slices, salt-side up, being sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook until lightly browned on the first side and the eggplant is almost totally tender when pierced with a knife, this could take as long as five to seven minutes. Flip the eggplant slices over as they are ready, sprinkle the opposite sides with salt, and let cook until browned and lightly crisped on the outside, but still very tender in the middle. Keep an eye on the heat and adjust it as necessary. Remove eggplant slices to drain on paper towels.
3. Repeat the process in batches with the remaining eggplant slices, topping up the olive oil as necessary.
4. Place your yogurt in a bowl and zest the lemon into the bowl. Halve the lemon and squeeze the lemon juice from half the lemon into the yogurt. Season with a big pinch of salt and stir to mix well.
5. Arrange a layer of eggplant slices in the bottom of your dish. Drizzle some yogurt, sprinkle parlsey and Aleppo pepper over top. Repeat the layering of eggplant with yogurt, herbs and spice.
6. Finally, heat up that same pan you were using for the eggplant, and saute the almonds in the pan until lightly browned all over. Pour the toasted almonds over the top of the eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and serve.