Utshu, A'eish or Bazin
One of the main and most popular dishes in Libya. A traditional, and probably neolithic, dish made of dough and sauce. The dough is kneed into a semi spherical ball and placed in the middle of a large bowel, around which the sauce is poured, making the dish look like a rock island surrounded by water.
The Dough: the first stage is to prepare the flour which then can be stored for up to two years and used when needed: roast the grains in an empty frying pan until golden brown; grind into fine flour; sieve well and store away in a jar. To prepare the dish, take about one kilogram of flour from the mix, boil about third litre of water in a large deep saucepan, and then as the water is boiling keep adding a bit of flour with your hand while mixing with the other hand, using a large wooden ladle. Once you start this, do not stop, just keep adding flour with one hand while mixing in a circular fashion with the other, until the dough becomes hard to stir and the mixture solidifies into dough. Remove the saucepan off the ring, take out the dough, place in a larger bowel, and while wetting your hand with a bit of water (because the dough is still hot) start kneading the mixture into consistent dough, just as you kneed bread, and shape it into a ball, and finally place in the middle of a large bowel and pour the sauce all around. It is eaten by hand by breaking a small bit with your fingers, pulling a small bit down into the sauce and kneading it with the sauce into a tasty lump which you throw into your mouth for further chewing. The traditional type of bazin, especially the one prepared by the mountain people, is very hard to drive the fingers in and thus known as "mountain bazin". This stiff consistency is achieved by boiling the final dough (after it has been prepared as described above).
Doughing: making the dough.
The dough then is worked into a solid dome-shaped lump and placed in the middle of the plate.
The Sauce: any kind of sauce can be used with this. Normally a simple meat and a couple of vegetables is used as follows: fry two large onions, add garlic, turmeric, chili powder, salt and tomato puree, then throw in the lamb chops (or beef or fish) and water, and then cook until the meat nearly done. Add potatoes and pumpkin pieces and further cook until vegetables are done. Pour the sauce around the dough, and serve while hot with lemon (ready to be squeezed into the sauce).
A simple version of white bazin (made of white flour) is normally cooked for breakfast, but eaten with olive oil and date syrup: instead of mounting the dough like a mound, spread flat onto a plate, then sprinkle with olive oil and pour some date syrup in the middle (or alternatively use honey, or sugar, or fenugreek powder instead of date syrup). It is eaten in a similar way: break a small piece of dough, mix thoroughly with oil, dip into the syrup and mix with your fingers a few more times before throwing it into the mouth for further chewing.
The sauce used for this one is made of tomato puree, turmeric, chili powder, potatoes, chicken and fenugreek seeds (still visible at the top). The fenugreek seeds are really unique: strong in flavour and slightly bitter.
The sauce used for this one is made of sour milk (milk that tastes like yogurt) and topped with fenugreek powder
Libyan Traditional Sand Ovens:
Baking Bread in Hot Sand, Ghadames.
The sand in Libya gets really hot in the summer that walking slowly on it with bare feet becomes unbearable; one needs to walk fast just like some walk on embers. Adding some real fire to that, one can imagine the effect on tender dough: instant baking.
Traditional Tuareg way of cooking bread by burying it in hot sand, which is as effective as an oven. The technique can also be used to bake potatoes (jacket potato) and eggs by burying them whole beneath the hearth. A good shake and a couple of whacks renders the bread clean and ready to eat (see photo below).
Local Libyan Bread From Ghadames.
Modern bread: the one on the right is made in the bakery, and the one on the left is home-made tajeen-bread, some of which is made of real wholemeal flour and thus comes out really heavy and tasty.
Libyan Black & Green Tea
One of the most important social occasions in Libya is the daily session of tea drinking. Brings families together, to chat, laugh, discuss and gossip about the highlights of the day and about life in general. Talking in Libya is very important social activity; it firmly bonds the family.
Libyan tea is rather very strong, thick, syrup-like black tea. After boiling water in a traditional tea pot, one adds a handful of red tea leaves, and leaves to boil for a long time (ten to twenty minutes). Remove the pot from the fire, open the lid, add some sugar, and boil again for a few more minutes. The ready tea is then removed from the fire, left to settle for a few seconds, and served in small glasses (as shown in the photo). Normally this is prepared during a chat session, around which members of the family gather together to socialise for an hour or so before they each carry on with their own separate paths, and during which one drinks two rounds of tea (each round prepared as above and lasts about half an hour). The third round is served with roasted peanuts or roasted almonds (mixed with the tea in the same glass).
In special occasions and for those who still follow the old tradition, the tea is first poured into another mug, and then using two mugs, one continuously empties the content of one mug into the other and then back into the original mug for at least twenty or thirty times, to produce what the Libyans call reghwet or reghwa, which can be translated as froth or foam, which is steadily added to one glass at a time as being made. (To see a video of a woman making tea froth, please visit our video gallery and click on the Ghadames video, and forward the video to about the end of the first third of the video.) After all the empty glasses are half-full with froth, the hot tea is poured over the froth and served hot. The trick to produce the froth is to lift one mug as high as possible, by stretching your arm over your head, while pouring the content into the other mug, and then repeat the process by lowering the raised hand and rising the other one, and so on until enough froth has been produced.
After meals, the Libyans traditionally always use green tea to aid digestion, and also help eliminate stomach problems after a heavy meal. It really does work. Green tea is better for you, especially when drank without milk. Adding milk destroys much of the powerful effects of its antioxidants.
One of the main components of tea are antioxidants. The process of oxidation in the human body causes damage to our cells. A free radical is a charged atom that steals an electron from a healthy cell in order to re-establish its own stability, leaving you with a bit of damaged DNA. Given time, the damage accumulates and as a result one ages faster or even dies quicker. Now comes the important role of antioxidants. They talk to the free radicals, and say: hi, I have some free electrons, do you want some? The free radicals, being lazy radicals, care less where the electrons come from, and thus happily take up the free offer and spare your helpless healthy cells the loss of much-needed electrons.
The process of oxidation is accelerated by pollution, alcohol and smoking, and therefore regular supply of green (or red) black tea and vitamins help keep the supply of antioxidants. Ask your Libyan guide to prepare some Libyan tea for you and taste the difference. The above photo is of a tea session we prepared for an Italian group while camping in the desert - in Adiri.