Auntie Claire is my grandfather’s sister. She lived her whole life in Gaza, as that is where our father’s side is from. Growing up, I always heard stories of how she was such a phenomenal cook. Whenever we mention her name, my dad will always say “Auntie Claire is one of the best cooks, her Za’atar is just….!” and it is as if he is transported in time and tasting her own Za’atar blend again. What is interesting is the last time my dad had her cooking, he was just a young boy. How lovely is it that taste can create such strong memories in life and childhood?
We came upon this recipe in my grandmother’s, Tata’s, recipe book. It was hand written in Arabic actually by my Jido (grandfather) William. He had the most distinct and admirable handwriting in both English and Arabic. With my mom’s diligent help we were able to translate it to share it with all of you. It is surreal, and really just beautiful, that Tata, Jido William and Auntie Claire’s memories continue to live on through hand written recipes like this.
When we were baking these cookies (….at 11pm at night!) my dad was soundly asleep, as one generally should be at that time. But kid you not, the smell of these cookies woke him up! He came into the kitchen and said with excitement “I am smelling a very familiar smell” and again was instantly transported in time. When we showed him these cookies, he smiled ear to ear as it had been years since he last had them. These cookies are absolutely delicious. The mix of fennel, anise, sesame seeds and black seeds, create a complex flavor profile for this relatively easy to make cookie. This cookie is like the Arabic version of biscotti, and naturally goes well with tea or coffee. This is Three TEAS Kitchen after all — everything goes well with tea per usual.
This post has me reflecting on the importance of spending time with family and friends, slowing down, and savoring both food and time. This is what life is all about. The sense of smell and taste create some of our fondest memories, and requires being present in the moment to truly treasure. Maybe take some time today to think about which moments or foods bring you nostalgia, maybe recreate those moments, or maybe take the time to make your own to share with those around you. I’m pretty sure it will be time well spent.
- 3 lbs white flour (~6 cups)
- 1 tsp mahlab powder See recipe for Kakat Mahlab for more information on the spice mahlab
- 1 cup room temperature butter (or ghee if preferred)
- 1 cup canola oil
- 5 tbsp anise
- 5 tbsp fennel
- 1 cup sesame seeds
- 3 tbsp black seeds (Nigella seeds)
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup water
- Preheat oven to 450F.
- Mix anise, fennel, and mahlab together. Add this blend to the flour.
- Add sesame seeds, black seeds and yeast to the flour mix.
- Combine oil and butter to flour until just mixed.
- Mix sugar into water.
- Now add sugar mixture into flour mix.
- With your hand knead the dough mixture for about 5 minutes.
- Roll out dough to be about 1/4" thick. If it works better for your space, separate the dough in half, and roll out each half individually.
- Use a cookie cutter (as shown in this picture) with an outer and inner circle to create the shape of the cookie.
- Bake in oven for about 10 minutes.
- Enjoy as a dessert or snack with tea or coffee.