My Mom’s Monthly Gathering, Istekbal

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Have you ever heard of forced party? As I get more and more busy with my business and daughter’s activities, I lament the days gone by when my mom had her Istekbal. Growing up in Syria, I used to tease my mom about her Istekbal. She use to tell me that was a way for her and her friends to force themselves to have at least couple of hours a week to get together, visit, eat, laugh, and relax.

Istekbal is a tradition that started about 200 years ago in Damascus when men and women did not socialize together. My mother and her women friends liked the freedom of not having men in this special meeting. They enforced the “No Male Zone” even though they mixed and socialized as couples on other occasions.

Each woman would have a designated day in the month to have her friends and relatives visit her. For my mom it was the first Monday of each month. She would chase my dad to the coffee shop, and order my brothers to go to there room or visit friends.

The hostess of the day would have a wide variety of savory appetizers, sweets, and tabbouli salad. The guests were served apricot juice with rose water and pine nuts, hot black tea, and Turkish coffee. The visit could last three hours. The ladies would dance, sings, comfort each other, and of course gossip. Talk about total therapy.

Here are a couple appetizers that my mom served in her Istekbal. These dips are easy to make, are colorful, and would be a welcome change in your party.

Sweet and Sour Beet Dip (Makes 4 cups)

4 beets

1 clove garlic, mashed

Zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup plain yogurt

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)

Salt to taste

Boil the beet until soft. Remove from the heat, cool and peel. Mash the beet and then add the rest of the ingredients. Blend well. You will have a spread with stunning color.

Spicy Hummus (Makes 4 cups)

3 cups cooked garbanzo beans

5 cloves garlic

1 cup water

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seeds paste)

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

In a food processor, place garbanzo beans with the garlic and the water and process until smooth paste. Add the lemon juice and the tahini and process until well mixed. Spoon into a bowl; add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Adjust the seasoning and chill at least one hour before serving.


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