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November 2002-April 2009Excavating Hierakonpolis
Ali, our cook
Ali, who comes from a nearby village, is a hotel chef in Alexandria in the summer months but prepares wholesome, traditional meals for us during the excavation season.
Cold and wind from late December through February call for extraordinary measures in the field. Here our workmen form a human windbreak.
Spoons up!
The crew gives Ali's lentil soup a spoons up!

All photos courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition. Click on images for larger versions.
by Renée Friedman

What's for Dinner?

Ali's Baba Ganoush

In 1997, our cook Ali shared his secret baba ganoush recipe with readers of Nekhen News, the newsletter of the Friends of Nekhen, a nonprofit organization of our supporters. This season, we'll try to coax his meatball recipe out of him.

Take two medium-to-large purple eggplants and bake at 350 degress for 30 minutes, or toast them in a small frying pan (or on the lid of a tin coffee can, which actually works better) over medium-high heat until soft all over and the skin is slightly singed. Peel the eggplants; the skin should fall away easily from the softened pulp. Place the pulp in a plate and mash lightly with a fork or use a food processor. Squeeze three small (or one large) lemons and mix juice with the eggplant pulp. Add plain liquid tahini (available from any Middle Eastern store); a small amount will do. Mix in increasing amounts of tahini until the mixture gets stiff; adding water or more lemon juice to thin and soften the mixture to the desired consistency. Add a pinch of ground cumin to taste and then add anywhere between two and ten crushed cloves of garlic, depending on your taste (we like it hot!). Top with parsley. Serve with pita bread, raw vegetables, salad, falafel, or kofta (meatballs).

Ali's Hierakonpolis Shurbit Ads (Lentil Soup)

Most people tend to picture Egypt as sun-drenched and warm, but the winters can be very cold and windy, especially in the desert. After a chilly day fighting the wind, nothing warms you up like a bowl of Chef Ali's lentil soup. The recipe has been a carefully guarded secret for years, but super-sleuth Art Muir managed to capture the information at long last. It only took him three hours of shadowing Ali around the kitchen. Art and Ali have kindly agreed to share this recipe with us below. Everyone in the Hierakonpolis Expedition gives it a spoon's up!

For 8 to 10 Servings

Coming to the Hoffman House for lunch after a long morning of work in the field, nothing is more satisfying than Chef Ali's famous red lentil soup.

2 1/4 cup red lentils
3 tomatoes diced
2 medium red onions diced
3 small carrots peeled & diced
3 quarts boiling water (approx.)
1 Tbs tomato paste (rounded)
2 Tbs pressed garlic (scant measure)
cooking oil or olive oil (small amount)
2 large cubes chicken stock
1 tsp ground cumin (rounded)
1 tsp salt (rounded)
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
Chef Ali prepares to make his famous lentil soup.
1/3 cup finely broken extra thin vermicelli/angel hair pasta
This very fine pasta usually comes wound in "nests" and is 1 mm (>1/16") in diameter.
  1. Wash lintels in pan of water 3 times, pouring off debris.
  2. Add 2 quarts of boiling water and the diced vegetables and cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add additional water to replace lost water--amount depending on soup thickness desired.
  3. Drain through colander into another pan and press pulp through with a spoon until about 1/2 cup remains, which is then discarded. (This is Ali's method--alternately it may be more convenient to puree the soup in a blender or with a blender wand.)
  4. Mix tomato paste with 1 cup boiling water.
  5. Put pressed garlic in a small pan, add a bit of oil, and cook until lightly browned.
  6. Add the tomato paste solution to the garlic, boil for 3 minutes, and then add to the soup.
  7. Add crumbled chicken stock cubes, cumin, salt & paper and simmer a few minutes.
  8. Add the finely broken pasta and simmer for another 20 minutes or so. (Presumably this is for thickening, so an alternate thickening agent could be substituted.)

(As observed by Art Muir 1/20/03)


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