JAMILEH NOHRA

Captured by The Recipe Hunters in Lebanon

Jamileh Nohra, Beirut, Lebanon

Jamileh is known at Souk El Tayeb for her winter preserves and jams. At the restaurant, Tawlet, she is famous for her Tabbouleh. Jamileh has been Lebanon’s first place winner for three years in a row in a Summer Tabbouleh Competition in Beirut. What's her secret? Patience and love; she cuts the parsley slowly and carefully, always making sure she is enjoying herself. Jamileh is very strict about only using locally sourced ingredients. She believes that Lebanon's fertile land has much to offer and that she should respect the land by cooking produce according to it's season. As a testement to her beliefs, Jamileh tells us proudly that she prepares her own bulgur (cracked wheat - a staple in Lebanese cuisine). After cracking the wheat, she leaves the bulgur outside on her sunny roof to dry.  After it's dried she stores it to use in the coming winter months. In short, Jamileh cooks from the land, respecting it's seasons, and making it's good food last the whole year through preserving. 

 

And preserving is where our journey began with Jamileh. We recieved a phone call from the coordinator at the Souk el Tayeb Farmers' Market in Beirut. They wanted to introduce us to someone special, named Jamileh, who has offered to show us how to prepare autumn's harvest for the winter months. She was going to show us how to make a Lebanese winter specialty, pumpkin preserves.

 

A little behind Jamileh...walking into her apartment in Beirut, you will be ushered in the doorway by a dainty little lady, gifted with a kiss on each cheek, and a huge bashful smile. She will offer to fill up your belly, and recount to you countless conversations about her past and her love of cooking. Jamileh has a heart of gold and a yearning to share her story and recipes with anyone and everyone. Originally from the north, she now lives in Saghbine where she spends her free time with her husband, Fandi.

What was your life like prior to Souk el Tayeb?

 

“Prior to the Souk El Tayeb, I would make mouneh for my family and friends (mouneh is the word for the Lebanese pantry which is stocked full after the autmun harvest of jams, preserves, dried grains, dried herbs, and pickles). Before the Souk, every day of my life was basically the same, day after day. I had never made money for myself, I could barely read and write, and I did not have a lot of confidence in myself.

 

My friends heard about the Souk el Tayeb and kept pushing me to go with them because they all knew how much I love to cook and make preserves. I finally went to the market and saw that many of the products being sold were products and preserves that I had been making for years; talk about a confidence boost! After realizing this, I signed up to participate and the very next week I came with the products from my cellar! It went really well, I sold a lot of my preserves and I met a lot of really nice people....I had so much fun! My customers have since turned into my friends and they rely on me being at the Souk El Tayeb to buy my preserves and other homemade food.”

Jamileh's pumpkin preserve recipe

JAMILEH'S PUMPKIN PRESERVE RECIPE

How do you feel about Souk el Tayeb?

 

“The Souk really changed my life and who I am as a person. I changed from an introverted shy person to being very outgoing, having an open life with a reinvigorated purpose. Today I feel confident. I generate my own income, I make my own friends, I am productive, and I add value to people's lives. The Souk also provided me with the means to buy my own car!! In the beginning, my husband, Fandi, and I shared one car and I would use it to drive down to Beirut for the Souk el Tayeb Farmers' Market. A couple years ago, I used my savings to purchase another car for us and you can imagine the satisfaction I felt being able to provide for us!"

How did Jamileh learn to cook?

 

Jamileh was never afraid to ask questions and her curious personality paved the way for her to become an exceptional chef. She was always interested in how others made food and what her friends and relatives liked to eat. Whenever she was at the grocery store or market, and saw someone pick up a peice of produce that she did not know how to prepare, she would ask the person how they were planning on cooking it. She was never hesitant to ask these questions, nor to involve herself in helping others cook. 

Jamileh holding her pumpkin preserves in a mason jar, beirut, lebanon

How did Jamileh become involved with Tawlet?

 

"One day, Kamal told us about Tawlet, the restaurant associated with the Souk El Tayeb Organization, and asked us if we wanted to participate. I remember being one of the first to volunteer and was so excited for a new opportunity to express my passion through food. My first time cooking at Tawlet, I was told to cook enough of my dishes for 60 people. I had never cooked that much food for an event before and was really nervous. I was planning on cooking 7 dishes, but instead of preparing 7 dishes for 60 people total, I prepared 7 dishes that could each feed 60 people. When I arrived at the restaurant with enough food to feed 300 people, everyone just laughed. 

Jamileh Nohra's Preserves
Jamileh's standing behind her preserves at the souk el tayeb market in downtown Beirut, Lebanon

Written by The Recipe Hunters: Anthony Morano and Leila Elamine