Story and photos by Eleni Christou/Community Kouzina.
*This is the seventh post in a special series dedicated to SSI’s collaboration with the Community Kouzina project in the lead up to the New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week 2017.
“I love to eat golden food. Those fried chips… Whenever I see those golden colours, with cheese on top I feel like I need to eat this”. Born in Romania, (where her parents were studying at the time), Nadia grew up in Sweida, Syria to a family of artists and poets. A natural storyteller, Nadia embodies a unique manner of captivating an audience, even by simply describing her penchant for fried food; as Nadia speaks her delivery flows from warm enthusiasm to climatic whispers. As an only child to parents with full time careers; her mother a dentist and her father a textile engineer, Nadia learnt to cook by herself and feed her family at a young age, inspired by the dishes perfected by her grandmother and her aunties. “It is a trend in Syria, and I think also in the Middle East, when someone is good at something, to name the dish after them. My friends and family, they would name the Mahashi after their grandmother or mother, for example ‘Nadia’s Mahashi’. When we have a feast or a dinner, they would be asked to make this one”.
Graduating from Damascus University with a degree in Fine Arts, Nadia’s appreciation for subtle details are evident in her careful coring of the vegetables and aesthetics of presentation; “I always liked projects where I could use my hands”. After working in Syria as Brand Manager for a telecommunications company, it was when Nadia was working in Egypt for an advertising agency that she began to explore and experiment with jewellery design. “In Egypt it was easier to find the materials; the wiring and the rocks. So I took courses. It was hard because I was working full time and I had a family but I love designing”.
Since moving to Australia with her family in 2015, Nadia, has been focusing on furthering her jewellery design business; Mazaj, and showcasing her pieces in artisan markets in Sydney. Mazaj; meaning mood in Arabic, is a reflection of both, Nadia’s appreciation of handmade work, and her innate ability to manifest ambience. The vibrations of Cesaria Evora’s Besame Mucho and the stove top aroma intertwine while Nadia speaks of her future visions for her work . “My dream would be to have a little shop, with a lot of things. Not only jewellery. You know those small things in life that make you happy? I would love to also have food, like nice little sandwiches. Music. Two or three tables with a library and books so people can take their time and relax”.
Mahashi (Stuffed vegetables)
Zucchini, Eggplant and Capsicum, washed and cored (Approximately 10 individual pieces)
Tomato Paste - to taste (approximately 4 tablespoons)
5 Tomatoes - chopped into small pieces
4 Garlic cloves minced
Two teaspoons dry mint leaves
1 Teaspoon Cumin
2 pellets or two tablespoons chicken stock
**Chilli flakes optional
1 cup of long grain rice - soaked for thirty minutes in water
400g mince meat
2-3 teaspoons fresh and dry mint leaves
1-2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 Tablespoons margarine
2-3 Tablespoons chopped parsley
3 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Salt, black and white pepper to taste.
Drain rice and in a large bowl mix with mincemeat, parsley, white and black pepper, molasses, margarine, cumin, and salt, combine with your fingertips until fully blended
Using a teaspoon or your fingers, fill the vegetables 3/4 full, allowing a little room at the top for the rice to expand when cooked
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of water with the tomato sauce ingredients and allow to simmer for 10 minutes
Place stuffed vegetables in the saucepan and cover with a lid. Allow to simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes.