Are you hungry for change? Don’t know where to start to make a difference in this world? Me either. But I am lucky enough to have connected with CWS (I’m on the board) and their partner, Australian-based Act for Peace, so I can take on the challenge of eating the rations of a Syrian refugee for one week. More on the Ration Challenge in a minute. But first…
Why???? The Refugee Crisis.
Too often we turn on the news and there is nothing but bad news. Overwhelming problems with seemingly no solutions. However….conflicts that have the potential to divide us could actually lead us to meaningful impact, meaningful change were we to unite. The crisis in Syria has been going on for more than 8 years. During that time, hundreds of thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble. The numbers are staggering. Millions of men, women and children around the world have been forced out of their homes because of conflict or natural disaster. They desperately need somewhere to resettle and rebuild their lives, but there aren’t enough countries willing or able to respond to that need. Refugees spend an average 27 years in camp.
It’s a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale. And one that we can, and must, respond to.
If you dig deeper than the headlines, you will find that the 25 million displaced beyond their own country’s borders are just like us. They are mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters. And they want to NOT worry about food or a roof over their heads. They want to work so they can send their children to school. Right now, if they are “lucky,” they will find a refugee camp in a nearby country. Global humanitarian relief agencies, CWS among them, provide aid to these refugees. Ration kits top the list of critically needed aid. Boxes are delivered to camps and are packed to feed a family of six for a one-month period. Often there aren’t enough boxes to service the entire camp, so a committee of volunteer refugees makes the difficult decision on deciding which families need it most.
What is the Ration Challenge?
The Ration Challenge is a global campaign to raise awareness and funds by eating the rations of a Syrian refugee living in Jordan for one week. It gives only a glimpse of refugee life. My ration kit is like those delivered to camp, except it’s just for me and just for one week. Unlike those in camps, I have a place to live, am not recovering from recent trauma and I not only know that my family is alive, I know where they are. Here is what my kit looks like and what’s on the menu for the upcoming week.
I started yesterday with mujadara. It’s normally rice and lentils and a whole lot of flavor from onions and spices, but this is just rice and lentils. I have already eaten it four times in two days. The photo on the right is the mujadara from my blog. Remember how great the house smelled after fixing that delicious dish? It’s a far cry from plain rice and lentils. To be fair, I am able to use salt and pepper. These are two treats I have earned by raising money. These fundraising incentives – or rewards – allow me to add a few items throughout the week – one vegetable, a 4-ounce protein, a 12-ounce beverage. I don’t talk about the rewards much because this is not about me. But the Ration Challenge creators have cleverly added these incentives to symbolize the resilience and resourcefulness of refugees. If allowed by local laws, refugees hustle to complete odd jobs, trading and selling handcrafts, so that they can supplement their rations.
How Can You Help?
This campaign raises awareness from all of us that talk about it. It increases empathy and understanding by (simulating) walking in their shoes for a mere nano-second. But so importantly, it raises funds to be part of the solution. I am grateful to the many who have already donated to this campaign. My very generous friends, colleagues, followers and family have raised enough to provide access to life-saving medical specialists for more than 330 people!!! I repeat – for 330 PEOPLE!! Wouldn’t it be great if we could make it a nice round 500? Or in food terms, it would only take a few more donations to provide 20 Syrian refugees food for an entire year!! All money raised goes to providing food, education and medical care, as well as support the ongoing work of CWS to help vulnerable people rebuild their lives in safety. Can you please join me in supporting this life-changing cause with your tax-deductible donation??!!
One of my dear friends and fellow CWS board member Vy Nguyen is himself a refugee, fleeing from Vietnam at the age of four on the back of a motorbike, while leaving half his family behind. He recently wrote a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle that breathtakingly recounts his harrowing journey, all juxtaposed against the lessons he hopes to teach his own four-year-old today. Lessons of empathy and compassion. Prayers that his son not only knows what it means to belong, but how to welcome the stranger among us. ❤️
25 million. That’s the staggering number of those internationally displaced. As a statistic its unimaginable. But lest we forget, it is made up entirely of individual people and families, all with stories of endless suffering and brave endurance in the face of life-threatening challenges. They are us. We are them. Just under a different set of circumstances. My tiny glimpse into their lives through rationing has increased my empathy 1000-fold.
I appreciate the compassion and care that my community here at Palate. Passion. Purpose. shares. I thought you’d love this bumper sticker I pinched from a fellow challenger on Facebook. Doesn’t it say it all?
Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to this cause near and dear to my heart. And no matter what, please share your support via the comments below!! Thank you!!!
Photos in addition to mine are courtesy of CWS, The Ration Challenge, and Act for Peace.
Muja what? I can hear you from here. Mujadara! You can spell it many ways and you can cook it even more. This dish – a combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF – seems a lovely way to break bread and bow our heads in solidarity to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. #GreaterAs1 The culinary roots of mujadara date back to Genesis, when Jacob bought Esau’s birthright with a meal of lentils. While the version I share here with yogurt and caramelized shallots is more Lebanese, the dish is also popular with Syrian and Egyptian Jews who historically tend to eat it twice during the week: a simple (hot) meal for Thursday before a more elaborate Shabbat, and then again cold on the Sabbath. Mujadara often serves as a Lenten dish for Arab Christians.
Some versions of mujadara let the caramelized onions do all the talking. But given it’s the coldest dreariest time of year, I have added all the wonderful pungent spices that you might find in other Middle-Eastern dishes: coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and plenty of pepper. Trust me; they will brighten your mood. When I can, in a dish like this, I use whole spices (not peppercorns, but cumin and coriander, yes!) Since they will be simmering in liquid for a while, there is sufficient time to soften them up. As usual, they get a few minutes in oil before the liquid to toast them and to allow the spices to release their fragrance. Rarely will I add any spice directly to liquid. I can always taste that raw spice in the back of my throat if I was in too big of a hurry to take that one measly moment that I needed to toast it. For shame.
You may also notice that I have added a healthy dose of greens to this version of mujadara. Because I can. And because it’s winter and because they are good for you and because they add a hit of color. I know it seems like a lot, but I have made it with half that and prefer it with a generous portion. Up to you. (More, more, more, more.)
And a note on the crispy shallots: they really are caramelized not crispy here. If you want to make crispy shallots – which would be a great texture contrast – you really need to use a lot more oil and fry them. That’s not really the way I roll, but I do love the taste and texture. If you are leaning that way, you should make sure the thinly sliced shallots are patted dry and then toss them in a 50/50 combo of flour and cornmeal. Heat several cups of oil to about 300oF and drop the shallots in, frying til crispy, draining on paper towels. I used to do something similar for a lentil salad at New World Grill and while we didn’t have a deep fryer – the horror – let’s just say our technique was not far off. I. Just. Can’t. (But by all means!)
Mujadara is a warm and wonderful combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF.
1 1/4 cup brown or green lentils
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 shallots, very thinly sliced by hand or in a food processor
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 bay leaf
2 5-ounce packages (about 8 cups) mixed greens, like kale, chard, and spinach, chopped
Zesty Yogurt Dip
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon whole coriander, toasted and coarsely cracked
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Zest of one lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped mint
Make the Mujadara:
Par-cook the lentils by simmering in a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water for 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and reserve the lentils.
Divide the olive oil, placing 2 Tablespoons in a large skillet and heat over medium. When the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and cook until well browned and crispy, about 30 minutes. As the shallots brown, remove and transfer to a paper towel and drain. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. If making this ahead, store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight container, once cooled.
Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a stockpot with a tight-fitting lid and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped onion to the stockpot, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in rice and sauté 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon stick, allspice, black pepper, and cayenne; sauté for one minute until fragrant.
Add 2 cups water to the pot, along with the bay leaf, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the reserved lentils. Cover and simmer over very low heat until the lentils and rice are almost tender, about 15 minutes more.
Rinse the greens and distribute across the top of the rice and lentil mixture, checking to see if the rice/lentils require any more water. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, until rice and lentils are tender and greens are wilted. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Stir to combine greens.
Make the Zesty Yogurt Dip:
Combine the yogurt, coriander, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. To serve, add the lemon zest and chopped mint.
Makes 1 cup.
Serve topped with crispy shallots and Zesty Yogurt Dip, along with warm pita.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:60 minutes
This makes a great vegetarian entrée, but I took it to a friend’s who just happened to have a big ol’ pot of curried chicken thighs, and it was a match made in heaven. #damndelicious.