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Not just a chicken soup – creative director Hamzeh Alfarahneh on cooking during lockdown

Not just a chicken soup – creative director Hamzeh Alfarahneh on cooking during lockdown
Illustrative image | sources: Unsplash / Pxhere / pngwave / pinclipart / pngguru / pngwave / EPA/Kim Ludbrook Illustrative image by Leila Dougan and Malibongwe Tyilo | sources: Unsplash / Pxhere / pngwave / pinclipart / pngguru / pngwave / EPA/Kim Ludbrook/ Hamzeh Alfarahneh

The pandemic has affected all aspects of life and the world of design, art, and culture is no exception. In this series, we talk to artists, creatives, designers and musicians about their work and what inspires them during these surreal times.

When Cape Town-based and Jordan-born Hamzeh Alfarahneh moved to South Africa, he enrolled at university to pursue a degree in Fine arts: Fashion design. Today, the self-proclaimed multidisciplinary designer and storyteller is the creative director at the helm of proto~, the store at A4 Arts Foundation; he is also the founder of Not Just A Comb, a “half-design half-community outreach programme, with a mission to instill fun, colour, and creativity one object at a time”.

NOT JUST A COMB at GUILD store 9 (Image courtesy of Hamzeh Alfarahneh)

Not Just A Comb – African Tassel – Red (Image courtesy of Hamzeh Alfarahneh)

Today, as the world has come to a halt, he ponders on what the lockdown means to him and how can he adjust to the changes so that the projects he was working on survive and flourish.

“I have always been intrigued by the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’; given our current circumstances fighting a global pandemic, I find it more relevant than usual. The glass-half-full guy in me wholly believes that the 21-day lockdown effort to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 virus can be a time for positive reflection. This is of course not discounting the harm that this pandemic has caused, and will most likely cause in the near future.

“For the first time in a very long time, this crisis has made me stop, recompose myself and re-evaluate the most mundane things in my life. The routines that I and many others take for granted, like waking up early, rushing to the gym, picking up the laundry, the constant running from meeting to meeting and squeezing in a little bit of work here and there, are not present to structure our days. At the beginning of the lockdown, I was adamant to prove to myself that my routine will not be interrupted. Business will carry on as usual! How naive of me; business is not as usual!…

“My life now is slower, although still as busy with proto~, the store at A4 Arts Foundation, and with Not Just A Comb (NJAC) … where I am in the midst of designing our new collection or ‘vision’ as we like to call it.

“My days have less disruptions, no minutes wasted waiting for and travelling in Ubers for one. So, I took the decision to concentrate my energy for the duration of the lockdown on two personal projects; first, my wellbeing and secondly, keeping a cooking diary of the recipes that I am concocting throughout the lockdown in the hopes that I can publish them as a ‘zine of sorts.”

Hamzeh Alfarahneh Portrait in makeshift office (Image courtesy of Hamzeh Alfarahneh)

(Image courtesy of Hamzeh Alfarahneh)

Cooking diary research (Image courtesy of Hamzeh Alfarahneh)

Alfarahneh was lucky to be able to convert a section of his living room into a makeshift studio/office, closing temporarily the top of his out-of-tune grand Steinway piano to turn it into an improvised studio table that “hosts prototypes, research papers, books, needles, shears and other studio apparatus”. While both proto~ and the foundation are closed, he is working with the foundations on finding new ways to keep fulfilling the store’s mandate: showcasing and assisting the many artists, designers, and creators that they work with. Aside from his projects, Alfarahneh spends his time trying out new recipes for an eventual cookbook.

Zaatar muffins from his quarantine cooking diary (Image courtesy of Hamzeh Alfarahneh)

“Cooking provides me with an outlet to decompress; it is a way to connect with my Levantine culture and a place where I can experiment with ingredients, techniques and practices. It is, without a doubt, the part of my day that I look forward to the most”, he says. Here is the recipe he shared with us.

Hamzeh Alfarahneh’s Chicken soup with freekeh

Ingredients; serves 4:

  • 225g freekeh 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 500g chicken pieces
  • (can use half a chicken)
  • 1  sweet onion quartered
  • 2  celery sticks cut into chunks
  • 2  carrots cut into chunks
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2  bay leaves
  • 5  cardamom pods lightly cracked
  • Salt 1Tbsp
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

As explained by A Wright, in Did You Know: Food History, freekeh is an unripe hard wheat that is mainly used in the Levantine and North African kitchen. The grain undergoes a unique process of roasting in its production. The harvested young green wheat grains are arranged in small piles, left to dry in the sun, and then set on fire. The blaze is carefully controlled so only the straw and chaff burn and not the seeds –the high moisture content of the seed prevents them from burning. The grains then go through another round of thrashing and sun-drying to produce a uniform texture and flavour profile. The result is an earthy and smoked flavour. The first known literary mention of freekeh appears in the 13th Century cookery book Kitab al-Tabikh by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi.

If you don’t have freekeh at home, you can substitute it with pearl barley, however, it will alter this dish’s flavour.

Spread the freekeh on a baking sheet and pick out any stones or chaff. Check your packaging; many brands nowadays sell freekeh that has been pre-cleaned. Place in a strainer and give it a rinse under running water. Then place in a bowl and fill it with enough water to cover the grains; leave the freekeh in the bowl to soak.

To prepare your stock, heat up the olive oil in a pan under medium heat. Add onions and the chicken to the pan and reduce the heat. After three minutes, flip the chicken and cook for a further three minutes. Add the celery, carrots, water, bay leaves and cardamom and leave to simmer.

As the stock simmers, you will notice a foamy white layer forming; this is all the fat from the chicken.

Skim the foam and lower the heat on the pot and leave to cook for about 12 minutes. Add salt to taste and remove from heat.

With a ladle, transfer the stock to a new pot removing all of the bits and pieces with a wire strainer. Set the chicken aside and shred once it cools down, then add to the stock.

Drain the freekeh and add it to the stock. Let it cook for 15 minutes. The freekeh should look fluffy and have a bit of a bite once cooked. Serve the soup in a bowl with a sprinkle of parsley and a thick slice of bread. DM/ ML

If you would like to share your stories, ideas or suggestions with us, please leave a comment below or email us at [email protected] and [email protected]

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