Learn How to Prepare Smoked Olive Oil
By Malak Hasan
It’s olive harvesting season in Palestine. This festive occasion takes place during October and November and brings together all Palestinians in a show of solidarity and communal support. Every year, Bisan and I join families in different cities and villages to help them harvest their land and learn about their olive harvesting traditions.
In this postcard, we wish to share a unique experience we enjoyed in the village of Beitin, located just five kilometers northeast of Ramallah. We consider it special because it was the first time we learned about smoked olive oil, known in Arabic as zeit baddudeh.
Umm Muhareb from Beitin invited us to her house at 5 in the morning to show us how she smokes zeit baddudeh and prepares taboon bread in her backyard. She does this not only for her family but also for other people who bring her some of their olive harvest to smoke.
First, Umm Muhareb brought a large metal tray and covered it with a huge pile of dried olive branches and dried prickly burnet. Then, we poured a large sack of ripe black olives over these branches. Umm Muhareb prefers to use black olives because they yield more oil and taste better when smoked. I had the honor of lighting a fire under the branches.
In seconds, we were standing before a large fire and smelled the powerful scent of zeit baddudeh that filled the air around us. Umm Muhareb used a wooden stick to poke the fire occasionally and moved the branches around to make sure that every olive got a hint of fire and smoke. Before we knew it, the fire had burned itself out, revealing a tray filled with lightly charred black olives.
We gathered around the tray and started collecting the olives, throwing them into a large metal bowl covered by a very thin headscarf. After we had gathered all the olives, Umm Muhareb rolled up her sleeves and started squeezing the olives to extract the baddudeh oil. Once she had prepared what could be described as an olive paste, she picked up the four sides of the cloth in one hand and, using her other hand, started spinning the package to squeeze out and strain the oil into the bowl, leaving behind pits and skins.
Finally, Umm Muhareb poured the freshly squeezed zeit baddudeh into transparent bottles and asked us to wait. She went to her taboon oven and uncovered a large bowl of fresh dough, cut off a small piece, flattened it using her two hands, and then laid it on a bed of scorching stones. In seconds the dough started to bubble and turned into a loaf of taboon bread. Handing us the hot bread, she asked us to taste it with the smoked zeit baddudeh. The flavors were simply phenomenal!
It was then that I realized how much we still don’t know about the many amazing olive harvest traditions you can find in every corner of Palestine. These are traditions and ways of life that our ancestors invented and lived by, and we are fortunate to have these traditions as part of our Palestinian heritage.
Malak Hasan and Bisan Alhajhasan are the founders of Ahlan Palestine, a travel blog that promotes tourism in Palestine. You can watch how to make zeit baddudeh if you follow their Instagram page