Vegetable Fattah: A Summer Meal from Saint Katherine

Step inside the gardens of the Jabaleya Bedouins and monks, and learn how to cook their favourite meal.

Convent of St. Katherine, with Jebel Músá in the Background (1869) by Sgt. James M. McDonaldThe J. Paul Getty Museum

An important pilgrimage

In the center of the South Sinai mountains is the town of Saint Katherine, the site where Moses encountered the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments from God. It is in these mountains that the Saint Katherine monastery was built, and remains the site of religious significance for Christians, but also Jews and Muslims. 

Blossoming almond and apricot trees (2020-03-10) by NawayaNawaya

Saint Katherine: The wadis beyond the monastery

It is an important destination for thousands of pilgrims every year. They visit the monastery sites, and watch the sunrise from Mount Moses. But it is only in the wadis that you can discover the incredible culture of the locals and try some of their delicious food. 

Water pool im Saint Katherine mountains (2020-05-12) by NawayaNawaya

UNESCO World Heritage site

In 2004, the Saint Katherine mountains became designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, homes to rich biodiversity of life. Travelers visit Saint Katherine to hike through the wadis and discover the traditional knowledge of the Jabaleya Bedouin tribe. Medicinal plants, wildlife, animal grazing and rainwater harvesting is essential to sustain their communities over generations in such an isolated region.

Preparing the fire to cook and bake bread (2020-02-08) by NawayaNawaya

Jabaleya tribe and the monastery monks

The Jabaleya tribe and the monastery monks have developed a symbiotic relationship over the centuries. While the monks were guaranteed safety from harm, the Jabaleya guide pilgrims and rent camels to tourists seeking to climb Mount Moses.

Beans and corn in Saint Katherine garden. (2020-06-21) by NawayaNawaya

Step inside the gardens

The Jabaleya tribe upkeep monastery and mountain gardens, where orchards and vegetables gardens sustain the inhabitants of the small town. 

Pears on tree (2020-07-01) by NawayaNawaya

Traditions from Greece and the Byzantine era

The monks brought new fruit tree varieties with them from Greece. They introduced the Jabaleya to the art of managing orchards since the Byzantine era.  

Snow in Saint Katerine (2020-02-26) by NawayaNawaya

The garden design

The gardens are walled with low stone fences, which serve the double purpose of protecting the harvest from grazing animals as well as creating small dams that slow the absorption of rainwater or snow and refill the wells. 

Water pool in Saint Katherine mountains (2020-05-12) by NawayaNawaya

Rain cycles

Heavy rainfall also creates large water pools that can be used for irrigation. Rain cycles used to be regular, every 40 days, but recent years have witnessed more droughts. 

Irrigating the garden (2020-05-13) by NawayaNawaya

Watering the gardens

Today, their upkeep is an important part of keeping the Jabaleya culture alive. In the summer months, as the gardens need more regularly watering, entire families may move there temporarily. 

Nubian goat breed (2020-07-01) by NawayaNawaya

Goats and sheep

Keeping small herds of goat and sheep, the Jabaleya would remain pastoralists in the winter while in the summer tend to their gardens in the wadis. Walled gardens were built out of the main town of Saint Katherine, and involve a couple of hours hike up the mountain.  

Tomato grown in garden in Saint Katherine mountain (2020-09-02) by NawayaNawaya

A garden with an abundance of delights

The gardens produce fruits, fresh vegetables and herbs. 

Sinai Hawthorn (2020-04-27) by NawayaNawaya

Medicinal purposes

The bedouins let nature take its course leaving wild plants to flourish, and sometimes harvest them for medicinal purposes (like rare Sinai Hawthorn). 

Crates of fresh apricots ready to sell at the market (2020-06-24) by NawayaNawaya

Arrival of the apricot

The first crop of the summer season is apricot. 

Plumb tree full of fruit (2020-06-20) by NawayaNawaya

Fruits for all

It is followed by pear, apple, plums, almonds, pistachios, olives, pomegranates, nectarine and lemons.  

Safergel - quince fruit on the tree (2020-07-01) by NawayaNawaya

Delicious quince

Quince is harvested and traditionally turned into a jam. 

Drying tomatoes in a garden (2020-06-21) by NawayaNawaya

Pick and dry

Together they enjoy tending to the orchards and gardens that represents more a source of pleasure and leisurely family time. They pick and dry crops to use all year round. 

Vegetable topping for fattah (2020-09-07) by NawayaNawaya

A special vegetable fattah

Vegetable Fattah is a typical summer garden meal for the Bedouin tribe and monks. Fattah refers to food that involves a layer of bread as a base. 

Vegetables from the garden to make fattah (2020-09-02) by NawayaNawaya

Vegetables from the garden

The bedouins bring flour with them from St Katherine, but the rest of the ingredients are all from their garden. Vegetables in season are used. Zucchini flowers are also used when making a stew. 

Adding the vegetables to the fattah (2020-09-07) by NawayaNawaya

Adding vegetables

A mixed vegetable casserole from the fresh garden harvest is cooked then poured on top of the prepared fattah.  Enough vegetables are made to cover the soaked bread. 

Fattah bel cousa - bread topped with zucchini and vegetables from the garden (2020-09-07) by NawayaNawaya

Adding toppings

The toppings are well mixed together, and served in a large tray for everyone to eat together. 

Baking libba bread in Saint Katherine mountains. (2020-09-09) by NawayaNawaya

Cooking outdoors

The bedouins cook outdoors. They use wood coal to cook and make fresh bread. They bake the bread directly on the coals. 

A fire pit on top of moutains in Saint Katherine (2020-09-09) by NawayaNawaya

Bread base

Once the bread is broken up, it is sprinkled with Afreeg (a dried goat cheese) and Samna Shihi - a herb infused ghee from goat milk. 

Lunch on mountain top in Saint Katherine (2020-09-09) by NawayaNawaya

A summer meal like no other

The vegetable Fattah is a feast for your mouth.

Credits: Story

Curator: Laura Tabet
Writer: Dalia Bassiouny
Research: Aurelia Weintz
Photography: Aurelia Weintz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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