Zahra Maqaliya from Mustafa’s Syrian Kitchen

Island Epicure


I thought I didn’t like cauliflower, until I tasted Jamila’s Zahra Maqaliya.

Jamila is at home in the kitchen, whether she is cooking for the seniors at the senior center, cooking with Mustafa in that same kitchen or at Sugar Shack for a crowd, or cooking for her family of seven at home. I watched her cook zahra maqaliya (fried cauliflower), as part of a light vegetarian meal. She divided several cauliflower heads into florets and put them aside. While the vegetable oil heated in the wok, she prepared the seasonings: cumin, ground coriander, sumac, crushed garlic, red pepper powder, lemon juice, and salt. These she mixed together in a large serving dish.

While she worked, she told me about their farms in Syria.

We have 9 farms,” Jamila told me. “We have olive trees, we grow cherries and plums, eggplant, cucumber, watermelons, tomatoes, wheat, everything.” I was imagining small family farms, but when I asked how they sold the vegetables, Mustafa told me, “We grow vegetables for the cities and even ship to Europe. ” Jamila and Mustafa spoke in the present tense; their family in Syria is still working the farms, and Jamila and Mustafa look forward to going back when it is safe. It is harvest time now, and even bombers flying over—12 to 20 a day—can’t keep the workers out of the fields.

When the oil was hot, Jamila added the cauliflower, several pieces at a time, cooking them until just tender. She drained the cooked pieces on paper towels, then stirred them into the seasonings until they were well coated.

Meanwhile Mustafa made a cucumber yogurt soup. “They make this in Turkey too, and in Greece. They call it tziki.” He told me, as he grated a large cucumber. To this he added two cups of yogurt, ½ tsp dried mint, 2 Tbs olive oil, 2 cloves crushed garlic, salt, and water to taste.

Next he pulled out a gallon jar with his home made pickled carrots and vegetables and put them in a smaller serving dish.

Now we were ready to eat! Mustafa, Jamila, 10 year old Iylaf, and I sat at the table, while the rest of the family sat on a cloth on the floor in a more traditional style of eating. Iylaf showed me how to tear off a piece of Arab bread and fold it around some of the cauliflower. No need for forks there!

It was so good, I had to make some for my family. I’m a little less organized in the kitchen than Jamila, though, so I didn’t start the oil heating until I had the seasonings mixed.

Zahra Maqaliya
For one head of cauliflower, I used:
2 cloves crushed garlic
juice of one lemon
a scant tsp of medium red pepper powder (Aleppo is good)
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp sumac
1 scant tsp salt
Mix these together in a large serving dish.

Deep fry the cauliflower until tender but not mushy. Drain on paper towels. Roll in the seasoning mixture until well coated. Serve with Arab bread (we used burrito shells). We served this with steamed green beans and soup.

Mustafa and Jamila just got their catering permit! Mustafa’s Syrian Kitchen cooks for any size crowd. For information contact Mustafa at 206-458-2450 or Jmila at 206-466-9597, or email