Olive JarBy Naomi Shihab Nye
In the corner of every Arab kitchen,
an enormous plastic container
of olives is waiting for another meal.
Green tight-skinned olives,
planets with slightly pointed ends—
after breakfast, lunch, each plate
hosts a pyramid of pits in one corner.
Hands cross in the center
of the table over the olive bowl.
If there are any left they go back to
the olive jar to soak again with sliced lemon and oil.
it was a good year for the trees.
At the border an Israeli crossing-guard asked
where I was going in Israel.
To the West Bank, I said. To a village of
olives and almonds.
To see my people.
What kind of people? Arab people?
Uncles and aunts, grandmother, first and second
Do you plan to speak with anyone? he said.
His voice was harder
and harder, bitten between the teeth.
I wanted to say, No, I have come all this way
for a silent reunion.
But he held my passport in his hands.
Yes, I said, We will talk a little bit. Families and
my father's preference in shoes, our grandmother's
love for sweaters.
We will share steaming glasses of tea,
the sweetness filling our throats.
Someone will laugh long and loosely,
so tears cloud my voice: O space of ocean waves,
how long you tumble between us, how little you
We will eat cabbage rolls, rice with sugar and milk,
crisply sizzled eggplant. When the olives come
in their little white boat, we will line them
on our plates
like punctuation. What do governments have to do
with such pleasure? Question mark.
YES I love you! Swooping exclamation.
Or the indelible thesis statement:
it is with great dignity
we press you to our lips.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin, plus more for the yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
2 garlic cloves, grated
3 eggplants, halved lengthwise
Salt and Pepper
1 cup beluga lentils
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup Greek yogurt
Squeeze of lemon
Stir together the olive oil, spices, and grated garlic. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place the eggplants cut side up, on a sheet pan. Spoon some of the oil over each one, making sure each eggplant is well coated. Season generously with salt and freshly cracked pepper. You'll likely have some oil left over; save it to coat the lentils. Roast eggplants for 30 minutes, or until golden and the flesh is tender.
While the eggplants bake, make the lentils. Fill a 4-quart stock pot three-quarters of the way full with water; bring to a boil. Season the water with a few pinches of salt, then add the lentils and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Drain the lentils, then return them to the same pot, then coat them with the reserved spice oil and fold in the pine nuts. Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Season the yogurt with salt and pepper, then stir in 1 teaspoon cumin and a handful of chopped parsley. Add a squeeze of lemon. Plate the eggplant, top with lentils, and finish with a dollop of the yogurt.