A $4 meal for a taste of home

For Mayssa, a Syrian mother displaced by conflict, the $4 she rations for each meal is enough to give her three children a little taste of home. What would you be able to make with $4 per meal?

What to cook today? It’s a question posed by many families regardless of their background or nationality. For Mayssa, a Syrian mother of who fled to Lebanon, the priority of her meal planning is cost. “I set a limit of four dollars each meal,” she says.

Before the outbreak of war, Mayssa had never needed to budget for her family’s meals. Mayssa fled Syria in 2013 with her husband Abed, and her three children, Shahed, 10, Amjad, 6, and Omar, 5 after their home was bombed and destroyed. They had hidden in a neighbour’s basement during a bomb attack and emerged to find their house and possessions destroyed. The place they had once called their home was nothing more than a burning pile of rubble. This prompted Abed to ask Mayssa; “what are we still doing here? What more shall we wait for?”

“We knew we would have a hard time supporting our children in Lebanon, but at least they would be safe” said Mayssa. When they first arrived in Lebanon, Abed supported his family by working day and night as a labourer. He travelled daily an hour and a half each way to Beirut to find work.

“My husband provided food and shelter, and we were very grateful. However, in the past two years, his health deteriorated and he couldn’t breathe properly anymore,” said Mayssa. Abed’s asthma had become worse and he was no longer able tolerate the dust and sand. He was forced to choose between his health and his work in construction. Despite the financial setback, Mayssa was happy her husband chose to take care of himself.

Mayssa and her family became forced to rely on income from her sister, Ghayda, though Ghayda also had three children of her own to provide for. “When she learned of Abed’s situation, Ghayda stepped up and informed us that she will work in the field to help us in supporting both families, and she did,” says Mayssa.

Even with Ghayda’s hard work, there was scarcely enough to go around to feed nine people. Mayssa recalled; “every day I woke up and asked myself: how will I feed all six children?”

Mayssa and Ghayda’s situation improved when they were added to World Vision’s monthly cash assistance programme. “I can only say that it was life-changing,” said Mayssa. Receiving the cash assistance meant being able to cook the Syrian meals the children craved; food that reminded them of home.

“I know I have to use the money wisely – even when it comes to food. Therefore, I set a limit of $4 to each meal,” she explained.

Meal preparation has become a family event with Omar helping with the shopping and Shahed helping in the kitchen. Peas and rice is a family favourite and they gather together for lunch each day. “Its delicious!” shouts Omar.

While serving food for her children, Mayssa shared the recipe:

“In a big pot I add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. When the oil is warm enough, I add the meat until it is no longer raw. I then add the peas and mix them with the meat. I wait for a couple of minutes before adding the spices. For this, I use one tablespoon of black pepper and three cubes of Maggi seasoning and I mix. At the same time, I wash the rice. In a separate pot, which I fill most of it with water, I pour in the rice and wait for it to boil. Usually, I use one cup of rice to two cups of water, but when I’m cooking for the entire family, I sort of lose count,”, she joked. “Shahed helps me in stirring the rice every couple of minutes. When the rice is almost done, I add the peas in the same pot. My last step would be adding one tablespoon of salt to the meal. Finally, I turn off the heat and wait for 10-15 min for the meal to cool off.” Mayssa prepared three plates and served in each plate Peas & Rice. In separate glass cups, she poured yogurt and explained, “it is a Syrian tradition to eat yogurt with this meal.”

Ingredients for ‘Peas & Rice’:

1 bag of long-grain white rice
Half a bag of frozen peas
1 tablespoon of Black pepper
3 cubes of Maggi seasoning
2 tablespoons of salt

The Syrian crisis is now in its seventh year. Over a million Syrian refugees currently reside in neighbouring Lebanon. Our work in Lebanon has been providing Syrian refugees with education, WASH, child protection and cash voucher support to households. So far, we have helped 240,886 people in Lebanon, but many more need help. Find out how you can support our work in Syria.