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To Battle Wartime Hunger, Gazans Turn to a Humble Leafy Green

As the Israeli military campaign to destroy Hamas pummeled his neighborhood in northern Gaza, reducing buildings to rubble and forcing residents to flee, the Palestinian laborer realized that he was running out of food.

The shops had closed, the markets had emptied and fighting prevented supplies from reaching them. So he and his remaining neighbors gathered a plant known as khobeza that grew near their homes and cooked it to sustain themselves, he said.

“It supported us more than everyone else in the world,” the laborer, Amin Abed, 35, said recently by phone from Gaza. “People survived the darkest chapters of the war on khobeza alone.”

For many generations, the people of the Holy Land have foraged for khobeza, a hearty green with a taste and texture somewhere between spinach and kale that sprouts in knee-high thickets along roadsides and empty patches of dirt after the first winter rains. Cooks sauté it in olive oil, season it with onions or boil it into soup to make tasty, low-cost meals.

Now, this green, a variety of mallow, is making up an outsize portion of many Gazans’ diets by providing an inexpensive way to blunt hunger. At a time when most other food is largely unavailable or prohibitively expensive, Gazans can harvest khobeza themselves and cook it by itself, or with a few other ingredients.

A displaced man breaking his Ramadan fast with his family. In Gaza, where many ingredients are scarce, families boil khobeza into a soup that can be shared among large numbers of people.Credit…Mahmoud Issa/Reuters

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