The pleasant aroma coming from the kitchen of a northwest Oklahoma City church means a popular annual event is just a few days away.
Members at St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church are busy preparing for the St. Elijah Food Festival and Holiday Bake Sale, set for Friday and Saturday at 15000 N May.
Church member Susan Harroz said the festival started out many years ago as a project of the women of the church, who wanted to reach out to the community with their unique food items. She said each woman had a specialty dish, such as cheese thalami, a type of bread, Sfeeha, a meat pie, or cabbage rolls.
Eventually, the festival offering primarily Lebanese foods became so popular that other church members were encouraged to help, Harroz said.
She said the festival is the church's best-known community outreach project and an opportunity for members to come together for a common goal.
Recently, Harroz and her daughter-in-law Jessica worked in the church kitchen to prepare meat for Yahknee, a dish that includes beef, tomatoes, green beans and rice.
Jessica Harroz said her husband, Edward Harroz, is this year's festival chairman. She said she looks forward each year to the camaraderie and fellowship as church members prepare for the festival.
“I love this because it is full of life. You walk in and it just shows our heritage so well,” Jessica Harroz said.
Mike Sleem and John Simon helped prepare dough for rolls and other items.
Both men said they learned their baking skills from their mothers, who were part of the group of church women who started the festival. Sleem said the women saw the event as a way to share their ethnic foods with others.
“They say if you want to get to know someone, share a meal with them,” Sleem said.
The men said they didn't hesitate when encouraged to get involved. They approached the baking with the appropriate amount of awe.
“The kitchen was a sacred area. You had to be invited,” Simon said.
In addition to cabbage rolls, thalami, Sfeeha and Yahknee, items to be sold at the festival include tabbouleh, kibba, Kafta sandwiches, baklava, hummus and pita chips and assorted baked goods.