Recipes From The Palestinian Kitchen
Mezze plates. All photographs by Mr Matt Russell, courtesy of Bloomsbury
A taste of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank from author, campaigner and cook Ms Yasmin Khan.
The Saffron Tales, the sensational first book from author, campaigner and cook Ms Yasmin Khan, enticed a global readership into exploring the heady delights of Iranian cuisine, garnering awards and high praise from the likes of Ms Nigella Lawson and Mr Yotam Ottolenghi. Her follow up, Zaitoun: Recipes and Stories From the Palestinian Kitchen, published this summer, is currently riding high in the book charts – and understandably so, given its tantalising array of vibrant, simply conveyed recipes, accompanied by intriguing tales of Palestinian life across Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Ms Yasmin Khan
As with her best-selling debut, Zaitoun (Arabic for “olive”) imbues a population that’s mostly depicted through the desolate lens of conflict with colour and vitality. In Ms Khan’s words, “I was motivated to write The Saffron Tales by a desire to offer a window into a place that I felt was misrepresented, where there were a lot of negative stereotypes – and that very much applies to Palestine and its people. I think that the issue facing the Palestinians is one of the central human-rights issues of our time.”
Prior to becoming a writer, Ms Khan, who was born and mostly raised in Britain by an Iranian mother and Pakistani father, spent a decade as a human-rights campaigner with a focus on Middle Eastern conflict. Even then, she was entranced by the Palestinians’ vibrant cookery and unfailing generosity. As she says, “During intense work trips to gather information for policy reports, whoever I was with would always feed me in the midst of challenging circumstances. Those shared meals offered incredible glimpses into Palestinian heritage and resistance.” Back in London, she gravitated towards replicating these flavours in her own kitchen. “I love Iranian food, but it does take a few more steps. Palestinian food is more plant-based, too.”
In addition to a slate of appetite-spiking, pan-Levantine classics such as shakshuka, hummus and shawarma, Ms Khan illustrates inter-regional culinary variations by way of Gazan specialities including zibdiyit gambari, a prawn and tomato hotpot typical of the blockaded coastal populations’ fish and spice-heavy diet, and a trove of vegetarian mazzeh (mezze) options reflective of Galilean cuisine enjoyed by Palestinians dwelling in the lush, fertile north of Israel. As for the natives of the landlocked West Bank, “the first thing that springs to mind,” says Ms Khan, “is when I learned to cook mansaf, a celebration stew, which is so heavy – it’s lamb, cooked in fermented whey and served over bread and rice, topped with fried pine nuts. It had that earthy groundedness of the desert.”
Having travelled widely, Ms Khan took great care in fine tuning her adaptations. “Palestinian food culture reminds me of Italy in that you can travel from one village to another, and the way that they’d each make a tomato sauce would [seem sacrilegious to the other]. There is that real pride in local produce, and each village will have its special way of braising okra, for example. I put a get-out clause in the beginning of the book: these are my interpretations and things that I enjoyed. And that’s always a good thing, as the best writers write recipes for foods that they love – which, I think, translates to the person cooking them. Food is a really powerful vehicle for celebrating our commonality and bridging cultures and divides – as long as it’s done alongside acknowledgement of the heritage from which recipes are coming from. It would be wonderful if we all delved deeper into everybody’s food cultures.”
Roast aubergines with spiced chickpeas and tomatoes
Ms Yasmin Khan’s Musaka’a
Serves 4 as part of a spread
“I love this dish so much! One of the best things about it is that it tastes better the next day, which happens with a lot of Middle Eastern stews in particular, as they say a dish needs time to rest in order for the flavours to come together, and you definitely get that.”
600g aubergines (around 2 large ones)2 tbsp light olive oil, plus more for the auberginesSea salt and freshly ground black pepper1 onion, finely chopped3 garlic cloves, crushed400g can plum tomatoes400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed2 tsp sugar (any type) Pinch ground cinnamon 1/4 tsp allspice1/2 tsp ground cuminExtra virgin olive oil, to serveChopped coriander, to serve
Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/fan 180ºC/gas 6. Cut the aubergines into 2.5cm chunks. Place in a baking tray, drizzle with some light olive oil, sprinkle over a pinch of salt and then toss to coat. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until soft.
Meanwhile, fry the onion in a large saucepan in the two tablespoons of light olive oil until it’s soft and golden (around 15 minutes). Add the garlic and fry for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, chickpeas, sugar, spices, and salt and pepper. Fill the tomato can up with just-boiled water and add to the pot, too. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, until the chickpeas are very soft.
Add the aubergines and cook for a final 10 minutes, adding more hot water if it looks dry.
Leave to cool to room temperature, before drizzling over plenty of extra virgin olive oil and scattering with chopped coriander.