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The Gaza Kitchen book tour in the Washington DC metro area is off to a fantastic start.  The Palestine Center hosted the cookbook’s authors, Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt, on Friday for a discussion and catered lunch of dishes from the book. Rumaniyya, dagga, and ujjit zahra were featured and devoured with approval by attendees. The event was livestreamed online as well.  Later that evening, Laila and Maggie spoke to students at American University as a finale to their Israeli Apartheid Week series.

Laila and Maggie explain the political situation in Gaza to the full house crowd at the Palestine Center

Laila and Maggie explain the political situation in Gaza to the full house crowd at the Palestine Center

On Saturday morning Laila was invited to speak at a plenary session of Amnesty International’s annual Human Rights Conference where she was well received on the panel entitled “Dignity and Discrimination Against Women as Drivers of MENA Resistance.” Conference-goers responded enthusiastically to Laila’s remarks and were eager to learn more about the cookbook. That night, the Dar Al-Taqwa Islamic Center in Ellicott City, MD graciously hosted a presentation by Laila and Maggie along with a delicious dinner meal of rumaniyya, dagga, and halawit smid.

Maggie and Laila sign books and engage with attendees after their presentation at Dar Al Taqwa

Maggie and Laila sign books and engage with attendees after their presentation at Dar Al Taqwa

Interest in The Gaza Kitchen is soaring among diverse audiences, and the remaining events in the area are sure to be very popular as well. Still to come this week are launch activities at the Middle East Institute, Darna Restaurant, One More Page Books, and Busboys & Poets. Check out the events calendar or our Facebook page to learn more!

Chef Sara Jenkins and her team at the Lower East Side Manhattan trattoria Porsena present a full tasting menu of recipes from the newly released cookbook The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey (Just World Books, 2013) by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt.

Many thanks to everyone who made this beautiful tribute to the people of Gaza possible.

Music: Kamilya Jubran “Al Shaatte Al-Akhar”

The mid-section of Maggie and Laila‘s time in New York took them to four gigs. These were at All Souls Unitarian Church on the Upper East Side, NYU’s acclaimed Food Studies Center, a private event hosted by the Institute for Middle East Understanding at Manhattan’s swanky Ilili restaurant– and to a guest-cooking demo in the kitchens of Saveur magazine! (For details, read on.) The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey continues to impress at every event, making waves in the NYC social scene and leaving a buzz of interest in their wake. You’ve already heard the bare bones of the first two events, but stick around… Like The Gaza Kitchen‘s moving stories about food, life, and family in the Gaza Strip, the most powerful and compelling parts of any good story are in the details.

A Gaza Kitchen sales table-- also featuring Laila's 'Gaza Mom'

A Gaza Kitchen sales table– also featuring Laila’s ‘Gaza Mom’

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The first half of Laila and Maggie‘s time in New York has been busy. They (and their entourage) have been zipping from event to event to present key aspects of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey to a wide range of different audiences. And New York City is loving them!

Starting off the tour on Sunday, the authors visited Brooklyn’s renowned Book Court:

Here's to the beginning of a great tour!

Here’s to the beginning of a great tour!

The authors and the babies at a private event on Sunday evening.

The authors and the babies at a private event on Sunday evening.

On Day Two, the East Village restaurant Porsena hosted an absolutely fabulous dinner event: Chef/owner Sara Jenkins and her team cooked a menu for all patrons that was exclusively from Gaza Kitchen recipes! There were four courses including eight dishes, and it was delicious from start to finish. That night it was proved beyond a doubt that Laila and Maggie have written a cookbook that is accessible around the world: even in the heart of NYC, we got a little taste of Gazan cuisine!

A beautiful spread, a beautiful night!

A beautiful spread, a beautiful night!

Could not be recommended more highly!

Could not be recommended more highly: stop in if you’re in the area!

On Tuesday, Day Three of the NYC tour, the ladies had a particularly busy day, visiting both the All Souls Unitarian Church on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the NYU Food Studies Center to deliver talks to their respective audiences. The ladies presented together spectacularly, answering questions on anything from the politics of food to the minute subtleties of Gazan cuisine.

Sad you missed out on any of these? No worries, there’s more to come! Maggie and Laila will be giving another talk this Friday night, 7pm, at CUNY Grad Center. (Details here.) And on Saturday, the Bay Ridge restaurant Tanoreen is offering another Gaza Kitchen-themed meal (a brunch), 12:30-3:00 pm. The authors will be there– along with their babies!– at both events. So will copies of The Gaza Kitchen, and of Laila’a fabulous earlier Gaza Mom book, for you to buy and get signed.

Laila and Maggie in NYC, March 2013!

Laila and Maggie in NYC, March 2013!

Laila and Maggie had a roaring success when they launched Gaza Kitchen at Brooklyn’s famed Book Court store last night!

Today, they’re working with Sara Jenkins, the chef/owner at Porsena in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, helping her finetune preparation of the ‘Gaza Kitchen’ Gala Dinner’ that Porsena will be serving tonight.

Tomorrow, the talented duo have TWO public events– and then additional ones on Friday and Saturday. Their full schedule is here.

We haven’t updated this blog in aeons because we’ve been very busy…

The great news is that The Gaza Kitchen has now been released!

From now on, all information about this project will be posted at the book’s website and/or the Just World Books website.

Thank you to those of you who have followed and supported this blog. Hope to see you at some of our presentation events

Tangy Kishik Stew

I had many requests to post the recipe for Gaza’s Kishik Stew, which I made the other day as a special treat for my mother, who has been requesting it for weeks now, and posted on Facebook.

Let me preface this by saying I used to detest Kishik. It was one of those things I thought you either hated or loved, and I concluded that I hated it-dried kishik itself is pretty pungent stuff (especially the Lebanese variety), and since we eat as much with our eyes and noses as we do with our mouths, its hard for our senses to imagine what a finished meal would taste like. Then I tried kishik stew at Hajja Um Ibrahim’s in Gaza. And again at my cousin’s house in Davis, California (shout out to khalto Nawal!), and I was won over…

A little culinary history lesson: Kishik is a sun-dried mixture of fermented yoghurt and grain or flour, hand-shaped into cakes or ground into powder, known throughout the Middle East and central Asia. Kishik exists in numerous regional varieties throughout Gaza, especially in the central part of the Strip. Before refrigeration, kishik was a way to conserve the nutritional value of dairy products. When winter came, the kishik was reconstituted with water, blended until smooth.

In Gaza’s farming interior, it is cooked into a stew with mutton, chickpeas and rice. Just south of Deir al-Balah in Garara, however, women prepare kishik today with plain flour, and they flavor it in characteristically with crushed dill seeds and flakes of red chiles. When dried, this kishik is crumbled over skewered grilled tomatoes and dressed with mashed garlic and minced dill. A few kilometers still further south in Khan Yunis, kishik is ground to a powder and mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and crushed dill seeds, and the moist paste is eaten with flatbread or crumbled on top of salads.

Hand-shaped cakes of Kishik can still be found throughout Gaza’s public markets, made fresh by the fallahat and bedouins of Gaza’s northern farm lands. In our cookbook, we provide several recipes for making kishik yourself-the traditional way as well as a modern urban variation. Dried and liquid jarred kishik can also be purchased in most Middle Eastern markets, though the taste will vary depending on region, you can adapt the flavor with Gazan spices.

Here, I give you the recipe for Kishik Stew, adapted from Hajja Um Ibrahim from the pre-1948 village of Beit Tima.

This recipe for Beit Tima’s famous kishik stew was given to us by 88 year old Um Ibrahim, who had this to say about it: “Ah! Kishik! It was one of our most favorite foods. It was cooked with chickpeas and meat. Beautiful!” She is one of the few who remember pre-1948 life and the transition to Gaza after the exodus. In villages of the farming interior, such as Beit Tima, the chili flakes and dill seeds would have been omitted..

Basic spiced broth, prepared with ½ lbs boneless lamb (shoulder, leg, or shank), trimmed of fat and cut into small ½ inch pieces
3-4 discs of kishik, crumbled, or approx. 1 ½ cups powdered kishik, 1 cup store-bought jarred kishik or other homemade liquid kishik)
1/2 cup short or medium-grain rice
1 cup dried chickpeas, precooked, or one can, rinsed and strained
2 tsp dill seeds
1 tsp coarse sea salt
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp dried red pepper flakes (adjust according to desired taste)
Olive oil or ghee

Basic Spiced Broth: Rinse meat and pat dry with a paper-towel, or set-side in a strainer in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a dutch-oven and brown meat on all sides. Add two cups of water and allow to boil, skimming off any foam which rises to the surface. Add another 5 cups or so of water, along with 1 chopped onion, and the following (tie in a disposable tea filter for easier disposal later): 1 bay leaf, 1 cinnamon stick, 4 whole allspice berries, 3-4 cardamom pods, 5-6 whole black peppercorns, 1 cloves, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 small piece cracked nutmeg, 1 pebbles of mastic, crushed with a little salt. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for approx. 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender. Pick out whole spices and discard. Set pot aside.

Meanwhile, soak kishik discs, if using, in a little water for about 10 minutes or until slightly softened. Blend with soaking water (adding more if necessary) until smooth. Strain to remove any remaining lumps. Set aside. If using powdered kishik, mix in a bowl with enough water to form a thick paste.

Next, cook the rice: stir in a pan over medium-high heat with 1 Tbsp of olive oil for about 30 seconds, then add 1 cup of boiling water. Reduce heat and cover for about 20 minutes or until cooked.

Slowly stir diluted kishik into pot with broth and meat. Mix well until smooth. Add chickpeas and rice. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously as mixture begins to thicken. Add more water or broth if necessary, depending on desired consistency (more liquid if you like a thicker stew, less if you prefer a thinner consistency)
In a mortar and pestle, crush dill seeds, dried red pepper flakes and salt using a circular motion until fragrant. Stir into stew. Add garlic to same mortar and mash to a paste. Fry mashed garlic in 3 Tbsp olive oil until golden, then stir into kishik stew, de-glazing pan if necessary. Stir through.

Pour kishik stew into individual serving bowls. Garnish with dried red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve at room temperature with filfil mat’houn, assorted pickles and olives.

Serves 4-6

A bit tardy of us to only post this now-but we’ve been insanely busy putting the finishing touches on the first draft of our book! If you happen to live near Madrid or DC, stop by for some of the fruits of our kitchen-testing! In the meantime, enjoy this article-the product of many months of hard work, published in Saudi Aramco World magazine. Consider it a prelude to our book!

As home to the largest concentration of refugees within historic Palestine, Gaza is an extraordinary place to encounter culinary traditions, not only from hundreds of towns and villages that now exist only in memory—depopulated and destroyed during the Palestinian exodus of 1948—but also from the rest of Gaza’s long history.

Through decades of conflict, families in Gaza have held to recipes and foodways as sources of comfort, pleasure and pride. Unable to control much else in their lives, Gazans are renowned for lavishing care and attention on food and family. Visiting kitchens up and down the Gaza Strip, talking to women about cooking and about life, offers lessons in the vital art of getting by with grace.

More here:

Saudi Aramco World : Gaza's Food Heritage.

Also known as Qursa or Muleela, this unusual salad is a specialty of the southern Gaza Strip towns of Khanyounis and Rafah, the Palestinian district of Beer il-Sabi’ and the northern Sinai region. Making it is considered a social event in and of itself (click on link to see pictures of a family preparing it). It is particularly popular among families camped out on the beach in the early summer, as well as during the spring harvest time.

While frowned upon by the urban elite as a hodge-podge peasant dish, Fatit Ajir, سلطة/فتةالعجر, in Arabic, is considered a symbol of enduring family values by the falaheen, as its preparation frequently brought together neighbors, family, and friends. The dish has even inspired its own proverb, after the condiment it is served with: “An onion served by my dearest friend is akin to a roast lamb”: in other words, it’s not the food, it’s the company that matters.

The recipe calls for fire-roasting young, unripe watermelon (‘ajir in Arabic) along with calabash squash and eggplants, or whatever combination of summer vegetables is available at the time of harvest, then mashing them together with tomatoes, chilies, olive oil, and lastly, torn pieces of thick, unleavened fire-baked bread. You can experiment with the addition of any seasonal summer vegetable available. This dish is all about improvisation. Feel free to omit the vegetables altogether, as many locales in Gaza often do, replacing them with mashed garlic and onions instead.

Immature young watermelons are considered a delicacy in southern Gaza, prized for their size, and when small enough, are pickled whole. In the event that an immature watermelon cannot be found or purchased from a local farm, choose a small out of season melon or one with white or pale green patches on its side. Cut out this side of the melon, making sure to keep the rind on, wrap with foil, and proceed with the recipe.

The bread traditionally used in this salad is made from unleavened dough shaped into a thick disc, or Qursa, which is then wrapped in newspapers and baked beneath a low-burning wood fire. Any thick, unleavened well-toasted flatbreads, such as Persian Barbari, can be substituted, though making your own Qursa is relatively simple (recipe follows).

1 young watermelon (5-7 lbs) or a 3 lb section of the palest part of a mature watermelon, rind on
2 medium size globe eggplants, approximately 1.5 lbs
1 calabash squash, whole, approximately 1 pound
1 lb ripe tomatoes
5 hot chilies, such as Serrano or jalapeño, chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt

1. Roast whole watermelon over a grill on medium heat until soft to the touch and charred on all sides. If using a wedge, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and proceed with roasting until soft to the touch on all sides. If a grill is unavailable, roast over a gas range, or broil in your oven. Follow same roasting procedure with squash and eggplants (roast them as they are, without foil) until charred on all sides. Set vegetables aside and cool.

Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, pound the chilli peppers together with the salt. Add the tomatoes and continue to mash until mixture is a thick salsa-lke consistency.

Peel cooled watermelon and vegetables and discard charred skin. Mix together vegetable and melon pulp well, by hand, with chili-tomato mixture in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Add torn pieces of toasted bread along with olive oil and continue to mix until well-saturated.

Drizzle with olive oil and serve with small quartered white onions, olives, and assorted pickled vegetables

Qursa
3 cups flour
2/3 cup warm water, more as needed
½ teaspoon salt
3 T. warmed olive oil, more for drizzling

Knead together all ingredients well until dough is elastic and no longer sticky. Form into a ball, then flatten by hand into a 1 inch think disc. Drizzle both sides with some olive oil. Bake on a grill, preferably wood-fired, or in a frying pan on a stove-top, or in the oven, until well-browned.

Falafel-Gaza style

Falafel, the original fast food, brings to mind many things-but perhaps chief among them in the mind of many Palestinians is their attempted cultural appropriation. As a young college student, I was shocked at the Hebrew signs luring hungry New Yorkers to try this “Israeli” food fad of the early ’90s (comparable to today’s “Greek yoghurt”, I suppose). There has been more awareness since and Falafel is now considered, broadly speaking, a “Middle Eastern”, not an Israeli, food.

Gazans, never satisfied with the mild, kick up their Falafel a notch with the addition of green chillies, but also a generous dose of greens: dill, cilantro, parsley…

The result are bit size little morsels with a bright green interior bursting with flavor.

This particular recipe is in memory of my mother’s friend, Um Khaled, who passed away from cancer in the middle of Operation Cast Lead. She would frequently make me her homemade falafel upon request when I was pregnant with Yousuf and living in Gaza by myself.

The falaheen of Palestine have always been partial to onions overs garlic. They would add 2 onions to the recipe below and omit the cilantro and nutmeg. For a smoother texture, add 1/2 tsp baking soda to the soaking water of the chickpeas, then rub with your palms and rinse well before proceeding with recipe

Put through a food grinder or pulse in food processor in batches, starting with chickpeas:

2 cups dry chickpeas, rinsed and soaked in water for 16 hours
1 bunch cilantro (roughly 3/4 cup chopped)
1 bunch dill (roughly 1/2 cup chopped)
1 bunch parsley (roughly 1 cup chopped)
7 garlic cloves
5 hot green chilies, adjust based on personal preference
1 T. each: cumin, coriander, salt, and black pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Set aside for 2 hours, then add immediately before frying:

1 tsp baking soda
2 T. roasted sesame seeds

Shape in small patties (dip hands in a little water if necessary to prevent sticking) or use a falafel mold, then fry in hot oil. Drain on a paper towel. Serve with tahina sauce (below), julienne onions sprinkled with 1 tsp sumac, sliced tomatoes, chili paste (filfil mat’hoon) and assorted pickles.

Tahina Sauce:

Blend together until smooth:

2 T. Tahina
1/2 cup water
Juice of two fresh lemons
1 garlic, mashed
1/2 tsp salt