Archive for the ‘Food History’ Category

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


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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

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.

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Um Ibrahim

photo by Maggie Schmitt

Yesterday we went to Deir el Balah to talk to Um Ibrahim, who spoke lovingly of the pumpkins back in her village.  At 86 she is an encyclopedia of Palestinian food history.

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