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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

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.

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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

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Continuing along with our choice vegetable of posts pasts, here is a recipe for a simple eggplant stew, or tabeekh bitinjan.


Eggplants feature prominently in Gazan cuisine, whether stuffed, fried, sauteed into vegetarian one-pot meals such as Rumaniyya, or stewed with beef and tomato sauce as in this recipe. Personally, I am always looking for new ways to cook eggplants, so I was delighted to discover this oft-overlooked stew. As with most eggplant recipes we will feature, you have a choice of frying or roasting these humble summer vegetables. We usually opt to oven roast with olive oil for optimal flavor and minimum greasiness, but to each his own.

Eggplant Stew with chickpease (Tabeekh Bitinjan)

2 lbs eggplants, cut into 2 inch cubes or half-circles, depending on variety (I used the thin seedless Japanese variety, but any variety will do)
1 lb lean stew beef
1 onion, chopped (roughly 1 cup)
5 T. light olive oil, divided
Assorted whole spices: 3 pieces allspice berries, 1 clove, 4 black pepper berries, 4 cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf
Water as needed (8-10 cups or so)
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 6 oz can tomato paste
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt

If using larger eggplants, soak in a heavily salted water bath for 15 minutes, or sprinkle with salt and set aside in a colander for 20 minutes until eggplants begin to sweat. Rinse, drain and pat dry. Fry in hot vegetable oil and drain well, or drizzle with olive oil and roast in oven on cookie sheets until browned from bottom, about 30 minutes. Flip pieces over to brown other side or switch your oven to broil for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse meat and pat dry. Heat 3 T. olive oil in a non-stick pan and brown meat. Add onions and sautee together until golden. Fill pot with enough water to cover submerge meat. Bring to a boil, skimming any froth that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to medium low. Add whole spices, tied in a piece of gauze or disposable tea filter if desired, and cover for 1 1/2 hours until meat is fork tender.

Strain meat, making sure to reserve broth. Discard whole spices.

Return meat and broth to a clean pot and add tomato paste and chickpeas. Bring to a boil. Gently stir in fried or roasted eggplants and let simmer. Meanwhile, make the tiqlaya: Mash garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle. Heat 2 T. olive oil in a small frying pan and add mashed garlic, stirring constantly for 30 seconds to a minute. Add garlic to eggplant stew, de-glazing any leftover garlic scrapings with a little of the tomato stew.

Garnish with chopped parsley or basil, if desired. Serve with bread or white rice.

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musaqaa

This has become one of my favorite summer dishes.

While most folks in the US are familiar with the heavier Greek version – moussaka – few are aware that it is originally an Arab dish, still popular in Palestine. While I know that talking about the origins of things is a dangerous business, especially in former Ottoman lands, in this case the etymology seems pretty clear: musaqaa, from the Arabic for chilled or cooled. As its name indicates, the dish is served cold, a perfect slice of summer.

This is a vegetarian version which substitutes potatoes for the more traditional meat layer. In Gaza,the most typical recipe uses finely chopped beef or lamb stewed with spices and then layered between the eggplants and tomatoes, though for a quicker version one can also use fried ground meat. Personally I like this simple vegetarian version best.

Musaqaa

2 medium eggplants
3 medium potatoes
2 large tomatoes
1 red onion
1 cup oil (olive or vegetable)
½ T. oregano
½ fresh green chili pepper (if desired)
salt

Peel eggplants and slice lengthwise. Soak in cold salted water.

Slice potatoes, tomatoes and onions into thin slices. The onion slices especially should be very thin. If using, also slice the hot pepper in very thin slices.

Dry the eggplant slices well and fry them a few at a time in oil until quite golden. Remove from oil and place on paper to drain. For a lighter version, the eggplant slices may be roasted in the oven.

In a shallow casserole dish, place one layer of eggplant strips followed by a layer of potatoes, a layer of tomatoes and a scattering of onion slices, as well as a scattering of hot pepper slices (if using). Add salt and oregano and repeat. Add salt and oregano to the final layer and cover casserole with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake for another 15 minutes and remove from oven to cool.

Dish should be served cooled or at room temperature.

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Salam dear readers, and welcome back! Apologies for the long hiatus-we were busy sorting through the mountains of fabulous data we collected last summer in Gaza, processing it, getting it translated and transcribed (shout out to our wonderful assistant Manar in Ramallah!), and of course, getting a publisher which we are happy to report we now have (hooray for Just World Books)!

So we’re back, and this time we hope regularly. But we need YOUR help! As we process with our book, we need our wonderful readers to kitchen-test the recipes we publish here and give us your feedback: were the measurements accurate? Are the directions clear? If not, what would you change? To start us all off, we’d like to share with you our recipe (really, its my mother’s recipe :)) for Shorabit Adas (lentil soup), a Ramadan favorite! And what better time to share it than Ramadan!

Shorabit Adas (Lentil Soup)

Nothing goes to waste in the Gaza kitchen. When koosa (Middle Eastern squash, also known as Magda squash) is cored for making mahshi (stuffed vegetables), the pulp is never discarded. Rather, it is used to make soup, as in this recipe, or imfarakka (squash and egg scramble). While chronic power cuts in Gaza prevent regular use of major appliances, the pulp does freeze extremely well. Freeze in individual zip-seal bags for future use.

Ingredients:

1 cup red lentils
2 T. olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery (approximately 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup chopped red carrots
3/4 cup chopped koosa or other firm squash, such as yellow squash, or equal amount koosa pulp
2 vegetable or chicken bullion cubes
8 cups water or vegetable or chicken stock, if bullion not used
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
2 T. chopped parsley
½ tsp paprika

Directions: Rinse lentils well and set aside. Sauté onions in olive oil for approximately 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add garlic and sauté’ for 2 more minutes. Add remaining vegetables (note: if using frozen koosa pulp, add later when soup is boiling) and stir 5 more minutes. Add lentils, bullion cubes and water or broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Stir in cumin and salt and mix well. Cool slightly, then puree till smooth using a hand blender or conventional blender. Strain through food mill or whisk through mesh strainer. Discard solids.

Serve garnished with chopped parsley and sprinkled with paprika. Swirl with a spoon.

Variation: To prepare as a full meal known as fattit adas, serve each bowl with a handful of toasted Arabic bread pieces (approximately 1/2 cup). The toasted bread should be mixed in with the soup before eating.

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kitchen testers, ready!

Here is a first recipe for those of you who so kindly offered to kitchen-test some of our recipes and let us know how it goes. Zibdiyit Gambari is a much beloved classic Gazan seafood dish. Enjoy!

Zibdiyit Gambari

1 kg (2 lbs) peeled fresh shrimp
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 green chili peppers, such as serrano or jalepeño. Adjust according to desired hotness.
3 T tomato paste
6 tomatoes, peeled and diced, approximately 3 1/2 cups
(*one 26oz can of diced tomatoes can be substituted out of season)
2 T. chopped green dill (1 T. crushed dill seed may be substituted)
6 cloves fresh garlic
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp black pepper
1 ½ tsp salt, divided
1 cup water
¼ cup pine-nuts (slivered almonds or cashews may be substituted)
2 T. olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Cook peeled shrimp in a dry pan for about 10 minutes, until liquid has evaporated and shrimp are pink. Skim off any foam that appears. Set shrimp aside.

Coarsely chop the hot green pepper and crush it with 1/2 tsp of the salt in a mortar.

Chop dill and garlic finely and mix together.

Toast the pine-nuts and sesame seeds until golden, or fry in olive oil (traditional method).

In the same pan the shrimp were cooked in, sauté onions in olive oil. When onions are transparent, add tomato paste and stir well. Then add tomatoes, spices, crushed chilies, water and the chopped dill and garlic. Stir well and allow to simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Then add the shrimp and stir together.

Pour this mixture from the pan into the zibdiye. If you do not have a zibdiye (likely!) an ovenproof clay, earthenware or glass dish will do. You may also bake in individual ramekins if desired. Cover with sesame seeds, pine-nuts and fry oil and parsley. Bake in oven for 10 minutes covered with aluminum foil, then remove the foil and bake another few minutes until crusty on top.

Serve with bread.

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