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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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Sumagiyya

Ah, Sumagiyya-that quintessential Gazan dish that is either much loved, or much hated! Sumagiyya (in classical Arabic: Sumaqiyya) is a classic Gaza City dish, one in the category of single-bowl dishes popular in Gaza (Rumaniyya, Fogaiyya…). It is traditionally made in large batches on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr (which was just observed a few days ago-thus the choice of blog post!) and distributed to friends, family and neighbors-who reciprocate with kaak (date cookies) or sumagiyya of their own. Sumagiyya’s greyish appearance-a result of the sumac, its namesake, and tahina-can be off-putting to some,but don’t judge a dish by its cover! While the dish is usually made with an infusion of whole sumac berries, ground sumac will do in a pinch.

Sumagiyya

1 1/2 pounds lean stewing meat
1 onion, chopped
4 T. olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 sprig Rosemary, if available
1 Cinnamon stick
5 allspice berries
4 cardamom pods

1 onion, chopped
10 cups chopped chard, any variety
½ c. Sumac
2 c. boiling water
3 heaping Tablespoons flour

1 T. dill seed
5 garlic cloves, mashed
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1 green chili chopped (optional)
2 tsp. salt
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

3 T. Red Tahina, or 2 T. regular Tahina mixed with 1 tsp roasted sesame oil.

Saute meat and onions with olive oil until lightly browned. Cover meat with water and bring to a boil. Skim any froth that rises to the top. Add whole spices and stir. Lower heat, and cover. Cook until meat is tender, but not falling apart. Drain meat and reserve broth.

Add onion and chard and stir until just wilted.

Boil the sumac for 10 minutes, then drain and reserve the liquid. Let cool to room temperature.

Add flour to cooled sumac infusion and stir until dissolved. In a zibdiya or mortar and pestle, grind dill seed and dried pepper with salt until fragrant. Add garlic and chilies, if desired, and mash. Set aside.

Combine broth and sumac-flour mixture and whisk thoroughly to avoid clumping. Add meat mixture, dill, garlic, chili mixture, and remaining spices. Bring to a boil as you continue to stir, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes. Continue to stir throughout until mixture becomes thick. Add 1 T. tahina and cook for 3 more minutes.

Remove from heat and pour into bowls. Cool and serve at room temperature with Arabic bread and chilies.

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