Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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

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.

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.

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.

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.