Exploring Palestinian cooking

in Food and Drink · 10-07-2020 01:00:00 · 0 Comments

Chef Sami Tamimi and food writer Tara Wigley talk to Ella Walker about their new cookbook, Falastin.

Falastin is as much a portal to a place as it is a cookbook.

"In this part of the world, unfortunately, everything that you touch or say, it turns into politics," says Jerusalem-born chef Sami Tamimi of his homeland - and that very much includes the origin of hummus.

But, adds Tara Wigley, his British-born co-author (both are long-term members of the Ottolenghi brand and family - Tamimi co-wrote Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi's ground-breaking debut cookery book, to which Falastin is a companion piece), an in-depth knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian relations is not vital to pick up the book and start cooking. Instead, "people who are interested in food - beautiful aubergines and olive oils - should be reading this."

She calls Falastin a "window through which to see modern day Palestine" but notes that she and Tamimi also "want people to read it and think about something other than the politics. It's everything and it's both - there's never a simple answer."

The collection is strewn with profiles that tell stories of Palestinian producers and makers, from a granny making cheese in a tumble dryer, to a woman who runs cookery classes in a refugee camp, and a man who sells the nuttiest, silkiest tahini.

While the book is not a faithful representation of traditional Palestinian food, except in terms of ingredients used ("I would be suggesting quinoa instead of bulgur for example, Sami would just draw a line and say, 'This is not a Palestinian ingredient'," notes Wigley) how Palestinians eat is at its core.

"You don't cook for two people, you cook for 20 people," says Tamimi. "It's an open house - you never know who is going to come and it's a big no-no not to have enough food for everybody.

Chicken musakhan recipe


(Serves four)

1 chicken (about 1.7kg), divided into 4 pieces (1.4kg) or 1kg chicken supremes (between 4 and 6, depending on size), skin on, if you prefer

120ml olive oil, plus 2-3tbsp extra, to finish

1tbsp ground cumin

3tbsp sumac

1/2tsp ground cinnamon

1/2tsp ground allspice

30g pine nuts

3 large red onions, thinly sliced 2-3mm thick (500g)

4 taboon breads (see headnote), or any flatbread (such as Arabic flatbread or naan bread) (330g)

5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

To serve:

300g Greek-style yoghurt

1 lemon, quartered


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C fan.

2. Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with two tablespoons of oil, one teaspoon of cumin, one and a half teaspoons of sumac, the cinnamon, allspice, one teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take about 30 minutes if starting with supremes and up to 45 minutes if starting with the whole chicken, quartered. Remove from the oven and set aside. Don't discard any juices which have collected in the tray.

2. Meanwhile, put two tablespoons of oil into a large saute pan, about 24cm, and place on a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook for about two to three minutes, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with kitchen paper (leaving the oil behind in the pan) and set aside.

3. Add the remaining 60ml of oil to the pan, along with the onions and three quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Return to a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are completely soft and pale golden but not caramelised.

4. Add two tablespoons of sumac, the remaining two teaspoons of cumin and a grind of black pepper and mix through, until the onions are completely coated. Remove from the heat and set aside.

5. When ready to assemble the dish, set the oven to a grill setting and slice or tear the bread into quarters or sixths. Place them under the grill for about two to three minutes, to crisp up, then arrange them on a large platter. Top the bread with half the onions, followed by all the chicken and any chicken juices left in the tray. Either keep each piece of chicken as it is or else roughly shred it as you plate up, into two or three large chunks. Spoon the remaining onions over the top and sprinkle with the pine nuts, parsley, one and a half teaspoons of sumac and a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve at once, with the yoghurt and a wedge of lemon alongside.

Roasted cod recipe with a coriander crust


(Serves four)

60ml olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed

50g coriander, finely chopped

21/2tsp fish spice mix (see below)

1/2tsp chilli flakes

4 large cod loin (or another sustainably sourced white fish), skin on (about 700g)

4 large fresh bay leaves (optional)

2 lemons: cut one into 8 very thin slices, and quarter the other lengthways into wedges to serve

About 4 tbsp/65g tahini sauce (optional - see below) to serve

Salt and black pepper

For the fish spice mix:

(Makes just over 2tbsp - just stir all ingredients together)

2tsp ground cardamom

2tsp ground cumin

1tsp paprika

2tsp ground turmeric

For the tahini sauce:

(Makes 1 medium jar)

150g tahini

2tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove, crushed



1. Make the tahini sauce: Mix together all the ingredients, along with 120ml of water and quarter teaspoon of salt. If it is too runny, add a bit more tahini. If it is too thick, add a bit more lemon juice or water. You want the consistency to be like that of a smooth, runny nut butter. It will thicken up when left to sit around, so just give it a stir and some more lemon juice or water every time you use it.

2. Preheat the oven to 230°C fan.

3. Put two tablespoons of oil into a small saucepan and place on a medium-low heat. Add the crushed garlic and cook for 10 seconds, then add the coriander, fish spice mix, chilli flakes, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper.

4. Cook for four to five minutes, stirring frequently, for the garlic to really soften, then remove from the heat.

5. Place the cod in a parchment-lined roasting dish, skin side down, and brush with the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper then spoon the coriander mix on top of each fillet. Spread it out so that the whole top is covered, then top each one with a bay leaf, if using, along with two slices of lemon. Roast for seven to eight minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.

6. Serve at once, with about a tablespoon of tahini sauce drizzled over, if using, and a wedge of lemon alongside.

Labneh cheesecake recipe with roasted apricots, honey and cardamom


(Serves 10-12)

For the base:

5 sheets of good-quality filo pastry (about 110g)

90g unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

40g walnut halves

60g pistachio kernels

11/2tbsp plain flour

50g caster sugar

10 cardamom pods, shells discarded and seeds finely crushed in a pestle and mortar (or 3/4tsp ground cardamom)

1tsp ground cinnamon

1/4tsp flaked sea salt

For the filling:

500g labneh (either shop-bought or 850g of Greek-style yoghurt, see headnote if making your own)

500g ricotta

210g caster sugar

?tsp flaked sea salt

5 eggs (2 whole, and 3 with yolks and whites separated: you will only be using the yolks of these)

2tsp finely grated orange zest

1tbsp orange blossom water

11/4tsp vanilla extract

11/2tbsp cornflour

For the topping:

75g runny honey

2tsp orange blossom water

40ml orange juice

6 cardamom pods, shells on, seeds roughly bashed together in a pestle and mortar

350g ripe apricots, stones removed, cut into 6 wedges

A small handful of picked mint leaves, to garnish (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm springform baking tin and set aside.

2. To make the base, lay out one sheet of filo on a clean work surface. Measure out a third of the butter - this will be used for brushing the sheets - and set the remaining 60g aside for later. Brush the sheet until well coated, then top with the second filo sheet. Continue in this fashion until all the filo and butter has been used up, finishing the last layer with a coating of butter. Transfer the filo stack to a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes (or longer) before breaking apart into large shards. In two batches, place the shards in a food processor and blitz for about 10 seconds, to form fine crumbs. Place in a medium bowl, then add the nuts to the processor. Blitz for about 20 seconds, until fine but not powdery.

3. Add the nuts to the filo along with the flour, sugar, spices, flaked salt and remaining two-thirds of butter and mix to combine. Tip the mixture into the base of the lined tin and press it down firmly and evenly so that the whole base is covered. Bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

4. To make the filling, clean out the food processor and add the labneh, ricotta, sugar and salt. Pulse for just a few seconds, to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs, egg yolks (the spare whites can be saved for something else), orange zest, orange blossom water, vanilla extract and cornflour. Pulse for about 15 seconds, to combine, then pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the cake is beginning to take on some colour around the edges but still has a slight wobble in the middle.

5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool at room temperature for an hour before refrigerating for at least four hours or (preferably) overnight.

6. On the day of serving, preheat the oven to 200°C fan and prepare the topping. Put the honey, orange blossom water, orange juice and bashed cardamom pods into a small saucepan and place on a medium-high heat. Cook for four to six minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced by half and is beginning to form a thin syrup. Spread the apricots out on a parchment-lined baking tray, on their side, and drizzle over half the syrup. Bake for about eight minutes, turning the apricots over halfway through baking, until completely softened but still retaining their shape. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 30 minutes, until completely cool.

7. Just before serving (or up to one hour, if you want to prepare ahead), release the cake from its tin and transfer to a round serving platter. Top with the apricots - there should not be any overlap - and drizzle with the remaining syrup. The bashed cardamom pods can be used for garnish as well - they look nice - but these are not to be eaten. Scatter over the mint leaves, if using, and serve.

Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, photography by Jenny Zarins, is published by Ebury Press.


Be the first to comment on this article
Interactive Topics, send us your comments/opinion on this article.

Please note that The Portugal News may use selected comments in the printed edition of the newspaper.