Location: Middle East
Population: 4.5 million
Geography: A flat or rolling-dune desert with low mountains in the West Bank region
Signature flavours: Sumac, lamb, sesame, pita bread, thyme, mint, eggplant
We try to keep WSW a place about food, the joy of eating together, our discovery of unfamiliar flavours and cooking techniques, and the cultures that grow around the world’s diverse culinary traditions. We try, in other words, to separate food from politics. Sometimes that gets tricky. This was the case for Palestine. For our map, I had to opt for a circle around Palestine since I couldn’t find consistent information showing Palestine’s boundaries. Should the capital be listed as Jerusalem or Ramallah? Such questions have come up for other parts of the world as well. Since our list of assignments includes more than just internationally-recognized nations, we sometimes step onto shaky ground. This blog is about the food of a people, and we do our best to make it about just that, but since people and the cultures around them don’t exist in a vacuum, sometimes it’s necessary to risk a little controversy. Anyway, here’s to Palestine, and the beautiful menu Eric developed using Joudie Kalla’s wonderful cookbook Palestine on a Plate.
Sumac and Za’atar Roasted Monkfish: A roasted fillet of juicy whitefish, herb-crusted with “Palestine’s masala” — za’atar (thyme, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, sumac, and sea salt). This is more or less a seafood take on the national dish, musakhan, which is made with chicken.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Fatayer: Pastry pinched around spiced lamb (we used vegetable-based ground “meat”), onion, and pomegranate.
Prep and cooking time: 75 min
Salatet Fattoush: A fresh salad of lettuce, bell pepper, cucumber, radish, tomato, and pieces of toasted pita bread, dressed in a zesty mix of olive oil, vinegar, lemon, and za’atar.
Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Ruz Bil Haleeb: A rice pudding spiced with cardamom and orange blossom water, served with a topping of pistachios.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min (plus 4 hours cooling time)
Shai Wa Na’na’: Black tea steeped with mint leaves and sweetened generously with sugar.
Prep and cooking time: 5 min
The Shopping List
Having just finished our Egypt assignment, we already had a lot of the ingredients at home that Eric needed. He found orange blossom water and pomegranate at a nearby Rabba. The monkfish came from Seafront fishmonger at St Lawrence Market, and all of the many spices were from Bulk Barn.
Eric spent a couple of hours getting things underway early in the day — the dessert required several hours of cooling and had to be made ahead of time. He returned to the kitchen for a couple of hours in the evening and laid out a beautiful table at dinnertime.
The monkfish was full of flavour and its herb crust packed quite the kick. The salad was incredible, bursting with flavour from the fresh vegetables and the za’atar spice mix. The little “lamb” tarts were mildly spicy and a satisfying mix of meat and pastry, with a touch of sweetness from the pomegranate.
When it came time for dessert, we dug into our rice puddings, which delighted us with an understated sweetness and a varying creaminess and crunch from the pistachio topping. The tea was the perfect finisher: a parade of flavours that went from the steeped, bitter flavour of black tea, through a lovely sweetness, and ending on a note of refreshing minty-ness.
The dishes went together so well that when it came down to declaring our favourites (we usually revisit the flavours right after the meal to summarize our experiences and acknowledge the stand-outs), it was impossible. “Whatever dish I was having a bite of at the time was my favourite,” I told Eric, by way of explaining how perfectly one flavour flowed into the next.
Our desire to please every potential reader might not be possible, but don’t tell us there is any controversy in rice pudding. That stuff is delicious, no matter what side of the river you live on.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.