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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A Palestinian Menu - The flavours of Tradition & The Love For It's Land's Produce

A Palestinian Menu that springs from the love of  Palestine's produce

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope one day you'll join us, and the world will be as one."   - John Lennon

Oh! What can I say about Falasteen (the Arabic and original name of Palestine)? I can start by saying, I am Palestinian. But despite the fact, I only got to visit Falasteen once in my whole life! That one time, I went to Falasteen, I made sure to tour the whole country, because I knew I might never get the chance to visit again! And tour, I did - in the country where I come from - I took it all in! I visited the enchanting gated Old Town in Al Quds (Jerusalem), where you can find all kinds of small shops to buy all kinds of goods, including the beautiful produce of Falasteen, from which I vividly remember beitinjan battiri (which are the narrow long eggplants). I had these delicious eggplants, stuffed and cooked in tomato sauce, at my Dad's aunt's house who happens to own a beautiful and ancient house inside the Old Gated City of Al Quds. In the afternoon, and passing through the monumental Al Aqsa mosque, you watch the prayer, and your heart can't help but feel peace.

Old Town Souq - Jerusalem

Out to hustle and bustle of the city, moving on to the beautiful beaches along its costs, from Heifa, Yafa, and the almighty Akka, whose waves roar and shower you with salty rain even when you are way up on the rocky hill! I also remember very clearly, how my grandma took me to visit the famous Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani's home in Akka.
Amongst the cities I visited, is the city of Nablus :) I say this with a huge smile, because my soul mate happens to be Nabulsi! The beautiful Nablus, with its Old Souk, of narrow passages, where the walls are low, making you feel like you are taken to a secret place, in which you unravel layers upon layers of goods. From spices, to produce, to the all famous Knafeh Nabulsyeh (dessert, otherwise known as Knafeh), to Warbat and Kullaj (both desserts). Goodness, Gracious do these Nabulsis have a sweet tooth?! But one that knows goodness of desserts.

The Old Souq - Nablus
Of course, no visit to Falasteen is complete without visiting the charming, the ancient and the soul soothing Beit lehem (Bethlehem)! Every time I think of Beit lehem, I can still hear the chants of the priests and the church visitors; until this day! I remember visiting the home of an old lady, the acquaintance of my Grandma's, and at one point while everyone was consumed with conversation, she said: "Shhhhh... Listen to the chants.... like medicine to the soul."
Then there is the very social, out and about city of Ramallah. From which I remember Booza Rukab (literally meaning ice cream kneas!). Basically, hand pushed strollers selling home-made ice cream in specialty mixes, the most delicious of which are the Arabic ice cream with Pistachio and the Mistka Icecream! Heavenly, creamy slatherings of frozen goodness!

The enchanting Bethlehem

I cannot fit all the cities, the surrounding villages and all the fabulous details about Touring Falasteen, in this post. I will however do in a later post. But for today's post I will mention the city where my family comes from. The beautiful, the hilly city of Al Khalil (Hebron), where the ancient monument of Abraham is. Food wise, Al khalil is the city of vine trees: therefore its people are known for Wara Dawali as we call it stuffed vine leaves and Mahashi (Stuffed vegetables). This city is also known for growing some of the best goats and sheep: therefore known for making Idreh (a dish of rice and chickpeas cooked in meat broth, including pieces of lamb meat on the bone, created to showcase the goodness of the lamb meat). Because in Al Khalil sheep and goats are grown, they are also known for dairy products and the cooking of Mansaf. Even their stuffed vegetables, which are otherwise cooked in a tomato-based sauce, are in Al khalil, usually cooked in a yoghurt sauce as in the Stuffed Zucchini recipe in Minted Yogurt sauce.  This explains to you, why I cook a lot of foods in a yogurt-based sauce. Khalilis do however also mix in a little tomato with the yoghurt sauce, creating dishes utilising the best of both worlds. This is the city of Hebron, the one also known for bringing good humour to Palestine lol ;) All the Nabulsis reading this are grinning right now...
(sorry, insider joke) :))

Vineyards - Al Khali
The Flavours of Tradition Palestinian Menu
On The Menu...

Menu Rationale

Palestinian Musakhan

Today's menu celebrates the best loved Palestinian Musakhan as its main focus. Musakhan is a Palaestinian dish that is made all over Falasteen, but is the specialty of the Northern Region of the country, where the olive trees grow. This dish was created to - and is still made to - test the Olive Oil of the season. Musakhan is mainly made by creating a confit of onions and sumac in olive oil, to which chicken broth is added and then cooked slowly to infuse all flavours. Chicken pieces, traditionally on the bone, are roasted on the side to later on be added to the finished rounds of Taboon Bread. Traditionally, the special bread is dipped in the brothed olive oil mixture, placed on a serving tray, topped with a spreading of the onion mixture and all are then topped with the chicken pieces, toasted nuts and garnished with chopped parsley. For best results, Palestinian homes use a traditional oven for making the Musakhan and roasting the chicken. However the recipe had been modified for home ovens, without compromising on the final outcome: flavour or texture. The more modern presentations of Musakhan include, Musakhan rolls, Musakhan pizzas and Musakhan canapes. Follow this link for the recipe and more info about Musakhan.

Stir fried Chicken Giblets

Stir fried Chicken Giblets, is one very old and traditional concoction of Palestinian Cuisine. Many view this as old and not trendy, therefore the young don't like to cook it and seem to think that they don't like it! I have tried some terrible versions of this dish, that tasted like a nightmare to say the least. But when giblets are cooked right, they taste heavenly. This recipe of giblets, with the tanginess from the Pomegranate Molases and the squeeze of lemon, together with the onion and garlic infusion, make it super fresh and extremely good. You have got to try it to know. And if you think the concoction is not attractive looking, and not modern, just follow this link and look how I transformed this appetiser into not one, but four preparations that are not short on presentation or flavour! Give it a try you will be happy you did.

Hareeseh or Namoora

This Hareeseh Recipe will have you drooling any time, any where! It is semolina drenched in sugar syrup oozing of sweet goodness, melting in your mouth and tasting just angelic! In my recipe I do not use eggs, or samen, which some recipes use. Instead I use yogurt for the wet ingredients. The outcome is light, fluffy and never overly filling, which allows you to have more of this goodness. Follow this link for the recipe.

Then there are the Eggplant Mutabal and the Cream of Vegetable Soup, which in Palestinian cuisine are made to celebrate the goodness of the produce. The vegetables there are seasonal, fresh and with unmatched flavours. They have not seen a day of refrigeration or cross-country transport, are not bruised nor abused. They are fresh, good vegetables that taste like vegetables should! Good and fresh. follow the links for the recipes.

A historic picture of a peasant family from Ramallah

Falasteen is a beautiful country. A place that is magically enchanting. A rich soil, inhabited by generous people. People who love its land, and its produce. People whose foods are reflective of how they celebrate their produce. With foods created merely by the seasons and the offerings created by the geography. Foods that celebrate a love for life and good taste. This menu is made to give you an introduction into the flavours of the land and its produce, and one that also celebrates the traditions.

Wouldn't the world be so much nicer if we could just go anywhere?
If we could just get in the car and go borderless
road trip?! 
Hope you have enjoyed today's post, and best yet that you will give this menu a try. Let these flavours show you their goodness and tell you the tales of Palestinian produce, its generous people and their love for life and good food. A Palestinian family is one that appreciates family, extended family and everyone who crosses paths with this family. We appreciate family gatherings, and are raised to understand the importance of each family in our community. It is very common to be called by your family name, and even more common to be called as the grandchild of so and so... People know each other there, and if they don't know you personally, they still know your whole family history. When it comes to food, every family has their specialty and secret recipes, that they pass generation to another, and it is common to say something like she cooks good food, because her grandma cooked good food. It is in a way true! Our grandmas, and mothers are our biggest resource when it comes to cooking. These are the recipes passed down in my family, and I hope you enjoy them with yours.

Don't forget to take photos of recipes that you carry out from this blog, and send them to me to qualify for the draw - part of Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special. Do let me know what you think of these traditions, of Palestinian food, and of today's menu; so leave me a comment before you go.

Don't forget to get in touch with your family this Ramadan and to enjoy their company
Ramadan Kareem