“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
What can I say about Falasteen!
(Falasteen is 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.
Out of the hustle and bustle of the city, moving on to the beautiful beaches along its coasts, 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 real good desserts.
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, 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 homemade ice cream in specialty mixes, the most delicious of which are the Arabic ice cream with pistachio and the Mistka (mastic)! Heavenly, creamy spoonfuls of frozen goodness!
I cannot fit all the cities, the surrounding villages and all the fabulous details about Touring Falasteen, in this post (that is why I wrote a beautiful and dedicated whole book on Falasteen and its cuisine “Plated Heirlooms” see video above for an idea of what the book includes and end of this post for where to buy). But for today’s post I will mention the city where my family comes from. The beautiful and 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 everywhere else cooked in a tomato-based sauce, in Al khalil, are 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.
“The Flavours of Tradition” Palestinian Menu
click the titles for recipes
Today’s menu celebrates the best loved Palestinian Musakhan as its main focus. Musakhan is a Palestinian 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 (the beautiful and full story of Musakhan, including Taboon bread is fully covered in my book ‘Plated Heirlooms’). 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 “broth’ed” onion confit, 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, and if you are lucky you would own the original Taboon oven. 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.
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! To be fair, 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 Molasses 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 just one, but four preparations that are not short on presentation or flavour! Give it a try you will be happy you did.
The Hareeseh 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 (ghee or clarified butter), 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.
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 mostly eaten in a seasonal fashion, fresh and with unmatched flavours. As such when they have not seen a day of refrigeration or cross-country transport, are not bruised nor abused, these vegetables taste good enough as is so will create fabulous food. When fresh vegetables taste like vegetables should! Good and fresh.
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.
This recipe is from the repertoire of over 280 recipes in my book Plated Heirlooms. The book contains recipes from all sections of the Palestinian cuisine, starting with Mooneh (pantry recipes) to dessert and everything in between. Plated Heirlooms is a documentation of recipes and cuisine rationale as well as the compiled story of the cuisine.
All Plated Heirlooms recipes come with background information and thorough descriptions that in the end tie up with the rest of the book’s narrative to explain to you the formation and makings of Palestinian cuisine.
Don’t forget to get in touch with your family this Ramadan and to enjoy their company