Any book with the sub heading ‘memories from my mother’s kitchen’ promises to be full of heart-warming dishes – through connotation alone, and Palestine on a Plate, by Joudie Kalla, doesn’t disappoint.
You may not be down on the ins and outs of Palestinian cuisine, but you’ll likely have one or more of its indigenous ingredients on your kitchen shelf, thanks to a rising trend in Middle Eastern flavours. The country’s location, between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan River, with Cyprus, Israel, Turkey and Lebanon among its close neighbours, has resulted in a rich, diverse cuisine, which has elements you’ll be familiar with – sumac, za’atar, dukkah, pomegranate molasses, paprika, pistachios, tahini – and ones you’re perhaps not: Labneh (strained yoghurt) and Loomi (dried lime).
In Palestine on a Plate, Kalla delves in to the history and influences of the cuisine, through a period of discovery, exploring her roots, and a childhood spent observing and feasting on the dishes created by her mother, aunties and grandmothers. The recipes in this book draw on these times and tastes, carefully adapted to make them, ‘less fatty, less fussy and less time-consuming’, while still remaining true to the heart of the cuisine.
It’s the first book by the London-based Palestinian chef, who has almost 20 years experience of cooking in restaurants such as Papillon and Daphne’s, running her own deli and restaurant Baity Kitchen, and most recently a successful catering business. After the introduction, a ‘My World of Ingredients’ section covers the key ingredients that feature, and recipes for creating your own herb and spice mixes – well worth doing if you don’t have a specialist store nearby to buy in bulk, as it’ll save you a lot of money on the tiny supermarket pots.
The rest of the 239 pages in Palestine on a Plate are split into Good Morning Starters, Hearty Pulses & Grains, Vibrant Vegetarian, The Mighty Lamb & Chicken, Fragrant Fish, Sweet Tooth, and finally a list of physical and online stockists. Every recipe is introduced with an interesting snippet on its roots or Kalla family memories, and many are accompanied by a vibrant photograph, with the dishes served up in colourful plates, against patterned tiles or vintage tabletops. All very enticing.
My first flick through any cookbook involves identifying the recipes I want to try, marking them with a scrap of some old bit of junk mail or other. This one has a growing list of about twenty poking out of the top and I’ve already made a handful to great effect.
The Banana and Medjool Date Cake is the most delicious I’ve baked – moist sponge, gooey dates, little nuggets of sweet from the broken pieces of milk chocolate sprinkled into it, and long-lasting. I was still taking along little slices to enjoy in work, over a week later (it was a big cake). I’ve lined up the Tahini Brownies as my next bake to make, and when I’m feeling brave, I’ll give the Lemon & Rose Doughnuts a go. There’s so much in this book I want to try.
The Lahmeh Mishwiyeh (Grilled Lamb Skewers with Pomegranate Salad), were a bit of a revelation – the Greek yoghurt, garlic and lemon juice marinade transforming the meat into incredibly tender bites, with a lovely tang – a dish for all seasons. The suggested side salad? A clean, sharp, crunchy accompaniment.
Kalla’s easy to follow instructions in Palestine on a Plate resulted in my first successful attempt at bread. Usually my attempts end up a little flat, quite heavy and very hard; eventually being tossed out for the birds (only to be rejected by them too). However, the Za’atar Buns – Kalla’s twist on the Norwegian cinnamon bun – resulted in a tear-and-share tray of soft, buttery, spicy rolls that restored my confidence no end. Good enough to eat alone, and definitely something I’ll be whipping up to impress for a dinner party.
A month ago I wouldn’t have been able to name a single Palestinian ingredient, let alone a dish – an embarrassing admission, considering the amount of dukkah I get through… Now I can count some among my culinary triumphs, and will be making them part of my regular go-tos. This is one book that won’t be gathering dust.
Published by Jacqui Small, Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my mother’s kitchen by Joudie Kalla (photography by Ria Osbourne) is available to buy online here.