Palestine on a Plate: a New and Joyful Cookbook
The cover of the new cookbook, Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my Mother’s Kitchen, by Joudi Kalla, is, on its own, mouth-watering enough. Inside it gets even better with photographs of heaping bowls of chickpeas with cumin, garlic and yogurt, a luscious spicy eggplant and tomato stew, or a golden mandarin and orange blossom cake, shot by food photographer Ria Osbourne. But Kalla’s cookbook is more than a collection of recipes and beautiful photographs. It’s also a story about immigration, memory, culture, and a mother’s transmission of love for a cuisine and a heritage.
A chef and former restaurant owner, Kalla, who now owns a catering business, grew up in the UK, and being Palestinian was an integral part of her identity. But it wasn’t until she left home for university that she yearned for her mother’s cooking. Kalla writes in her introduction: “I called my mother every day to ask her how to make the different dishes she had cooked for me when I was growing up. I learned how to make warak inab (stuffed vine leaves), makloubeh (an upside-down rice dish with eggplant and lamb)…and countless other dishes.”
In an area where Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Ottoman Turks all left their mark on the local cuisine, with the ultimate arrival of vegetables from the New World in the 19th century, Palestine, at the heart of the Middle East region, shares ingredients and most dishes with other neighboring countries: Kousa bil Laban (zucchini stuffed with lamb in yogurt sauce), Mujadarra (lentils and rice with caramelized onions) or the ubiquitous Kubbeh (spiced ground lamb with bulgur). But there are also specifically Palestinian recipes in Kalla's book, such as the wide variety of seafood dishes from Gaza and other coastline cities, or a lentil and eggplant stew with pomegranate molasses that her grandmother would make. Kalla deftly sidesteps any mention of politics or even the word Israel, despite the fact that in recent years much has been made of its cultural appropriation of hummus and falafel, for example.
Kalla’s mission is quite simply to put Palestine on a culinary map, and she does so joyfully, adapting her recipes to western kitchens and schedules. She resuscitates a rare fava bean dip, Besara, inspired by an Egyptian dish from Pharaonic times, and instructs readers how to roll vine leaves with ground lamb and rice, but she also has fun marrying typical Palestinian ingredients with western recipes: Soft boiled eggs with soldiers dipped in za’atar (dried thyme with sesame and sumac), or za’atar buns, date scones, or tahini brownies.
These are exciting times for lovers of Middle Eastern cuisine, with an increasing number of titles being published, including cookbooks, specifically, on Palestinian cooking, such as the new edition of Christiane Dabdoub Nasser's Classic Palestinian Cuisine, Rawia Bishara’s Olives, Lemons & Za’atar and Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt’s The Gaza Kitchen. Kalla’s Palestine on a Plate celebrates Palestinian recipes passed down over generations and across borders, and adapted for today's kitchens, introducing the flavors and making them accessible to all.
Kalla's US publisher, Interlink, last year published Soup For Syria that raised more than $300,000 for Syrian refugees. With Palestine on a Plate, Interlink will donate fifty percent of the proceeds to the Palestinian House of Friendship, a nonprofit organization that offers community support to at-risk youth in Palestine , with a special emphasis on culture and the arts.