I’ll be honest — I’m a homebody. I love the comfort of staying put but I also enjoy seeing different places, a contradiction, perhaps, but not if I can enjoy these places via a good cookbook. The undeniable theme of 2020 is the notion of vicarious travel — unable to roam, many of us are still able to experience far off places by roaming through books. Poilâne took me to France, Aran to Scotland, Carpathia showed me Romania and now, I’m seeing Palestine through the stories, recipes and guidance of Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley authors of Falastin. Venturing further with this idea, many of us can turn to cookbooks for comfort and hope, too. During this time when I feel like I have control over little and, the future seems uncertain, having other people in my kitchen by-way-of a recipe and notes, gives me solace.
As Yotam Ottolenghi indicates in his forward, Falastin (pronounced fa-la-steen) picks up where his and Tamimi’s Jerusalem left off 8 years ago. This time, Tamimi is joined by another from the Ottolenghi group, Tara Wigley (who co-authored Simple with Ottolenghi). What Falastin offers is a celebration of Palestinian cuisine — dishes that Tamimi grew up with as well as other recipes most common to what other Palestinians experience growing up. Wigley’s words take the home cook through their journey — “Recipes are like stories: events brought to life and shared in the making and the telling.”(10) While the recipes in this book are gorgeously delicious, I find that the ingredients, people, and places profiled throughout Falastin give life to the recipes. Growing up in Canada, the way I learned about Palestine was through the nightly news, and, what Tamimi and Wigley present moves past these stories and images put forth by the media by offering poignant and hopeful stories of those who live both in, and beyond the headlines.
The 120 recipes are organized into 9 chapters: Breakfast, Snacks, Spreads, & Sauces, Veggie Sides & Salads, Soups, Veggie Mains, Fish, Meat, Breads & Pastries, and Sweets. At the end of the book there is a glossary which offers information on the pantry items as well as Palestinian politics; while not exhaustive the authors aim to give a general idea of the terms used. Tamimi and Wigley have added short instructions to some of the recipe head notes — Ingredient Notes, Getting Ahead, Playing Around, Keeping Notes — in order to provide home cooks with more information for making the cooking task easier or for emphasizing information which the home cook may not be aware of. I appreciate when cookbook authors do this because the extra added information inevitably improves the outcome of my cooking! Cooking through Falastin I find joy in the recipes and, nourishment for my family. At times I would be in my kitchen cooking along from Falastin, other times I was curled up in my favourite chair reading through the stories and profiles. These parts of Falastin — the ingredients, recipes and personal stories — really demonstrate the connections between these elements and Palestinian identity.
One of the messages in the book is that food is meant to be enjoyed and shared — and, although this year has made it almost impossible to enjoy food during large family celebrations or gatherings, I have still used the opportunity to make, share, and enjoy food on a smaller scale. My daughter and I have made several recipes together — her favourites are the Ka’ak Al Quds (Jerusalem Sesame Bread) and the Khubez (Pita Bread). Watching through the oven door as the baking pita puffs up with air is deeply satisfying and, if you’re my daughter, there isn’t anything more magical to witness.
What I prize most is when recipes build flavours — when I was making the Sesame Oat Crumble, I wondered how seemingly strong flavours like cardamom, peanut butter, rose water, olive oil, and honey would taste together. Enjoying the crumble with fruit and yogurt, the flavours aren’t overpowering but balanced — lightly sweet and salty, floral, nutty, and rich. Adding a generous drizzle of the Tahini-Date Syrup adds yet more layers to the flavouring. I also made use of the added step of pulsing the mixture in a food processor after it cooled from the oven, taking the texture from granola to crumble. Another recipe that relies on building layers of flavour (literally) is the Beet and Feta Galette w/ Za’atar and Honey. Chopped thyme and oregano is added to the galette pastry dough, then to the rolled out crust a layer of garlic mixed in ricotta is added, a sprinkle of feta, then a layer of caramelized onion, topped off with a layer of roasted, sliced beets. Many flavours that create such a deliciously rich filling — I served slices of galette with a tossed green salad on the side, which made for a great summer meal!
Since receiving a copy of Falastin for review at the end of June, I’ve found so many dishes that I’ve been making and re-making for my family. The Batata Bil Fil (Spicy Roasted New Potatoes w/ Lemon and Herbs) is one of our favourites — this recipe is a combination of our two loves: roasted potatoes and roasted cherry tomatoes. Both are mixed with cumin seeds, thinly sliced garlic, coriander seeds, and thinly sliced red chile, then placed in the oven to slow roast. Once out of the oven, the tomatoes and potatoes are tossed with lemon juice and zest as well as chopped cilantro and dill. The juice from the roasted tomatoes combined with the citrus and herbs creates a tremendously good sauce which coats the vegetables. I could eat this dish every day! There are other dishes that evoke a similar response for me (mouth watering at the thought) — such as the Shulbato (Bulgar, Tomato, and Eggplant Pilaf) and the Roasted Squash and Zucchini w/ Whipped Feta and Pistachios. Both recipes use oven-roasting to bring out smoky and sweet flavours of the eggplant, squash, and zucchini. And I’ve found these recipes make a wonderful lunchtime meal or light supper.
Falastin shows the heart of Palestinian cuisine through ingredients, recipes, and the personal stories profiled throughout the book. Tamimi and Wigley offer an array of delicious recipes that have transported me from my home kitchen during this time spent at home.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. I would also like to thank The Spice Trader for generously gifting me some spices — Za’atar and Baharat — that are perfect for Palestinian Cooking!