Cookbook Review Classic Palestinian Cuisine
by Christiane Dabdoub Nasser
Classic Palestinian Cuisine is unique as far as cookbooks go, for it features wholly Palestinian recipes, from a Palestinian writer. What I often found annoying is picking up a book of Middle Eastern cooking and finding no reference to Palestine or specifically Palestinian cuisine.
Is this a purposeful move by the writers to deny the existence of Palestine to satisfy a Western audience?
Luckily, I had read about Classic Palestinian Cuisine in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and was then able to order a copy through McNally Robinson Booksellers here in Winnipeg.
In her wonderful book, Christiane Dabdoub Nasser writes that culture and cuisine suffers from great stagnation.
Palestinian identity has been crushed by the irreverent and overwhelming encroachment of Israeli “culture” upon what is specifically Palestinian, she explains, for political ends as well as Israel’s need to secure for itself a homogenizing, collective identity, and this includes food.
Classic Palestinian Cuisine is both personal and political at the same time. The recipes the author shares are accompanied by personal anecdotes from her childhood, as well as historical and geographical context for each dish.
The Role of the Olive Tree
Dabdoub Nasser also writes that while the olive tree is the centrepiece to ever garden and an indispensable source of nutrition for every family:
“The uprooting of every olive tree, practised systematically in order to advance the Israeli settler movement on Palestinian soil, is an open wound that is meant to continually deplete the symbiotic attachment of the people to the land.”
The destruction of the olive trees represents a direct attack on Palestinian welfare and livelihood.
Organics in Palestine
Dabdoub Nasser explains that Palestinians use the term “baladi”, which is similar to what we think of as “organic”, to refer to produce grown according to authentic methods with minimal use of pesticides and use of natural fertilizers. The stamp of “baladi” also serves to distinguish Palestinian produce from its Israeli counterpart, which took over Palestinian markets during the Occupation.
While a staple in all cultures, the author explains that Palestinians rely on a variety of breads to make it through long stretches of hunger. The author discusses the significance of the tabun (the communal bread oven) for Palestinian women among the recipes is one for Lent Cakes, made by the Christian community in Palestine. The Thyme Bread also looks particularly good and simple to make so I plan to try it soon!
The section on Sweets features some interesting history about Nablus, known for its Palestinian confections. Included is a recipe for the delectable sounding Cheese Dessert or Knafeh. It requires all day cooking but I am sure the results are worth it. The author’s mother is from Nablus and she explains that she taught her how to prepare many of the desserts she features.
Recipes I Made
The Salatet-el-raheb or Aubergine (Eggplant) Salad is delicious and simple to make. The eggplant is grilled, mixed with chopped tomatoes and then topped with a tangy olive oil and lemon juice dressing, perfect for the summer season! There is also a great recipe for Aubergines with Yogurt. The veggies are sliced and fried in olive oil then topped with rich yogurt and garlic dressing. I also made the Tomato Salad, consisting simply of tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice. Very refreshing!
All in all this is a unique and inspiring book, celebrating all things Palestinian!