As a nation, Palestine is engulfed in complexities but the food from this Middle-Eastern region is simple, fresh and flavourful. According to many Palestinian chefs, the food of Palestine comes from what the land has to offer.
The cuisine is a diffusion of the cultures of civilisations that settled in the region of Palestine, particularly during and after the Islamic era beginning with the Arab Umayyad conquest, then the eventual Persian-influenced Abbasids and ending with the strong influences of Turkish cuisine, resulting from the coming of the Ottoman Turks.
Modern Syrian-Palestinian dishes have been generally influenced by the rule of three major Islamic era: the Arabs, the Persian-influenced Arabs (Iraqis) and the Turks.
In Palestine, food is mostly homemade and best enjoyed with friends and family.
The cuisine is extremely seasonal where a lot of the agriculture products are grown and uses generous helpings of garlic, onion, olive oil, and fresh herbs such as mint, parsley, and coriander. Sumac and black pepper are two of the most prominent spices used in Palestinian cooking.
This region is also home to many desserts, ranging from those that are made regularly and those that are commonly reserved for the holidays. Most Palestinian sweets are pastries filled with either sweetened cheeses, dates or various nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pistachios.
Beverages are dependent on holidays, such as during Ramadan, where carcob, tamarind and apricot juices are consumed at sunset.
Here are five Palestinian dishes that will take your tastebuds on a whirlwind of flavourful adventure.
Much like any Bangladeshi staple comfort food of a simple plate of daal-bhaat and alu bhorta combo, hashweh is a staple for every Palestinian, and also in Lebanon. This classic Arab dish is treated like a comfort food - a food that has been eaten in these regions by its inhabitants for ages during sickness and in health or when you just need something warm and yummy in your stomach.
Hashweh is traditionally served with roasted lamb leg or used as a filling for a whole-roasted turkey.
2 cups of rice, rinsed until the water runs clear
1 pound ground beef
A dash of olive oil
1 tsp each of allspice powder, cinnamon, salt
½ tsp of black pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom
3 cups of water or broth of any kind
Browned pine nuts
Saute the meat in olive oil, mixing in the spices.
Once the meat is cooked, add the rinsed rice and sauté together for five minutes, letting the juices and the fats of the meat absorb a little into the rice.
Add 3 cups of water, chicken or beef broth.
Taste the liquid, making adjustments to spices accordingly.
Bring the mixture to boil on high heat.
Once the broth boils, add the frozen peas and bring the liquid to a boil again.
Turn down to low heat, cover the pan and cook for about 20 minutes until the rice is done. Serve with browned pine nuts sprinkled over top and with a dollop of yogurt on the side.
2. Fasoulia bil Bandoura
Simply put, this family favourite Palestinian dish is beans cooked in tomato sauce. It is a simple yet nutritious dish and can be cooked with fresh ingredients all year round.
Fasoulia bil Bandoura is full of vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system.
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
5 tbsp olive oil
100g tomato puree with a handful of freshly-crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
750ml of hot water
Pour olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and add chopped onion. Stir for five minutes on medium heat until the onions turn golden brown.
Add the crushed garlic and stir for a minute.
Add the beans and stir for another three minutes.
Now, add the pureed tomatoes and stir for two more minutes.
It is time to add the handful of crushed tomatoes and stir.
Add salt and pepper to taste before pouring in the hot water.
Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the beans are tender and tomatoes are cooked.
Serve over rice.
3. Ka'ek Al Quds or Jerusalem Sesame Bread
Ka'ek is a favorite of Jerusalemites. Ka'ek sellers can be found throughout Jerusalem and this delicious bread accompanies many meals. Traditionally, it is served with zaatar, labneh or hard boiled eggs. Children love it with Nutella.
4 cups flour
1 3/4 cup warm water
3 tsp sugar
3 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt
2 cups raw sesame seed
1 tsp sugar
1 tps water
Mix the warm water with the sugar, oil and yeast.
Add the liquid to the flour and salt.
Knead the dough until a ball has formed.
Transfer the dough into a floured bowl. Cover and let it rise for 45 minutes until it has doubled in size.
Knead the isen dough on a floured surface for several minutes. Divide the dough into four even parts and knead each part into a ball.
Cover and let them rest for 15 minutes on a floured surface.
After 15 minutes, turn the dough balls into oval-shaped rings.
Dip each ring in the sesame mixture. Make sure the sesame evenly covers both the sides.
Place the rings on parchment-lined baking sheets and cover and let them rest for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees Celsius while the Ka'ek is resting and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Halfway through, switch the cooking trays so that the loaves all bake evenly.
Since oven temperatures can vary, keep an eye on the loaves and remove them once the sesame turns golden-brown.
Sambousek are crescent-shaped pastries, typically eaten during Ramadan. Much like the Bangladeshi Puli Pitha, this Palestinian dleicacy is commonly stuffed with meat or cheese and zaatar, but feel free to get creative.
1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp yeast
1 cup yogurt
1 cup water (room temperature)
Mix all the ingredients together and knead thoroughly.
Cover the dough and set aside in a warm place for an hour.
Divide the dough into equally sized balls and roll out into rounds the side of your palm.
Spread the filling over half of each ball, leaving little room on the edges.
Brush the rims with water and fold the dough over to enclose the filling, pinching it close. Bake it in the oven at 178 degrees Celsius for 20 to 30 minutes.
5. Palestinian Date Cookies
As simple as it sounds, these are sweet and wholesome cookies stuffed with sticky dates - the Arabian twist in the mostly westernised idea of cookies. These can be enjoyed with a hot cup of coffee or tea.
For cookie dough
3 cups, flour
3 teaspoons, anise seeds
3/4 cup, olive oil or vegetable oil
1 cup, sugar
1 teaspoon, instant yeast
1/2 cup, warm water
4 teaspoons, sesame seeds (black sesame seeds are ideal)
2 teaspoons, baking powder
500 grams or 2 1/2 cups of date, pureed
1 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp anise seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Prepare the filling: Mixing the date puree with ghee and other ingredients.
Divide the mixture into small balls and roll them into ropes about the width of a pencil and approximately six inches long and set aside.
Prepare the dough: In a bowl, add the flour, anise seeds and oil.
Mix well and set the mixture aside to allow the flour to absorb the oil.
Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the water and slowly add it to the flour mixture along with the rest of the dough ingredients while kneading it gently until the dough comes together.
Divide the dough into egg-sized balls.
Using your hands, roll the dough into six-inch lengths and flatten them into really thin sheets so the cookies come out crispy.
Place the date filling on the rolled out dough and fold it over the filling, enclosing it. Join the ends to form a ring.
Bake the cookies at 200 degrees Celsius until the bottoms turn golden-brown for approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Optional: Broil the cookies for a few minutes until the tops are also golden-brown.
Remove from the oven to cool for 10 minutes before serving.