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Cookbook review: Recipes and stories from today’s Palestinian table

Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ten Speed Press, $35).
Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ten Speed Press, $35).

Food and politics are intrinsically intertwined throughout the world, including a small piece of land at the easternmost corner of the Mediterranean Sea that is home to both Palestinians and Israelis.

Given the realities of a daily life complicated by checkpoints and a separation wall, and where scents of tear gas often overpower the smell of fresh za’atar leaves, it’s easy to see how a friendly conversation about falafel-making or baklava-baking could suddenly take an uncomfortable turn.

Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley were prepared for those encounters as they traveled the country’s diverse and complicated regions, collecting stories of the food and people who call themselves “Falastinians” (there’s no hard P sound in Arabic, but there is a soft F) for their stunning collaboration: “Falastin: A Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press, $35).

Tamimi is the Palestinian chef of the famed Ottolenghi restaurants in London, which he started with the Jewish chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Both chefs were born in Jerusalem, and they've co-authored several best-selling cookbooks together. Wigley worked in publishing before going to cooking school in Ireland and then becoming Ottolenghi's longtime recipe tester and writing collaborator.

With Tamimi focused on the cooking and Wigley on the storytelling, the authors aimed to tell not one story of Palestine, but many stories, from multiple perspectives, through both the recipes and profiles of refugee camp cooks, chefs, tahini makers, agriculturists and others. Scenes of hardscrabble countrysides and weathered storefronts contrast photographed recipes such as Lemon Chicken with Za’atar; Eggplant, Chickpea, and Tomato Bake (get the recipe at ajc.com/cookbooks); and Labneh Cheesecake with Roasted Apricots, Honey, and Cardamom.

Varying opinions come through in the vibrant narratives. At the end is a glossary of “the pantry and politics of Palestine,” where a succinct explanation of OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories”) appears between instructions for toasting nuts and suggestions for using rose water.

Palestine presents a sobering backdrop for showcasing recipes, but it’s one the authors believe must be fully shown for change to happen. And it’s also their hope that everyone, from whatever their viewpoint, “will come around the table to cook, eat, and talk.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

Eggplant, chickpea, and tomato bake
Eggplant, chickpea, and tomato bake

Recipe: Eggplant, chickpea, and tomato bake

Echoes of Greek moussaka are correctly heard here, both in the name and the feel of the dish. It’s a vegetarian take on the hearty, humble, healthful, and completely delicious sheet-pan dish. It works well either as a veggie main or as a side with all sorts of things—piled into a baked potato, for example, or served alongside some grilled meat, fish, or tofu. It’s just the sort of dish you want to have in the fridge ready to greet you after a day at work. It’s also lovely at room temperature, so it’s great for an on-the-go lunch.

Getting ahead: You can make and bake this in advance; it keeps in the fridge for up to three days, ready to be warmed through when needed.

Eggplant, chickpea, and tomato bake
  • 5 medium eggplants (2¾ pounds)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon chile flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoon tomato paste
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1¼-inch chunks (1 1/3 cups)
  • 1 x 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1¾ cups)
  • 1 x 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 4 plum tomatoes, trimmed and sliced into ½-inch rounds
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to peel away strips of eggplant skin from top to bottom, leaving the eggplants with alternating strips of black skin and white flesh, like a zebra. Cut crosswise into round slices, ¾ inch/2cm thick, and place in a large bowl. Mix well with 5 tbsp/75ml of oil, 1 tsp of salt, and plenty of black pepper and spread out on the prepared baking sheets. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until completely softened and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • Decrease the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  • While the eggplants are roasting, put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large sauté pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 7 minutes, until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic, chile flakes, cumin, cinnamon, and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the bell peppers, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, sugar, water, 1¼ teaspoons of salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Decrease the heat to medium and cook for 18 minutes, or until the bell peppers have cooked through. Stir in ¾ cup of cilantro and remove from the heat.
  • Spread out half the plum tomatoes and half the roasted eggplants in a large baking dish, about 9 x 13 inches. Top with the chickpea mixture, then layer with the remaining tomatoes and eggplants. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, then cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the tomatoes have completely softened. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes. Top with the remaining ¼ cup cilantro and serve either warm or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 534 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 13 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams fiber, 31 grams fat (4 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 485 milligrams sodium.

This recipe and headnote is reprinted with permission from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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