The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, written by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt, features a collection of 130 recipes and personal stories from the Gaza region of Palestine. I am reviewing the second edition which has been updated (the original was published in 2013) to include information on the current state in Gaza and the people highlighted in the book. You will find notable dishes such as Bascote Zaatar (Savory Zaatar Biscuits), Salata Khadra Mafrooma (Gaza “Confetti” Salad), Mayit Bandora u Bayd (Tomato Rice and Poached Eggs), Tabeekh Ari’ Hilew (Sweet and Sour Pumpkin Stew), Qidra (Spiced Rice with Lamb, Chickpeas, and Garlic), Hbari Maqli (Gaza-Style Hot Fried Calamari), and Namoura (Semolina Walnut Cake) along with the recipe I am sharing today for Shay bil Maramiya (Palestinian Sage-Scented Tea).
Laila El-Haddad was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents from Gaza. She is a writer, public speaker, social activist, and a policy advisor for Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. She is also the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between and the co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced. She currently lives in Maryland with her husband and three children.
Maggie Schmitt is a writer, researcher, translator, educator, and social activist. She has a B.A. from Harvard, has conducted advanced graduate studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and her focus is on the daily practices of ordinary people as a way of understanding political and social realities in the Mediterranean region.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Just World Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Chapters are divided according to course: Introduction; Fundamentals: Condiments, Broth, and More; Salads; Soups, Dips, and Spreads; Breads, Biscuits, and Savory Pies; Little Dishes: Eggs and Hot Mezze; One-Bowl Meals: Pulses, Grains, and Greens; Vegetable Stews; Rice Dishes and Stuffed Vegetables; Meat, Poultry, and Dishes for Special Occasions; Seafood; Sweets and Beverages; and Pickles and Preserves.
El-Haddad and Schmitt begin with a brief history behind the creation of Gaza, a 25 mile long and 2 1/2 mile wide strip of land set in 1967- previously referred to as the Gaza District, and its people. A map with pre- and post-1948 borders is included to help locate the different areas mentioned in the book. Along with the recipes, you will also find stories of the daily lives and homes of cooks, farmers, fishermen, food producers, and others who live here. Their personal stories cover everything from the current state of water, electricity, nutrition, and imports/exports to the difficulties in the operation of small farms, factories, fishing, and more.
To help recreate the authentic flavors in your home kitchen, the basic building blocks of Gazan cuisine are included with recipes for spiced broths, sauces, and spice blends. You will find a guide to the Gaza pantry with descriptions of popular ingredients like red tahina, sour plums, mastic, and nigella seeds and information on specialty pots and utensils. There is also a section on how to properly clean and prepare meats, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
The beautiful photography showcases not only the finished dish of many recipes, but also the people and landscapes of Gaza from El-Haddad and Schmitt’s travels in the summer of 2010. The name of each dish is listed in Arabic and English. The headnotes include background information, serving sizes, and tips. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric.
This book is a great pick for those wanting a closer look into the everyday life and cuisine of Gaza and Palestine. The preservation of traditional, homestyle cooking and culture is the focus here. The recipes range in difficulty from simple beverages and snacks to longer simmering stews and elaborate meat dishes. Having a market with Middle Eastern/Mediterranean ingredients will be helpful for items like grape leaves, fava beans, mastic, orange blossom/rose water, spring wheat berries, fine/coarse semolina, sumac, tahina, and more.
Shay bil Maramiya is a Palestinian tea made by steeping black tea leaves with dried sage. It takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish and is a common treatment for stomach aches and even menstrual pain. A little sugar is mixed in as desired. Add the sage to the boiling water just as it is removed from heat. Overheating the herb will create a bitter taste.
I grow sage by my front door and dried a few bundles of leaves in an oven set to 180 degrees F for about 4 hours, until all traces of moisture are removed and they become crumbly. This is also a great way to preserve the leaves and use them during winter.
I also made Imtabbal Abucado (Spicy Avocado Dip), Shakshuka (Eggs in Hot Tomato Sauce), Jaj Mashwi Bil Furun (Oven-Roasted Chicken), and Mtabbaq (Nut Parcels).
Imtabbal Abucado is a spicy avocado dip has become a part of Gazan cuisine since the introduction of avocado trees by Israeli settlements in the 1980s. Avocados are blended with garlic, chile peppers, yogurt, and lemon juice. The top is decorated with a swirl of olive oil and alternating prints of cumin and paprika around the edges. It is best served with Khubz Kmaj (Arabic Bread).
You can find Shakshuka (Eggs in Hot Tomato Sauce) recipes across the Middle East and North Africa (I currently have one on the blog from Yemen). The Palestinian version uses crushed garlic cloves and green chile peppers simmered with onions and tomatoes. Eggs are added towards the end and cooked just until the whites are set. It is simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and allspice. I have peppers and tomatoes in my garden so it was the perfect weeknight meal using much of what I already had on hand.
Jaj Mashwi Bil Furun is a beautifully seasoned whole roasted chicken with a rub of sumac, salt, cardamom, and red pepper flakes. It is additionally covered in a tomato and onion paste before cooking until golden with a variety of chopped vegetables. It held up well for leftovers the next day and the remaining bones made a delicious broth.
Mtabbaq are sweet little parcels of thin dough filled with an orange blossom and cinnamon scented almond or walnut mixture. They were perfect for pairing with tea. The dough and filling are not very sweet on their own, but the baked pastries are covered in Qatir (simple syrup) or honey. It is noted that this Gaza version is filled with nuts, but you will find them filled with sweet cheese in the West Bank.
Shay bil Maramiya (Palestinian Sage-Scented Tea)
Excerpt from The Gaza Kitchen
3 teaspoons full-bodied loose black tea or 3-4 black tea bags
1 handful dried sage leaves
6 teaspoons sugar, adjust to taste
6 cups water
In a clean teapot, boil the water and sugar for 3 continuous minutes. Remove the teapot from heat. As you do so, immediately throw in the sage leaves so they get one brief boil through (do not be tempted to boil them longer or a very bitter flavor will result). Add the tea bags, then cover and let them steep for about 5 minutes.
The tea should be an amber red color, not dark red or it will be too bitter. Strain it and serve, preferably in clear glasses so the color of the tea is visible, with assorted pastries or to finish a heavy meal.