The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey

The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey

Hardcover(Second Edition, Second edition)

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This award-winning cookbook shares with readers the little-known but distinctive cuisine of the Gaza region of Palestine, presenting 130 recipes collected by the authors from Gaza. Cooks will find great, kitchen-tested recipes for spicy stews, piquant dips, fragrantly flavored fish dishes, and honey-drenched desserts. They will also be entranced by the hundreds of beautiful photos of Gazan cooks, farmers, and fresh-produce merchants at work, and by the numerous in-kitchen interviews in which these women and men tell the stories of their food, their heritage, and their families. Anthony Bourdain, Claudia Roden, and Yotam Ottolenghi are among the many culinary figures who have embraced The Gaza Kitchen. This second edition features tantalizing new stories and recipes, a fresh new design in a beautiful hardbound volume, new photos, and an updated index.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781682570081
Publisher: Just World Books
Publication date: 10/25/2016
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 386,360
Product dimensions: 8.80(w) x 10.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Laila El-Haddad is co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced (2015), co-author of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey (2013), and the author of Gaza Mom (2010). She is a talented writer, analyst, and social activist, and a policy advisor for Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.Born in Gaza, El-Haddad currently lives in Columbia, Maryland. Her co-author on The Gaza Kitchen, Maggie Schmitt, is a writer, researcher, translator, educator, and social activist. She holds a B.A. from Harvard in Literature and has conducted advanced graduate studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Schmitt, who lives near Madrid, works in various media to explore the daily practices of ordinary people living in the Mediterranean region.

Read an Excerpt



Certain building blocks of Gazan cuisine are repeated again and again throughout the book: a spiced broth key to nearly all the stews, a mix of spices used in most rice dishes, a chile paste used as ingredient and condiment. In this chapter, we provide these foundational recipes, as well as some pointers on technique.

The Gaza Pantry

Maraqa • Basic Spiced Broth

Common Sense

Filfil Mat'hoon/Shatta • Ground Red Chile Pepper Paste

Daggit Toma u Lamoon • Hot Garlic and Lemon Dressing

Some Like It Hot

Daggit Samak • Fish Dressing

Salsit T'heena • Tahina Sauce

On the Zibdiya

Ibharat Qidra • Qidra Spices

On Spices

Dugga • Wheat and Spice Blend

Um Hana

Jibna Baladiyya • Fresh White Farmer's Cheese

Dairy Farm

Kishik • Fermented Wheat and Yogurt

Gazan Food in Context

The Gaza Pantry

Chickpeas: Many recipes call for this staple legume. We give measurements for dried chickpeas, which should be presoaked overnight and then boiled until just tender before use. You may also use canned, precooked chickpeas: One 15-ounce can equals about half a cup of dried beans. If using canned chickpeas, strain and rinse several times before using.

Cucumbers: The cucumbers available in Gaza are the small, thin-skinned, and almost seedless Middle Eastern khiyar, sometimes sold in the United States as Lebanese, Persian, or 'mini' cucumbers. Any burp-less variety will do.

Cumin: Perhaps more than any other spice, ground cumin characterizes Gazan cooking. Cumin should ideally be toasted and ground immediately before use, otherwise the flavor dulls.

Dill: Fresh dill greens and dill seeds are both widely used in Gaza's cuisine. The seeds should be crushed in a mortar and pestle, using strong, circular strokes, in order to release their natural oils. 'You'll know when it's enough,' Laila's grandmother used to advise. 'You can smell them!' Dill seeds can usually be found in Turkish or Polish markets; they are also readily available online.

Garlic: Rare is the Gazan dish that doesn't include garlic — often lots of it! Use fresh garlic, never jarred, pre-minced, or dried.

Green Chile Peppers: Fundamental to nearly all Gazan recipes, the local variety of green chiles is hot! Jalapeño or serrano peppers make a decent substitute; use hot Italian green peppers if you prefer less bite. Avoid Thai or bird's-eye peppers. Remove the seeds and membranes before using, and be aware of exactly how hot the pepper you're using is; they vary a lot.

Mastic: Also called 'Arabic gum,' mastic is the resin of a Mediterranean shrub. It is sold in small hard drops (or 'pearls') and is used throughout Greece and the Middle East to season and thicken sweets. In Gaza it is widely used to perfume soups, as well as in many sweets.

Nigella Seed: The tiny, slightly bitter black seed of the Nigella sativa flower, often called 'black cumin.' It is used to flavor breads, cheeses, and pickles.

Red Chile Peppers: Used to make filfil Mat'hoon, itself a basic ingredient. These chiles should also be hot, but not brutally so; mild red cayenne or serrano peppers would make a reasonable substitute. When preparing filfil mat'hoon, make sure you chop the peppers rather than using a food processor. Otherwise, the seeds produce a bitter taste.

Red Tahina: This brick-red Gazan variety of tahina is made by roasting sesame seeds in small batches over direct heat (for the more familiar 'white' variety, the seeds are steamed). Add a little dark sesame oil to white tahina to achieve a similar effect, or make your own in a high-powered blender! Some health-food stores are now marketing a roasted-sesame tahina; this is very similar to the Gazan variety.

Squash: Several recipes call for koosa, small Middle Eastern squashes with pale skin, sometimes referred to as 'grey squash' in Asian and Mexican markets. If this is not available, it is better to substitute yellow summer squash than dark-green zucchini.

Sour Plums: Extremely tart little dried plums, known as arasiya, are traditionally used to lend sourness to broths and stews. As these plums are now scarce, pomegranate molasses — available in Middle Eastern groceries — is a good substitute. We find that adding prunes and pomegranate molasses to recipes calling for dried plums is ideal: The prunes provide the sweetness, the pomegranate the sourness.


Basic Spiced Broth

Makes 5–6 cups (approximately 1.5 liters) of broth

For preparing the chicken

¼ cup (30 grams) flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 lemon, juiced, and rind reserved

For the chicken broth

Chicken parts, such as back, neck, and wings, or whole chicken cut into parts, skin removed
3–4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 dried bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 sprig rosemary
1 very small piece cracked nutmeg
2 pebbles of mastic, crushed with a little salt
2 teaspoons salt (to taste)

Clean chicken carefully in a bath of cold water, flour, salt, and lemon juice, then massage with spent lemon rinds as described in 'Common Sense' on page 26. Rinse, then set aside in a strainer on top of a bowl for 10 to 15 minutes, until you see that bloody juices have run out of the chicken.

If so advised in the recipe you are using, brown the chicken pieces in a little oil for a few minutes on high heat.

Add 2 cups (480 milliliters) of water and bring to a boil, continuously skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Add another 4 cups (1 liter) of water — enough to fully submerge the meat — along with the rest of the ingredients.

Bring to a boil again, then lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Discard spices. Strain and cool, reserving only meat and broth.

For beef, lamb, or goat broth

Follow the instructions above, substituting the specified quantity of meat from the recipe you are following, and substituting 2 tablespoons of white vinegar for the lemon juice. Strain the meat, then pat it dry or set it in the fridge to air-dry for 30 minutes. If you are cooking a vegetable stew, brown the meat first. Allow for 2 to 3 hours of cooking time on a stovetop or approximately 1 hour in a pressure cooker, until the meat is fork-tender.


A good basic broth, rich with spices, is key to some of Gaza's (and indeed the entire region's) most elaborate festive dishes like fatta or maqlooba. It also makes a delicious base for humbler fare like mulukhiyya, fogaiyya, or shorabit freekah.

For soups, this broth is often made with the less meaty parts of a chicken: the back, neck, and wings or head. For special occasions the whole animal is used to make the broth. The meat, tender and perfumed with spices after boiling, is served separately or incorporated later into the final presentation of the dish.

For some recipes, such as the many vegetable stews we feature in this book or some of the rice dishes, like maqlooba, we recommend browning the meat or chicken in a little oil before adding water. For other recipes, you can skip this step and proceed immediately to boiling the meat.

While starting with a basic homemade broth is best, the amateur cook should not be discouraged or dissuaded from trying recipes without it: use a good store-bought broth or natural bouillon paste and simmer with an assortment of the whole spices suggested below. Or consider making a large batch of broth and freezing portions in glass jars or resealable bags.

Placing the whole spices in a disposable tea filter or a piece of gauze tied together with kitchen twine makes it easier to fish them out and dispose of them when the broth is done. If unavailable, simply add spices and spoon or strain them out after cooking.

* Common Sense

Rarely will you come across a cuisine that gives more importance to cleanliness. Arab cooks in general are very fastidious about the freshness and purity of ingredients — so much so that even in medieval times, the hallmark of a good cook was the gleaming cleanliness of his pots and pans. One of the secrets to the bright, vivid tastes of Gazan cuisine may be the scrupulousness with which meat and vegetables are washed, scrubbed, and purged of any grimy or gamey tastes. This is an accomplishment anywhere, but more so in the sweltering heat of a place where the electricity is cut more than eight hours a day and the coldness of refrigerators and freezers must be carefully preserved.

The result of this careful attention is a unique precision of flavor. Each thing tastes richly of what it is, with no smudgy indistinction. Broths are clear and golden; seafood is robust without low-tide murkiness. Zanakha, or gaminess, is considered the sign of a careless cook.

Every cuisine has its own 'common sense': basic techniques that are automatic to the experienced cook and that in many ways define the taste of the food. This elemental vocabulary is largely learned by observation over time. For those who haven't imbibed these lessons at their mother's knee, here are some axioms of Palestinian cooking.


• Chicken, rabbit, red meat, and fish should be bathed in a bowl of cold water with a fistful of flour, a spoonful of coarse salt, and the juice of one lemon (or substitute 2 tablespoons of white vinegar for the lemon juice). Then massage the chicken, fish, or meat with the spent lemon rind. Remove all veins, blood, or scales, inside and out, then rinse the meat, chicken, or fish and leave it in a strainer — preferably in the refrigerator — to drain off the bloody juices for 10 to 15 minutes. Meat that is to be browned should be very fully dried after draining.

• If using a tough cut of beef or goat meat, soak it in white vinegar for 20 minutes, then rinse it well, pat it dry, and proceed with recipe.

• If you are cooking any meat in liquid, as in the preparation of a broth, first add just a cup or two of water and bring to a boil. This usually produces a scummy foam called zafara, which is considered utterly repulsive. Spoon this off continuously as it forms. When no scum remains, proceed to add the remaining quantity of water, onion, and spices. This results in a clean-tasting broth free of any gamey flavors.

• A chicken or rabbit boiled for broth may — after boiling — be rubbed with a halved tomato or lemon and then briefly placed in a broiler to brown. The meat will be tender and perfumed from the broth spices, but attractively crisp and brown for serving.


• Greens of all kinds should be first chopped and then submerged in a large bowl of water and swished around vigorously, then scooped out, not strained. Change the water 2 or 3 times and repeat until no grit remains at the bottom of the bowl, then strain the greens in a colander and dry on a kitchen towel or in a salad spinner.

• Most varieties of eggplant (except the Japanese type) should be salted before use. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and leave them in a colander for 20 minutes until beads of moisture form, or else soak them in salted water then pat dry before proceeding. This is especially important for bitter or seedy varieties of eggplant. It also helps reduce the oil absorbed when frying.

• When tomatoes are in season, liquefy them in a blender (crush slightly with your hands first) or grate them with a cheese grater, then strain for use in stews. If tomatoes are not in season, substitute tomato paste diluted in water or unseasoned tomato purée.

Herbs and Spices

• Salt provides friction when you are crushing garlic or other ingredients with a mortar and pestle. Coarse sea salt is best, but regular table salt will do. When crushing mastic for use in sweets, a pinch of sugar serves the same purpose.

• Dried herbs should be crushed between the fingers to release their fragrance before use; dill seed should be crushed thoroughly with a circular motion in a mortar until fragrant.

• Many stews are finished off with a taqliya: Garlic or onion, fried crisp in plenty of olive oil or butter, sometimes with other aromatics like coriander, and added at the very end of cooking to provide a bright jolt of flavor

Filfil Mat'hoon/Shatta

Ground Red Chile Pepper Paste

Makes about 12 ounces (340 grams)

1 pound (approximately 500 grams) red hot chile peppers, stems removed
2½ tablespoons salt
¼ cup (60 milliliters) olive oil

First, prepare your storage containers or Mason jars. Sterilize the jars by boiling them in water for 3 minutes, then carefully remove them using tongs and allow to air dry completely before proceeding. Make sure there is no moisture inside or the pepper paste will spoil.

Next, hand-chop the peppers to a medium-coarse grind, or pulse them gently in a food processor until they are ground but not yet a paste. The seeds should remain whole and visible. Otherwise, the resulting paste will be bitter. Add salt. Mix well, then place the mixture in a strainer for 10 to 15 minutes, until an adequate amount of moisture has been drained and no more liquid is emerging. The less moisture, the longer you can preserve the pepper paste.

Pour the strained mixture into containers and cover with a generous layer of olive oil to prevent spoilage. Refrigerate. The paste may be used immediately.

Unlike most chile paste recipes, this one calls for fresh, not dried, chiles. Called shatta in some families, it is ubiquitous throughout Gaza: as an ingredient in recipes, as a condiment to accompany meats, or mixed with feta cheese or labna and eaten with flatbread for a Gaza-style breakfast. Anaheim, Aleppo, or Korean red peppers work well here.

Daggit Toma u Lamoon

Hot Garlic and Lemon Dressing Makes about ½ cup (118 milliliters)

6 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
3 or 4 hot green chiles, finely chopped (adjust to taste)
Juice of 3 lemons

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic cloves and salt to a rough paste. Add the chiles to the crushed garlic and pound slightly. Stir in the lemon juice and mix well, scraping in any bits of garlic from the bottom of the mortar. Increase the quantity as necessary.


This simple hot-and-sour dressing is served with innumerable dishes, from hearty stewed fava beans to eggplant salads.

Some Like It Hot

'They make something like this in the rest of Palestine,? many of the cooks we interviewed would say as they showed us how to prepare a favorite dish, ?but we add hot chile peppers and dill.'

Hot chiles and dill: the Gazan combination par excellence. How Gazans developed this love affair with the chile pepper is a culinary mystery for the ages. Whereas Lebanese cooks tolerate no spicy heat at all and cooks from other parts of Palestine and the greater region use spice in moderation, Gazan cooks (specifically those from Gaza City itself, as opposed to rural areas) make you sweat, whether using a local variety of fresh hot green chile peppers — generally crushed in a mortar with lemon and salt — or else ground red chile peppers conserved in oil and sold as a condiment and ingredient called filfil mat'hoon.

Ubiquitous dishes such as tabeekh bamia, okra stew with lamb, and mulukhiyya, green mallow soup, are served with a blaze of hot green chile and dill seed in lemon juice, cutting the dark, rich tastes with their brightness. Green chiles are ground with meat to make kufta and mashed in clay mortars to make dagga, Gaza's distinctive hot tomato salad.

The same peppers, ripened to fiery redness, are sun-dried for winter use in dishes such as maftool, a Gazan variety of couscous, perfuming the grains as they steam. In the summer, fields of bright red peppers — ripe for pickling and grinding — blanket what little remains of Gaza's seaside farmlands.

In fact, chile peppers play a nutritionally important role in Gaza. They grow fast and require little irrigation, making them a viable local product and very inexpensive in the market. For many of the poorest Gazans, nutritionally rich red chile provides some of the vitamins, iron, and potassium to which they do not otherwise have access, given the inflated prices of irrigated fruits and vegetables. Indeed, lunch for many schoolchildren in Gaza is a filfil mat'hoon sandwich.


Excerpted from "The Gaza Kitchen"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Laila El-Haddad & Maggie Schmitt.
Excerpted by permission of Just World Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Nancy Harmon Jenkins,
Fundamentals: Condiments, Broth, and More,
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,
Sweets and Beverages,
Pickles and Preserves,

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The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful book, Palestinian food of the Mediterranean is well known for being very healthy and there are many vegan options as well.  A lot of so-called Mediterranean cookbooks overlook Palestinian food.  What they are missing, is here, and some of the recipes will become standby meals in my kitchen, just as they have been made for generations of Palestinian people.