Baladi Palestine

Baladi Palestine by Joudie Kalla, Interlink Books 2019, $35.00 hardback, 256 pages

The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift.

Laurie Colwin

This is the food of Kalla’s homeland, her baladi–but beyond geography, it is the food of her life and family.

The food, in a land occupied and re-occupied, has become an important marker of identity. Kayla’s family fled and resettled in 1948 and she notes, that to an outsider, the countries that surround Palestine seem very similar, but are in fact different. As a result, her family traditions include Jordanian, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Syrian dishes.

In fact, Kalla writes “Some may question the origins of the these recipes, and whether they are truly Palestinian.” Identity must be defended. These are dishes she grew up eating, learned from her grandparents and mother, with the influence of their moving home. And, she notes, her family are “heavily garlic, chili, and lemon obsessed,” so naturally, the dishes reflect those flavors.

Some recipes, like Chocolate and Labneh Cake, are new adaptations, but most are resurrected from the memory of her mother and her “twenty aunties.” Many of them will be familiar–hummus, shakshoukeh, and preserved lemons.

Even within Palestine, the food varies by region from cooler mountainous regions to coastal towns of Yaffa, Gaza, and Haifa. Kalla organizes this diversity in chapters covering Markets and Village Life, Fields and Earth, the Bakery, the Farm, From the River to the Sea, and Hills and Orchards.

She begins with small dishes that lend a distinctive Palestinian flavor–Grape Molasses with Tahini, Turmeric Milk with Cardamom Pods, thick Arabic Coffee brewed with cardamom. And quick cafe-style dishes like Halloumi with fired eggs and roasted tomatoes, or pan-fried potatoes with eggs.

One thing that does seem to be the same are the abundant fresh fruits and vegetables used in drinks and “salads.” From fried okra with chili and her version of Muttabal–sauteed zucchini dressed with chili, yogurt and mint. It’s a dish that her mother makes with other vegetables–and from one recipe, many flavors and seasons.

It’s that kind of simple, in-the-kitchen advice that makes this book a treasure. That, and the bread recipes, which are sometimes left out, as the province of professionals. Kalla’s savory rolls, flatbreads, and hand pies are stuffed with feta, za’atar, nigella seeds, sumac, and spiced lamb. She also offers home-based techniques–rather than cooking your Khubez Taboon over hot coals, try a hot skillet. She adapts again with Za’atar Brioche Twists.

Kalla here combines her skill as a trained chef and caterer with her heart and memory–the best kind of cooking.

About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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