A taste of Palestine, lest we forget : The Tribune India

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A taste of Palestine, lest we forget

Food is cooked with care, and at an unhurried pace

A taste of Palestine, lest we forget


Rahul Verma

There are different ways of holding hands with the people of Palestine. A few evenings ago, two friends hosted a dinner celebrating Palestinian dishes, and each dish was a standing ovation to the spirit of the people. The appetisers — soft bread with olives and sundried tomatoes — set the tone for the evening. And when I had the first course — a delicious lentil and eggplant dish — I was lost somewhere in Gaza. May peace prevail!

Ingredients

  • Chickpeas 250 g
  • Flour 2 tbsp
  • Spring onions (sliced) 2
  • Garlic cloves (minced) 4
  • Dill leaves 2 tsp
  • Cumin seeds 1 tsp
  • Coriander seeds 1 tsp
  • Baking powder ½ tsp
  • Pepper ½ tsp
  • Salt To taste
  • Oil For frying

Method

Wash the chickpeas and soak overnight. Roast and grind coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Drain the chickpeas, add the spices, salt and pepper and blend till smooth. Add garlic and onions to this mix and blend again. Further add flour, baking powder and dill leaves and blend once again. Make small balls of this mixture and dee fry till crisp and golden. Serve with hummus or the yoghurt-based tzatziki dip.

But what exactly is Palestinian food? Is it very different from the dishes of West Asia and the Mediterranean countries? There are a great many similarities, no doubt, but there is a distinct Palestinian flavour too, depending on which part you are talking about. Food historians tell us that the food can be broadly divided into three — of Galilee, Gaza and the West Bank. Galilee, the region bordering Lebanon, is known for its bulgur and meat dishes such as kibbeh, which is like a meat pie. Wheat has been growing in this region since time immemorial. Gaza’s food is most distinctive for its use of red chillies, eastern spices and herbs such as dill.

Gaza was an important site on the Spice Route, and its cuisine celebrates spices such as pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove that passed through — and was embraced by — the region. As a strip of land between a desert and a coastline, fish preparations have traditionally been on the menu. The West Bank is known for its flatbreads and meats, among them a dish of roast chicken with sumac, a regional spice gathered from plants of the Rhus genus.

One of the best Gaza dishes you can have in this hot and humid weather is rummaniyya. Rumma means pomegranate in Arabic. It is a dish of eggplants, lentils, pomegranate molasses and onions, cooked with garlic, mint and a pinch of sumac spice. Our intrepid friend prepared the molasses at home by thickening pomegranate juice to a syrupy consistency. She used whole masoor dal for the dish — and it was tasty, cooling and invigorating.

As in the use of lentils, there is a lot that’s common between the region’s cuisine and Indian meals. Yoghurt plays an important role in most meals. It is eaten as it is, spooned over fish or meats, or strained and hung, and then rolled into thick and creamy labneh. There is a lot of focus on fresh vegetables, too, and a salad is served with almost every dish. At my friend’s place, I had the most delicious salad. Called salatat jarjeer, it is a nutty dish of rocket leaves, red onions, walnuts, lemon juice, olive oil and sumac.

Food is cooked with care, and at an unhurried pace. Cleaning of ingredients is crucial. The friend, who cooked one of the most delightful dishes of rice and meat that I’ve ever had (called qidreh), tells me that the washing process itself is an elaborate and lengthy one. The meat is bathed in a bowl of cold water with flour, lemon juice and coarse salt. Then the water is drained, and the meat massaged carefully with the lemon rind before being cooked.

Dishes are often served with tahini or tahina sauce — a mix of tahini paste (essentially sesame seeds), garlic, lemon juice, cold water and salt. For this, you have to crush the garlic and salt to a paste in a mortar, add the tahini paste and lemon juice, and mix till smooth, adding cold water for the right consistency. This goes well with fish and other entrées, and is often served with falafel. And, of course, we all know hummus — a mouth-watering dip of chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, lemon and tahini paste.

The flavours stay with you long after the last morsel has been eaten. One can only hope that they live on forever. May peace prevail!

#Palestine


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