Cookbook review: Baladi Palestine: A Celebration of Food from Land and Sea

January 25, 2019

 I’ve been blessed to teach hundreds of students from the Middle East, who generously shared their culture, cuisine and stories over tiny porcelain cups of cardamom-scented Arabic coffee, dates from royal orchards, and rosewater-soaked pastries, and “Baladi” captures the essence of Palestine in a beautifully tangible way that pays tributes to Palestine’s farmers, fishermen, bakers, market sellers, and ordinary daily family life – you will certainly want to add this to your cookbook collection and it is one of my top cookbooks of 2018.

 

I previously reviewed Joudie Kalla’s love song “Palestine on a Plate” in January 2017 when I quickly fell in love with the brilliant recipes and remembrances of her family’s kitchen. In her sophomore “Baladi: Palestine: A Celebration of Food from Land and Sea,” Joudie again pays homage to her homeland of Palestine, this time by taking readers to small villages, farms, orchards, markets and experiencing the changing seasons and various cuisines.

 

The word “Baladi” means “My home, my land, my country.” Despite its small size, Palestine is home to a wide range of terrains, including uninhabited desert and cold areas along the northern border, with access to the sea and rivers as well as an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. Because of its prime location on a trade route crossing multiple borders, there are also other international influences on Palestinian cuisine which “makes us all family in the end.”

 

Market life is central to traditional Palestinian culture and dictates the day’s menu, as many still shop daily and buy whatever is freshest. In the market chapter, you’ll find turmeric mlik with cracked cardamom pods, Arabic coffee, the incredibly simple yet indulgent grape molasses and tahini spread (the Palestinian equivalent to the PB&J of our youth!), the fantastic fryup of grilled halloumi, fried eggs, and roasted tomatoes, mixed vegetable salad with tahini dressing, soft-boiled eggs with yogurt, chili and lemon, fried eggplant slices with honey and tahini, watermelon, feta and red onion with mint, and hummus (the entire first chapter is basically a vegetarian’s dream menu).

 

“The Fields and Earth” offers up an abundant harvest of veggies served every way: fried okra with chili, roasted beets,  sautéed, caramelized (the caramelized shallots with herby labneh was a revelation!), served kubbeh-style, fresh salads (goat cheese, dates, and endives pair spectacularly), and lemon potatoes.

 

As a baker at heart, my heart sang at the wide range of stuffed pastries and homemade breads like khubez (pita), Mai’s Akkawi Bread liberally coated in za’atar and stuffed with salty white cheese, za’atar and feta brioche twists, fatayer, and dumplings.
 

“The farm” delights meat eaters with ample recipes for lamb and poultry, while the seas and rivers offer arak-poached salmon, marinated sardines, shatta-marinated sea bass with crushed rose petals, fish skewers, fried fish, and kataifi-wrapped shrimp.

 

“Hills and orchards” uses the abundance of the harvest to create watermelon juice with mint and orange blossom (I got hooked on fresh watermelon juice living in Taiwan, and there is no better cure for summer heat and humidity), fresh pomegranate and mango juice, strawberry, orange blossom, and rose jam, apple and pistachio jam, preserved lemons, pickled olives, baklawa, filo pastries filled with sweetened cream, rose and pistachio eclairs, the endangered tamriyeh, khafeh cheesecake, pistachio, zucchini, and lemon cake, black sesame cake, chocolate and labneh cake with slivered pistachios, qatayef, tahini halva, and gorgeous, dramatic ice cream roulades.

 

Recipe names are given in English and Arabic in both metric and US measurements.

 

The book is illustrated throughout with luscious food photography by Jamie Orlando Smith, stunning photography of Palestine’s diverse landscapes as well as scenes from daily life (working the farm, pulling noodles, carrying in the day’s catch), gorgeous table settings, and Palestinian embroidery. Each recipe offers the reader / cook insight into ingredients, preparation, or personal memories that make these more than simple recipes; instead you feel as if you are sharing a meal with Joudie’s family.

(review copy courtesy of Interlink Books – shukran!)

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