It’s a sign of a fine cookbook! I have turned the pages and have actually mused on presenting a dinner party, family dinner and afternoon tea using offerings from within these covers. It’s not often that I am inspired to cook anything from review cookbooks, other than the odd recipe here and there, but The Palestinian Table ticked so many gastronomic boxes for me.
This is truly a Palestinian family cookbook, with charming anecdotes by author Reem Kassis who was brought up in Jerusalem, the hub of the Palestinian community. One sits with aunties drinking coffee, one is introduced to grandmother’s dishes, and mother’s recipes.
The Palestinian Table is a journey of tantalising taste and colour. There are spice mixes, small plates, sweets, main meals, along with salads, dips and breads. There are dishes with names that sound familiar, but those previously-perused recipes might not be quite as authentic as these. It does this cook’s soul good to read that the recipe for crackers is in fact generations old.
Do I have favourites? Well, yes, lots of them. The Basic recipes will serve the home cook well. Nine Spice Mix is used quite a bit in this book and is indispensable for replicating the true taste of Jerusalem. Just a sprinkle of this on any roasting meat would make a difference to a Sunday dinner. Flavoured Sugar Syrup will give a hint of Eastern promise to any filled pastries. I am looking forward to trying the recipe for traditional Pitta Bread.
Spicy tomato sauce
But then there are all those other dishes. Shakshuka has long been a favourite of mine. It’s a spicy tomato sauce in which eggs are cooked. There is nothing better on a cold winter’s day. It’s listed here as a breakfast dish but I am also tempted by it for lunch and dinner, along with some crusty bread or the aforementioned pitta.
The recipe for Cauliflower Fritters takes that often-boring (yet healthy) vegetable and transforms it into something fragrant, well-spiced and moreish. The kids will likely demand this at every meal, and won’t that be a blessing? Yes, this could become a new family favourite that won’t break the bank.
Split Lentil Soup is another economic dish for the whole family, but it could easily be a warming starter for a dinner party of recipes from this delightful book. I would perhaps continue with Spiced Lamb in Tomato Sauce or Chicken and Potato in that Nine Spice powder; and a Semolina Cake to finish.
The Palestinian Table is an excellent and comprehensive introduction to some of the more popular dishes of this region of the Middle East. But it is more than that. The author, Reem Kassis, weaves warm narrative into those ingredients. One is invited to spend time in the kitchen with aunts and grandmothers. One can almost hear boasts of this recipe being better than that of the lady who lives near the market. One can almost smell roasting spices, and one wishes to linger and to enjoy good food and good company.
The Palestinian Table
Author: Reem Kassis
Published by: Phaidon
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018