It’s been a tough few months for my husband at work. He has a new job and it comes with some pretty hefty responsibilities. I was talking to mama about this and she said ‘well, we’ll need to make something extra special for dinner tonight’. And this is the essence of Palestinian thinking; that food makes things better. It nurtures, celebrates, rescues, transports, warms and cheers up.
When my mother gave birth to my eldest brother, Rory, my grandmother Shafiqa came to the UK to stay for a few months to help my mum and spend time with the new baby. To give my mother a break, my grandmother and my father went to the supermarket to do the shopping and the story goes that my grandmother would ask for 2 tomatoes and 1 cucumber etc and my father would come back with 2 tomatoes and 1 cucumber my grandmother had meant kilos! She would always laugh a lot telling this story. It was absurd to her to buy so few vegetables. In Palestine you always buy veg by the kilo- lots and lots of vegetables each week.
This stuff is divine. Whether used to dip kettle chips, warm pita, cucumber sticks into or poured over rice this feta dip is absolutely delicious and I can’t help but eat it all when mama makes it. And its PINK!
Mama blinked back tears, swallowed hard and nodded. ‘Really?’ I questioned ‘It’s today? 22 years since Teta died today?’ She nodded again. It has always moved me that even in your 70s you can love and miss and cry for your mother so much; an unbreakable bond.
My brothers and I sometimes share photos with each other –in disbelief- of my mother’s shopping basket which can have up to nine different types of bread in it. It’s not her fault she says, its simply in the blood. Palestinians do love their bread. And so when mama woke from her afternoon nap the other day she was delighted to see that I had used the rare hour that I managed to get both boys to nap together to make some bread.
In Palestine you can get fattet anything. It refers to the pieces of bread that have been torn into pieces at the bottom of this dish. For me this is a lovely homely dish and a wonderful celebration of my favourite vegetable, the aubergine! It reminds me of a time most Palestinians only know through the oral tradition of story-telling of dancing and olive picking and camping out under the stars and pickling summer veg.
Hummus is usually served cold like any regular dip, but I love it on a weekend morning hot and chunky with lots of sumptuous flavours.
I was in a small cramped kitchen in a refugee camp near Bethlehem with the director of the YMCA and a Palestinian refugee woman called Nisreen. We were talking about a project that we were setting up to try to help women increase their incomes and we were looking for ways for her to get involved. ‘I don’t know’, Nisreen said ‘I already have a very good business. Everyone comes to me because they know I make the best maftool’. From what we knew that was true and it was exactly why we wanted her to have a lead role in the maftool cooperative that we hoped would supply some big companies in Palestine.
When you are out and about in Palestine, there are really only two options for fast food; falafel or Shawarma. And I will nearly always choose Shawarma. One of my favourite things about a busy day visiting projects and communities is that there is usually only time to pick up a sandwich to eat in the car between visits. Shawarma wraps are a real guilty pleasure of mine- fast food at its delicious best!
One of my favourite things about Palestinian cooking is the amazing way that we flavour, spice and marinade meats. Fragrant, deep, sometimes sweet nearly always with both paprika and cinnamon it tastes beautifully complex and so utterly delicious. And this is exactly how we prepare the meat in this salad. I know, it’s not really a salad is it? I think we have always called is a salad because once we griddle the component parts, we toss them all together and then put it on the table for everyone to help themselves just like a salad. We eat a lot like this when its warm in the summer (you will have read recently how I go on cooking strike if the mercury goes over 25c!), when you don’t want a heavy meal but want more than just a cold salad.