episode 63 | show notes & advice
This week Sarah chats to Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley about their cookbook Falastin, which follows Jerusalem, the cookbook they co-wrote with Yotam Ottolenghi. In Falastin they explore Palestinian cuisine, the food from Sami’s childhood and Tara’s journey into Middle Eastern home cooking. Incredible recipes are interweaved with stories about Palestine, its people and the complex political circumstances they have to live in. Sami and Tara tell Sarah what it was like to travel around Palestine researching this book and share some delicious recipes with us today.
In this episode discover
- How Sami and Tara came to work with Yotam Ottelenghi in his restaurants and on his cookbooks.
- Sami shares memories of his childhood and the food growing up in Palestine.
- Some of the incredible people profiled in Falastin, including Vivien Sansour, who runs the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, and Islam Abu Aouda, who lives with her family in a refugee camp in Bethlehem, offering cooking classes to visitors.
- The paradox Tara and Sami wanted to show existing in Palestine where people live full lives and eat delicious food, while also portraying the harsh reality and constraints of living under occupation.
- Why olive oil is so important to Palestinian cooking, how to buy this oil here in the UK, and the people protecting 4000 year old olive trees under threat of destruction from the separation wall.
- Eight delicious recipes from Falastin including spiced salmon skewers with parsley oil Sami cooked when he came to teach at Perch Hill.
Episode 63 advice sheet
Working with Ottolenghi
Sami started his culinary career in Palestine before moving to London as a young chef in 1997, where he met Yotam Ottolenghi. Together, Ottolenghi and Tamimi launched the celebrated Ottolenghi group of restaurants and cookbooks. The first cookbook they worked on together was Ottolenghi, followed by Jerusalem in homage to the food of their shared, divided home city (Ottolenghi is Israeli).
Falastin is Sami’s first venture without Yotam, a book of recipes and stories. Co-written with Tara Wigley, who left a career in publishing to cook with the Ottolenghi family, collaborating with Yotam on both the writing and cooking of his recipes in the test kitchen.
Together, they wanted to zoom in on the food and people of Palestine, offering a collection of 110 recipes for the home cook. Falastin is also full of profiles of the people they met on their travels around Palestine to show the reality of living in fragmented occupied territories with conflict, checkpoints, complicated systems and rules.
Palestinians are obsessed with food and Sami’s home was no different. Palestinian home cooks tend to be women and Sami spent much of his childhood being shooed away from the kitchen by aunties and sisters. As he says in the book, “the Palesinian table is only really happy when it’s covered with food.” He was a self-taught chef, moving to Tel Aviv and learning how to cook other cuisines first, while cooking Palestinian food at home.
The whole idea for Falastin came from working on Jerusalem with Ottolenghi which focuses on the Israeli side of their shared home city. Sami wanted to write a focused book on the Palestinian side.
Tara joined Sami from beginning of the project. As she didn’t know much about Palestinian food, she asked all the right questions. The good thing about a cookbook is it offers a more accessible introduction into the complex history, culture and politics of Palestine. Dealing with the grim reality of the occupation can be paralysing.
Sarah asks Sami and Tara to touch on some of the people profiled in Falastin:
Stories from Falastin
One chapter is called ‘a tale of two restauranteurs: the politics (or not) of food’. Over two nights, Sami and Tara ate in two different restaurants where the owners had very strong differing opinions. The first was a new restaurant in Haifa called Lux where the chef-owner Alla Musa was cooking incredible contemporary Palestinian food. He didn’t want to talk about anything political, he just wants people to come to his restaurant to eat, drink and be merry. In contrast, the next night, for Daher Zeidani who owns the Alreda restaurant in Nazareth, food is intensely political and he talked in depth about how the political circumstances affect him trying to run his restaurant.
Another chapter focuses on Islam Abu Aouda, who lives with her family in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. She offers cooking classes to visitors as part of the Noor Women’s Empowerment Group, a grassroots collective that raises funds for the area’s disabled kids, including her own eldest child. Aouda’s dream, beyond a stable place to live, is to visit the sea for the first time. She lives within three hours of the Israeli coastal town of Haifa, where Palestinians can’t easily go; “getting in the way is the paperwork needed, the visa often denied, the checkpoint lines so long and humiliating,” the book explains. Gaza, the one chunk of Palestinian territory with Mediterranean coastline, is under blockade, and anyone who visits risks getting trapped up there for months by Israeli forces.
Wild flowers and orange cauliflowers
Sarah has visited Jerusalem and was struck by the incredible energy and food. The wild flowers, extraordinary fritillaries and Anemone coronarias caught her attention as did the vans she saw full of orange cauliflowers. Cauliflowers were a star ingredient in their book Jerusalem and the same is true for Falastin. The cauliflower and cumin fritters proved so popular, they are shared also in Falastin. They are something Sami’s mother used to make, packing them up for her kids to take to school.
The significance of Palestinian olive oil
Olive oil is the Queen of this book. For Tara learning more the importance of the olive harvest and seasonality was incredible to witness as an outsider. She didn’t grow up with a foodie identity so to come to Palestine and see whole year centred around this harvest and how important it was for so many people, from jobs it creates to seasonal recipes made with the oil like chicken musakhan. She met with and tells the story about the guardian of one of Palestine’s oldest olive trees – estimated to be 4000 years old - under threat of destruction to make way for the continued building of the separation wall. Salah Abu-Ali’s family has been farming the land since the 60s and he sits guard as the tree’s protector.
The Palestinian seed library
Sarah asks Sami and Tara to tell us more about the Palestinian seed library run by Vivien Sansour, which seeks to preserve ancient seed varieties and traditional farming practices—both under severe pressure from the occupation. Vivien also does education projects with kids – using the seed as a metaphor for growth – so they see the amazing results of what can happen to a seed with water, light and nurture, and hopefully apply this to themselves.
To find all recipes mentioned in the episode - download the pdf version of the show notes
Rice with yoghurt, roasted cauliflower and fried garlic
This recipe was new to Sarah, a very simple dish, bursting with flavour of the rice in yoghurt and cauliflower with garlic and coriander.
Serves four as a main or six as a side
- 1 large cauliflower, cut into roughly 6cm florets
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 400g Greek-style yoghurt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 ½ tsp cornflower
- 700ml whole milk
- 200g pudding or risotto rice, washed and drained
- About 5g picked parsley leaves to garnish
- Salt and white pepper
- 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 60ml olive oil
- 2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
Preheat the oven to 200 oc fan.
Put the cauliflower into a large bowl with the oil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a large parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for 25-27 minutes, until golden brown and tender.
While the cauliflower is cooking, place the yoghurt, egg yolk and cornflower in a free-standing blender and work on a medium speed for a minute, until the mixture is smooth and runny. You can do this by hand, but if you do, mix it really well to prevent the sauce from splitting when cooked. Set aside.
Cauliflower and cumin fritters with mint yoghurt
Makes about 10 fritters, to serve 4-6
- 1 small cauliflower, cut into 4-5cm sized florets
- 120g plain flour
- 20g parsley, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or a ¼ regular chilli flakes)
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 250ml sunflower oil, to fry
- Salt and pepper
- 250g Greek-style yoghurt
- ½ tsp dried mint
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Place all the ingredients for the sauce, if using, in a bowl with ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix to combine and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.
Bring a medium pan full of salted water to the boil and add the cauliflower. Simmer for 4 minutes, then (making sure to reserve 3-4 tablespoons of the cooking water) drain it into a colander. Using a fork or potato masher, slightly crush the cauliflower, then transfer it to a large bowl along with all the remaining ingredients for the fritters (apart from the sunflower oil), 1 ¼ tsp of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add 3 tbsp of the cooking water and mix well, until the mix has the consistency of a slightly runny batter.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan – about 22cm wide – and, once very hot, carefully spoon 2-3 tbsp of batter per fritter into the oil. You’ll need to do this in batches – 4 or 5 fritters at a time – so as not to overcrowd the pan, and use a fish slice to keep them apart. Fry for about 5 minutes, flipping them over halfway through, until both sides are golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and set aside while you continue with the remaining batches. Serve warm or at room temperature, with the yoghurt sauce on the side.
Hasan’s easy eggs with za’atar and lemon
This recipe, that opens Falastin, almost didn’t make it into the book but ironically has become one of the most popular recipes, even going viral. Sarah loves the instruction to tear not cut the eggs as well as the all-important addition of olive oil.
- 6 eggs
- 1 ½ tsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp za’atar
- 2 spring onion, finely sliced
- ½ tsp Aleppo (or any other) chilli flakes
- Salt and black pepper
Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil and carefully lower in the eggs. Boil for 5-6 minutes, then refresh at once under plenty of cold running water.
Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and za’atar and set aside.
Peel and roughly quarter the eggs, by hand so they’re not too neat, and arrange on a serving plate, yoks side up. Sprinkle with ¼ tsp of salt and a generous grind of black pepper and drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil mix. Sprinkle with the spring onions and chilli and serve at once.