This book becomes more essential with every passing day. Not just a superb cookbook, a collection of vital recipes from a delicious yet often overlooked cuisine, but an argument for understanding. A classic of world food.
It’s round two for The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt, as Just World Books has now published a 2nd edition of the swoon-worthy award-winning Palestinian cookbook featuring new epicurean specialties from the distinctive Gazan cuisine. The new edition features new stories, tantalizing new recipes, new photos and new design in a beautiful and mouth-watering hardbound volume.
Below is an excerpt from the newly updated 2nd edition, including a new recipe from Na’ema Al-Daghma:
Na’ema and the Backyard Farm Revolution
Arriving at the Khan Younis Union of Agricultural Workers, we stumble into a large room where women of all ages are crowded together around a conference table, very attentively listening to a class on bookkeeping. Na’ema Al-Daghma hustles us into her office next door, where she and her colleague Hanan Shahin shower us with information, interrupting each other in their enthusiasm, the conversation about agriculture and economics peppered with recipes for sweet eggplant jam and pickled okra.
Together they run the Union’s program for women, serving the large (by Gazan standards!) agricultural region of the Eastern Villages. The women in the classroom, they explain, are learning all different ways to make their tiny family plots more efficient, from bookkeeping to strategies for composting and recycling wastewater to techniques for drying and conserving what they produce.
The region, they say, used to be agriculturally stable: Much of the land was planted with rain-fed crops like olive trees, date palms, and wheat, and each family had a small backyard garden for horticulture and small animals. With the uprooting of trees and reduction of farmland, some have tried shifting to intensive horticulture, but the water required for irrigation is too expensive: Pumping requires fuel, and the water that comes up is often too saline to use. That leaves just the backyard scale of production, traditionally the domain of women. Na’ema and Hanan are out to teach rural women how to maximize the productivity of these tiny plots, and empower themselves—within their families and communities—in the process.
With delight they recount their success stories—how, by pooling resources and sharing ideas, whole neighborhoods have managed to rise out of total dependence on aid. Participants in their workshops have collaborated to raise small animals like chickens, ducks, and rabbits as well as the fodder to feed them; they’ve build shared drying racks to conserve seasonal vegetables like tomatoes, okra, eggplant, and mulukhiyya. They’ve held canning parties to preserve pickles and jams, teaching each other a whole range of recipes and techniques. Together they have worked to generate markets for these products, providing these women with a small but important income. This turns the tables not only on families’ food security, but also on power relations within the family.
Not content just to sit and talk, Na’ema squeezes into our car and whisks us off, first to show us her own verdant backyard farm, with its flocks of ducks and chickens roaming freely under trees heavy with fruit, and then to drop in on several of the “graduates” of their program.
Pumpkin Conserve—Halwit il Ari’
This addictive conserve is sought out in Gaza City’s public markets in the fall, from the few remaining vendors who still make it by hand. Soaking the pumpkins in limewater helps them retain their shape and gives them a slight crunch; skip this step and you will end up with mush.
Makes about 7 pounds (3 kilograms) of jam
- 1 medium-sized sugar pumpkin, butternut squash, or other orange gourd
- ¼ cup (32 grams) calcium hydroxide (also called hydrated lime, pickling lime, or slaked lime)
- 4 pounds (about 2 kilograms) sugar
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Dissolve the pickling lime in 5 cups (approximately 1 liter) of boiling water. Cover this and set it aside overnight. Two layers will form: the calcium water and the solids. Use the water and discard the solids.
Chop the pumpkin into bite-size pieces, or shred it using a cheese grater. Soak it in the limewater for at least 16 hours. Drain the limewater solution and rinse the pumpkin. Re-soak the pumpkin in fresh water for 1 hour.
Strain the pumpkin and combine it with the sugar in a pot. Set aside for 5 hours.
With a slotted spoon, remove the pumpkin from the sugar, which will have turned syrupy, and set it aside. Add the lemon to the sugar and boil for about 10 minutes. Return the pumpkin to the syrup and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, or until a drop of syrup dripped into a bowl of water forms a small ball that keeps its shape.
Pour the pumpkin and the accompanying syrup into sterilized jars, mixing in the roasted sesame seeds. Seal safely.
The Gaza Kitchen presents 140 kitchen-tested recipes, gloriously adorned with hundreds of beautiful photographs of food, cooks, farmers, merchants as well as in-depth kitchens interviews from Gaza. With an introduction by Mediterranean culinary expert Nancy Harmon Jenkins, The Gaza Kitchen has been raking in accolades from award-winning chefs and culinary luminaries since it was first released in 2012. It’s no wonder Anthony Bourdain called it “A classic of world food”, it’s riveting and essential.
You can purchase the updated 2nd edition of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey here.