Book reviews by Mobilism's Book Review team
Sep 1st, 2020, 11:55 am
Image

TITLE: Falastin: A Cookbook
AUTHOR: Sami Tamimi, Tara Wigley
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Books > Cookbooks > Middle Eastern Cooking, Food & Wine
PUBLISHED: June 16, 2020
RATING: ★★★★☆

PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon iBookStore
MOBILISM LINK: Read

Review: Sami Tamimi is the Palestinian chef of the famous Ottolenghi restaurants in London, which Sami started with the Jewish chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. Both chefs were born in Jerusalem, and they've co-authored the best-selling cookbooks Ottolenghi and Jerusalem together. Tara Wigley worked in publishing before going to cooking school in Ireland before becoming Ottolenghi's longtime recipe tester and writing collaborator on his cookbook, Simple.

Describing the book with the author's own words...
There is no letter “P” in the Arabic language so “Falastin” is, on the one hand, simply the way “Falastinians” refer to themselves. On the other hand, though—and in the Middle East there is always an “on the other hand”—the word is a big one, going far beyond a straightforward label. It is about geography, history, language, land, identity, and culture. Ask a Palestinian what the word “Falastin” means to them: the answer will rarely be short and will often end with the word “home.”

For us, for the purposes of our book, “Falastin” is about all of these things. Geographically, it refers to a small piece of land at the easternmost corner of the Mediterranean Sea where Palestinians have been living for many centuries.

Falastin is not just a collection of contemporary Palestinian food but also so much more. 352 pages are full of stories from Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Nablus, Haifa, Akka, Nazareth, Galilee, and the West Bank; the various perspectives describing the recipes and life stories of refugee camp cooks, chefs, farmers, tahini makers, and others.

The 120 recipes are nicely divided with chapters based on breakfast, starters, main dishes (fish, chicken, lamb/beef), breads, and desserts. The photos are beautiful and mouth-watering but I always genuinely wish we have each picture for each recipe on its page or next to each other (which most of the time they are) but I have always utterly despised the format where photos are a few pages down or four pictures on single page; it sort of disconnects the experience for me. The authors have added comments to describe each recipe throughout the book, especially "Playing Around" and "Keeping Notes" footnotes that help make the recipes more straightforward and appealing.

I would recommend updating your pantry before you start cooking recipes from the book. Sumac, Za’atar, pomegranate molasses, tahini, Aleppo pepper or urfa biber, and preserved lemons are not your daily pantry ingredients but they are essential pantry ingredients you would require to dive into this cookbook's savoury dishes, whereas rose water, dates, green cardamom, and orange blossom water for the sweet ones.

Labneh cheesecake with roasted apricots, honey, cardamom, Beet, and feta galette, smashed cucumbers, Pasta with yogurt and parsley breadcrumbs, sumac onion buns, labneh balls, cauliflower fritters, and Ghraybeh (shortbread cookies) are few of my fave recipes from the book ... I found labneh quite interesting as it’s quite simple and easy to make!

Labneh

Labneh is an Arabic cheese made by draining yogurt so that it loses most of its liquid; the longer it’s left to drain, the drier and firmer it becomes. You can either have it as it is, to cook with or just to spread on toast drizzled with olive oil and za’atar, or you can shape it into balls, for a pre-dinner snack.

Making labneh is one of those things that can feel like a step too far until you actually get around to doing it and realize how simple it is. It honestly takes more effort to hang out your laundry than it does to hang up your yogurt.

Playing around: Use either a combination of goat-milk (or sheep-milk or ewe-milk) yogurt and Greek yogurt, or just stick to Greek yogurt. The combination option has a bit more of a tang, which we like, but they both work very well.

Keeping notes: Once covered with (and therefore preserved by) oil, labneh keeps in the fridge for up to two months. Without the oil it keeps for up to two weeks.

Makes about 2 cups plus 2 tbsp/500g
- 3¾ cups/900g Greek yogurt (or a combination of 1¾ cups plus 2 tbsp/450g goat-milk yogurt and 1¾ cups plus 2 tbsp/450g Greek yogurt)
- Salt
- Olive oil, to seal
Line a deep bowl with cheesecloth or muslin and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the yogurt with 1 tsp of salt. Pour into the prepared bowl, then bring the edges of the cloth together and wrap tightly to form a bundle. Tie firmly with a piece of twine. Hang the bundle over a bowl (or attach to the handle of a tall jug so that the bundle can hang free—and drip—inside the jug).

Another method is to put the bundle into a sieve placed over a bowl, with the weight of a plate, or a couple of cans, sitting on top. This weight speeds up the draining process.

Let rest in the fridge for 24–36 hours, until much of the liquid is lost and the yogurt is thick and fairly dry.

Transfer the labneh to an airtight sterilized container or jarn top with just enough olive oil so that the labneh is covered and sealed.

There is a glossary of “the pantry and politics of Palestine,” towards the end of the book, in which brief descriptions are provided of OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories) along with explanations and details of various traditional terms and ingredients.

Falastin is an adulation to the Palestinian food; it’s a labour of love by Sami and Tara that definitely merits a place in your collection - especially if you like and admire Middle Eastern food.
Sep 1st, 2020, 11:55 am