In Zaitoun, human rights campaigner turned travel and food writer Yasmin Khan shares recipes and stories from the Palestinian kitchen.
The author first travelled to Israel and the West Bank in 2009, while working with a human rights charity. She says she fell in love with the food and has since returned three times.
Her travels have extended beyond those of the average tourist and the resulting book provides a thoughtful insight into life in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – what the United Nations refers to as the Occupied Palestinian Territories – as well as its cuisine.
Recipes are accessible to the home cook and are divided into sections – mazzeh, salads, soups, main courses and desserts – interspersed among which are the author’s notes from her travels across the region.
While steady foundations run through the dishes, the region is diverse and Khan guides the reader through the colourful mazzeh and fresh fish of the Galilee, the meat and bread that dominate the cuisine of the West Bank and the seafood, dill, chilli and garlic seen in the dishes of Gaza.
Seasonal produce has always been at the heart of Palestinian food, but constraints over travel and fishing rights, the availability of water and electricity supplies as well as the condition of the land have seen constant adaptations. But these constraints don’t stop abundant feasts being served, and Khan speaks extensively of the hospitality she encountered on her travels. Those she met explained the importance of food in their cultural identity and their desire to continue cooking the dishes that have brought Palestinians to the table for generations.
She was told by Fadi Najir, the owner of a family-run restaurant in the coastal city of Haifa: “As long as I can keep celebrating our culture, I can also hang on to some of my freedom.”
In Zaitoun, Khan has created a beautiful book – as much a piece of travel writing as it is a recipe book – that illustrates the importance of food in shaping identity, while providing plenty of inspiration for an abundant feast.
Zaitoun by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury, £26)