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Book review: Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

02 April 2020 by
Book review: Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

With travel plans across the world on hold, it seems almost fantastical to imagine a leisurely bumble around markets in hot, faraway towns, and this is why we need books like Falastin more than ever right now.

The much-anticipated follow-up to award-winning Jerusalem, Falastin (there's no ‘p' in Arabic) is a "love letter to a place and a people" and a portrait of a way of life in which authors Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley are utterly immersed. Even from current confined quarters you'll be transported to a land where the voices of its people are interwoven among the 110-plus recipes and pictures of palms and sun-dappled stalls piled high with breads. Local heroes you'll meet include the "yogurt-making ladies of Bethlehem" and agriculturalist and botanist Vivien Sansour, who founded the Palestinian Seed Library.

The "pantry and politics of Palestine" glossary is a good place to get your bearings and a flavour of what's to come: adha (pouring or spilling); fatteh (crushed, crumbled or broken into pieces); and nafas which is "soul cooking" by intuition, the senses and the powerful tradition of sharing recipes by cooking and eating together. Falafel scoops get a mention, too, but an ice-cream scoop will do.

Chapters include breakfast (red and green shakshukas), soups, veggie mains, fish and meat and are all fresh, doable and interesting, but it's sumac onion and herb oil buns, a vibrant tapestry of colours and textures, that had me rifling through cupboards for ingredients. Sweets to prioritise include Palestine's celebratory knafeh nabulsi, a syrup-soaked traybake of pastry and firm, salty cheese.

‘Playing around' offers simple recipe tweaks for lighter versions; the chicken shawarma pie, for example, can lose the potatoes and even the filo and be served simply as a spiced, tender stew. Tahini features regularly because "if you want something to be rich and creamy and vegan all at once, tahini is often the big secret". Get the book, get stuck in and escape. Falafel scoop optional.

Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ebury Press, £27)

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