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Celebrate Palestine on Your Dinner Table

Courtesy of Joudie Kalla

Courtesy of Joudie Kalla

London-based chef Joudie Kalla’s new cookbook, Palestine on a Plate: Memories From My Mother’s Kitchen, is more than just a celebration of her Palestinian roots. With 240 glossy pages of delectable recipes, the colorful cookbook is a source of easy-to-master dishes bursting with flavor, fragrances and tradition. The recipes include only a handful of ingredients used by her mother, grandmother, and their grandmothers before them. Here, Kalla tells us about her key ingredients, special memories, and favorite dishes.

On her key ingredients:
“Having a full pantry is one of the most important lessons that my mother taught me. The usual suspects that keep appearing in and around my food as a Palestinian chef and home cook are za’atar, sumac, tahineh, Palestinian olive oil, chickpeas, cumin, pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You can make so many amazing and very different dishes with just these few spices and flavors. The basis of our food is not overpowered by the spices but by the variety of ingredients that make up the dish: vegetables, lemon, and protein. It all works together beautifully.”

The story behind her all-time favorite family recipe:
“It would have to be mussakhan. This is a beautiful, gently spiced chicken dish slathered in sweet onions that have been cooking in olive oil slowly for hours and then laced with plenty of sumac to add a hint of tang to it. This is then slathered on taboon bread and shredded chicken and dressed with buttered almonds and pine nuts. My aunt is the queen of this dish. She would make it when she was coming to the end of her visit to London, before going back home to Palestine – it was always her farewell dish. So we knew her holiday with us was over when we saw this on the table.”

On her favorite dishes from different countries across the Middle East:
“I love molokhia, which is traditionally Egyptian. It is a delicious sweet garlicky jute mallow stew eaten with chicken and rice. Also machboos, a dish from the Gulf inspired by way of India, to create an aromatic rice and loomi platter covered in coriander and parsley and an array of spices and chicken. My next favorite would be saltet il rahib, which is a monk’s salad that originated in Lebanon, presumably from a monastery, where they feasted on the vegetables in their garden. Charred aubergines with a mix of vegetables, lemon, and olive oil are eaten with toasted khubez. Divine and fresh.

On her book:
“My book came about while I was running my deli, Baity Kitchen. I was accumulating a big list of recipes from my mother and was teaching other people who were helping in the kitchen and it started to blossom into something else. I began an Instagram page to showcase Palestinian food and later met with a literary agent. My publishers fell in love with the colors, variety, and authenticity of this cuisine and thus my book was born. I wanted it to be an homage to my mother, my aunts, and grandmothers, and also my father, too. It is what Palestine means to me, and how we celebrated our country on our dinner table.”

On what’s next for her:
“I would love for my CV to read that I have written more books that shine a light on Palestine as I think it is an important subject to discuss in a new tone and narrative. I’d also like to create a range of products sourced directly from Palestine. This would be a huge achievement for me and I hope it will become a reality one day. I love Palestine and it has plenty to offer in the culinary aspect of things, which people are starting to notice.”

Courtesy of Judie Kalla

Courtesy of Judie Kalla

Mussakhan, one of the national dishes of Palestine, is one of those dishes you can’t stop eating once you have started. You absolutely have to eat it with your hands – no fork and knife necessary. The flavor is just more exaggerated when eaten by hand. In Ramallah, in Palestine, they have just submitted the largest mussakhan, which has been accepted into Guinness World Records. It is more than 4m long and weighs more than 1 350kg. I would love to have a bite of that! This is a very simple, hearty, full-of-flavor dish that you must try. It should be very oniony and dripping with olive oil. The sumac is the star of the show and turns the bread a beautiful magenta color.
Serves 6-8


1 whole large chicken, skin on and cut into 4-6 pieces
5 cardamom pods
2 tbsp sea salt
550-650ml olive oil
12-14 onions, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
150g sumac
4-6 flatbreads
75g toasted pine nuts
75g toasted almonds
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, to serve

1. Put the chicken in a saucepan of water with the cardamom and 1 tbsp of salt. Boil for 1 hour.
2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions, remaining salt, cumin, black pepper, and cinnamon for about 45 minutes over a low heat until completely soft but not browned.
3. Preheat the oven to 220°C fan (240°C/465°F/Gas 9).
4. Once the chicken has boiled, remove it from the water.
5. Place about 1 tbsp of the cooked onions onto each piece of chicken and sprinkle some sumac over the top. Place the chicken pieces on a baking tray and bake for 5 minutes until slightly browned on top.
6. Slather each flatbread with onions, and scatter generously with sumac, adding bits of chicken and some toasted nuts and parsley to each one. Repeat for all the remaining breads and pieces of chicken and serve. Rip pieces of bread with the chicken, get messy and eat with your hands.

Courtesy of Judie Kalla

Courtesy of Judie Kalla

Molokhia (jute mallow) is one of dozens of names for the leafy plant of the Corchorus species, which is commonly used in Palestinian, Egyptian, and other Middle Eastern cooking. It is known to be the food of kings and pharaohs in Egypt (the word molouk means “king” or “royalty”). It has a wonderfully relaxing and comforting effect when you eat it.

Serves 4


1 whole chicken
1-1.5 litres water
1 large onion, quartered
4 cardamom pods
1 x 400g packet frozen molokhia (jute mallow), smooth
50ml olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 quantity of vermicelli rice
Sea salt and black pepper
Toasted pita bread and lemon wedges, to serve

For the dressing:

2 shallots, finely diced
1 green chilli, chopped
3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1. Put the chicken in a large saucepan with 500ml of water, onion, and cardamom pods. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 1 hour.
2. Strain and reserve the stock, pouring 500ml into a clean saucepan. Shred the chicken meat and set aside.
3. Add the molokhia (jute mallow) to the chicken stock, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes.
4. While the molokhia is cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and cook the garlic until slightly browned. Add this to the molokhia and mix.
5. Mix all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and season with salt.
6. Divide the vermicelli Rice between four serving bowls and top each bowl with molokhia soup and some shredded chicken.
7. Drizzle over some dressing and serve with pita bread.

Tip: Use 4 chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken if you are short on time, and only cook for 20 minutes to make the chicken stock.

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