Yasmin Khan Wants You to Cook Palestinian Food
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The food editors are longtime fans of Middle Eastern cooking, whether they're developing recipes for a pita-and-meze party or following Martha's foray into the Arabian Gulf. But the great thing about food is that there's always something new to inspire, which, for the test kitchen this week, was Palestinian cuisine. Author Yasmin Khan stopped by to chat about her just-released cookbook, Zaitoun: Recipes and Stories from the Palestinian Kitchen.
Drawing from Khan's travels through Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, Zaitoun offers a window into a cuisine that isn't often covered in the media, let alone celebrated. Before she was a food writer, Khan spent a decade in the nonprofit world, with a special focus on conflict in the Middle East, and her experience in the region gives the book a unique perspective.
Her thoughtful approach starts with the striking cover. "It was important for the feeling of the book and the cover to be very celebratory and life-affirming," says Khan, "because it's a region full of conflict and Palestinians are going through incredible hardships." She chose to showcase two Palestinian elements on the front of the book: the traditional embroidery known as tatreez, and regional fruits and vegetables, from pomegranates and figs to lemons and oranges. Handstitched then photographed for the cover, the design pays homage to Palestinian culture, setting the tone for the pages within.
Khan also gave just as much consideration to the title, Zaitoun, which is Arabic for olive. "If there's one ingredient that epitomizes Palestinian cooking, it's the olive," she says. Not only is the olive used every which way in the region, but the oil is also an essential seasoning. Khan brought a Palestinian olive oil from a brand called Canaan that's available in the U.S., along with the most fragrant za'atar from the West Bank, for the 42 Burners team to sample.
She also whipped up two easy dips from Zaitoun, the first with the book's namesake ingredient. Black olives are pureed with capers, figs, and honey in the food processor to create a revelatory tapenade. Editor at large Shira Bocar had never tasted olives with honey before and liked the sweet-and-savory combination so much that she kept drizzling more honey on top.
Khan also made Gazan smashed avocados, which was described as a "Gazan guac" in her book (and dubbed "Gazacado dip" by deputy editor Greg Lofts). The recipe couldn't be simpler: avocados are mashed together with garlic, green chile, lemon juice, labneh, sesame seeds, and sumac. Khan explained that while she was familiar with the flavors of the Palestinian dishes in Israel and the West Bank, such as fresh salads, fattoushes, tabboulehs, and stuffed vegetables, Gazan food was the biggest personal discovery during her research. The spicy, pungent cuisine relies on a trinity of ingredients: green chiles, garlic, and dill.
While the smashed avocados don't call for dill, the food editors, who adore the herb, decided to stir some in-with Khan's blessing, of course. "What's great about the recipes in the book is that they call for ingredients you can get in pretty much any store or that you're probably using already," says Khan, "but like this dip, they're just a little different. There's a twist or tweak." The test kitchen's take? Spread that dip on some flatbread, and smashed avocados might just be this year's avocado toast!