Monday, January 12, 2015

A Plate of Palestine

I know, I know, I know, the West Bank is not a country. It is a disputed Palestinian territory that is having a lot of issues at the moment. Technically, it is part of Israel and falls under the Israeli government. Along with Gaza, the West Bank makes up the State of Palestine. 193 of the countries making up the UN have officially recognized the State of Palestine as being its own entity. That’s almost 70% of the voting countries. To be on the safe side, I am including both Gaza and the West Bank in my Meals Around the World Project just in case they become official countries before I’m finished. That’s just more yummy food for me!


Palestinian cuisine is very similar to its neighbors in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Palestinian food in the West Bank is especially heavy and filling. Meat is almost always present at every meal, except for pork which neither the Jews or Muslims eat. (Most of the people who live in the West Bank are Muslim, but there is a Jewish minority group.) Either rice or bread are incorporated in with the meat to make the main dish that is served with various sides such as salad, yogurt, hummus, or the rest of your typical mezze spread.

Taboon bread is traditionally baked in a taboon oven, and is a must for anyone wanting to explore Middle Eastern cuisine. I thought it was like a super large and thin pita. Taboon bread is especially important to the West Bank because it is the foundation and staple for the popular dish of musakhan.

Taboon Bread
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp of sugar
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp oil
¾ to 1 cup warm water (100 degrees)

Mix together all of the dry ingredients. Form a well in the dough and add the oil and enough water to form a soft dough. Knead for 10 minutes, cover with a moist towel, and set in a warm place to rise for an hour, or until doubled in size. Divide the dough into four balls. Cover the balls with a moist towel and let them rise for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your broiler. Roll out the dough into large disks. Cook under the broiler for 2 minutes, flip, and cook the other side for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

I found a few references, and three recipes using a leafy green that grows in the Palestinian territories. It is called khobbeizeh. According to this lady, it is the food of the poor in Palestine as in the past, it was a quick and cheap dish for the lower class. I could not find the actual plant here at the grocery store, so I substituted spinach. It is commonly served lightly sautéed with onions and a bit of lemon juice.


Khobbeizeh bel-zeyt
12 ounces chopped Khobbeizeh (I subbed spinach.)
½ an onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pan. Add the onion and cook for 8 minutes, until golden brown. Add in the khobbeizeh and cook until it is wilted. Pour in the lemon juice and serve.


 The delightfully indulgent dish of musakhan is heavily spiced with sumac and uses a generous amount of olive oil. It is a simple and easy dish for the Palestinian people to put together as it uses the common ingredients of olive oil, sumac, chicken, onions, pine nuts, and fresh taboon bread. 'Musakhan' literally means 'something that is heated', and you get the impression that this finger food pizza-like dish was just thrown together one day and served up. The city of Ramallah in the West Bank actually has the world record for the largest musakhan ever. In April of 2010, a 13 foot long and almost 3000 pound dish of musakhan was made. I would have loved to take part in eating that!
2 onions, chopped
4 pieces of chicken (leg, thigh, etc.)
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sumac, plus more to top
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
salt and pepper, to taste
4 tbsp toasted pine nuts
4 sheets of taboon bread

Heat the oil over medium low heat in a large skillet. Fry the onions in the oil until they are golden, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Sprinkle in the sumac, stir, and cook for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the chicken for 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into it reads 165 degrees. Remove the chicken from the water, allow it to cool slightly, and then rub it with a little oil and a mixture of the allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat in a pan and add in the chicken. Brown on all sides for about 5 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 and brush the taboon bread with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Lay two of the sheets of bread on a large baking pan and top each with a fourth of the onions. Add on two pieces of chicken per piece of bread follower by the remaining onions. Top each with another sheet of bread, folding under the overlapping edges. Cook for 25 minutes. Remove the top sheet of bread from each musakhan. Sprinkle sumac over the top and garnish with the pine nuts. Serve with yogurt.

 I am so glad that I incorporated the West Bank into my Meals Around the World Project. Everything was delicious! The taboon bread was great, and my roommate thought so too. I definitiley did not throw away the top piece of bread after making my musakhan. It was too good to waste! The salad was great too, and I only wish that I could get ahold of some khobbeizeh to try out the real thing. The lemon juice added just the right touch. And don't get me started on the musakhan! You have to use the best olive oil you can to fry the onions in, and don't be afraid to spice it up. The results are amazing!

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