Maria Hoyle samples the latest must-reads for the savvy cook
Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
Ebury Press, $60
We may not be able to travel far just now, but a flick through Falastin is the next best thing. This beautiful book whisks you straight to the Middle East, no stopover required. Falastin is equal parts recipe collection – over 110 of them – and storybook. The title refers to that small territory at the easternmost corner of the Mediterranean that we know as Palestine. But with millions of Palestinians scattered over the globe, Falastin is also a love letter to their shared culture, language, history and identity. Author and chef Sami Tamimi spent his childhood in Palestine, and is the co-founder of Yotam Ottolenghi’s iconic London dining spot. Co-author Tara Wigley trained at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland and tested recipes with Yotam in his London flat before becoming his writing collaborator. These stellar credentials aside, you know within seconds of leafing through Falastin that you want to invite its flavours into your kitchen. Colourful salads, silky soups, creamy feta, dishes fragrant with za’atar, lemon and coriander; punctuated with garlic, sumac and chilli; textured with pistachios and pine nuts. The Winter Tabbouleh with Blood Orange Dressing is a vibrant edible collage that will bring cheer to the bleakest of days; the Lentils with Tahini and Crispy Onion is nutty, creamy and wholesome; the national dish of Chicken Musakhan is the ultimate sharing food, to be torn with your hands and sandwiched with flatbread. Recipes that have been handed down through generations, these are mostly accessible for the home cook.
Yotam’s foreword acknowledges this was a complicated enterprise – “politically, since we had to put aside the harsh reality of the occupation of the West Bank”. But the political context is hard to avoid, as in the section explaining the ‘catch 22’ of fishing in Gaza, a city surrounded by a large military wall. However the stories here, much like the dishes themselves, are bold and joyful, and are told through the voices of the people. Two Palestinian chefs in northern Israel; a mum-of-six who teaches cooking in her Bethlehem refugee camp; a young woman who founded the Palestinian Seed Library Project and many more. If ever we needed a reminder that food is survival, togetherness and celebration, Falastin is most certainly it.