Cooking my way through Falastin Cookbook during a pandemic
It was 2018 and I was at Ottolenghi Spitalfields with a few friends having lunch. Sami Tamimi (also part of the Ottolenghi family) was working that day and came to say hi to us. That’s when he told some of us he was working on a cookbook that was going to be the Palestinian sister cookbook to the Jerusalem cookbook. Jerusalem happens to be my favourite Ottolenghi cookbook and the best cookbook ever written if you ask me. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard this news. He told us that the cookbook would be filled with delicious recipes from his homeland, dishes of his childhood. I was super excited, but he also told us it would take him some time to write it. But then again, patience is a virtue………….right?
Fast forward 2 years and on the 26th of March 2020 (publication date) Sami Tamimi’s new Falastin cookbook, co-written with Tara Wigley, arrived on my doorstep. The cover was a vibrant green and made of fabric which gives it a luxury touch just like the Jerusalem cookbook. I immediately fell in love with the narrative, the beautiful pictures, and of course the recipes. I read the entire book, all the stories and all the intro’s to the recipes in just 2 evenings. If I didn’t have to work (or sleep) I would probably have finished it in one sitting. I read the beautiful stories about the food Sami was brought up with and about the people he visited while writing the book, but also the grim stories about his country’s complexities.
He explains in the book that he tried to share dishes of his childhood, but he also says that most Palestinian recipes are very laborious. So he tried to adapt the recipes so they fit into the busy lives of people nowadays. Well, he and Tara did a fabulous job, because I cooked many of these dishes during the week, some as lunch while working (the only perk of working from home due to COVID-19) and some at the end of a workday. Of course, there also were recipes that took me more time, but I saved those recipes for the weekends or for a special occasion. I still can’t believe I cooked every recipe from the Falastin cookbook at least once. Never ever have I cooked every recipe from any cookbook, not even from the Jerusalem cookbook.
If you want to see all the recipes I cooked from the Falastin cookbook you can check my Instagram where I saved all my Falastin stories in my highlights.
I cooked some of the Falastin cookbook recipes (and other recipes) with friends through Zoom as we missed cooking together due to COVID-19. We would simply pick a date and a recipe and call each other through Zoom and cook and chat the whole afternoon. It is a nice way to keep in touch now that we were not able to meet each other in real live. In below picture we were cooking my mothers chicken tagine together.
I thought I’d share my favourite 10 recipes from the book now I finished cooking all the recipes. I found it really really difficult to just share 10 as I loved every recipe I made from this cookbook, but here it goes:
Winter tabbouleh with an orange dressing
This salad doesn’t only look good, it tastes amazing too. I had some broccoli in the fridge on standby for if my youngest started to complain about the red cabbage in the salad, but that was not necessary. He emptied his plate and then had some more, just like his sister. They both loved the salad and gave it a big thumbs up. We made this often last summer although it’s called ‘winter’ tabbouleh.
Jerusalem sesame bread aka Ka’ak Al Quds
Last year I was in Israel with friends and we were walking through Jerusalem and saw these breads stacked high on street corners all over the city. We bought a few and some za’atar and had the most amazing snack right there in the street. We would break off a little bit of the bread, dip it in the za’atar and devour it like ants on a picnic. That memory made me want to try this recipe so much. And I happened to have some beautiful za’atar from Jerusalem to eat it with. One bite of this beautiful bread and I was back in the streets of Jerusalem with my friends.
Sweet tahini rolls aka kubez el tahineh
Nothing says good morning like a warm, gooey batch of homemade sweet tahini rolls. These soft, spiraled rolls are not only stuffed with a cinnamon sugar filling, but also contain a good drizzle of tahini. This adds a nice nutty taste to these rolls and turn regular cinnamon rolls into something really luscious. What I especially love about these rolls is that they are not overly sweet. I’m not a sweet tooth and always prefer savoury over sweet. The amount of sweetness in these sweet fluffy pillowy soft tahini rolls was just perfect for me.
Roasted squash and courgettes with whipped feta and pistachios
I don’t remember when I first heard about whipped feta. All I know is it crept into my culinary consciousness and lingered there until that day when I opened up Falastin and saw this recipe. So this was the first time I made whipped feta and I can tell you it’s amazing. So creamy and fabulous! Especially combined with grilled yellow and green courgette and butternut squash. I think this was my most repeated recipe this summer.
Pomegranate-cooked lentils and aubergines aka Rummaniyya
Rummaniyya means ‘pomegranatey’ in Arabic. Pomegranates are a symbol of abundance and prosperity. That’s the perfect description of this dish as the recipe uses the fruit’s molasses as well as its seeds. It makes for a tangy and earthy stew with lentils and aubergine. Don’t skimp on the pomegranate arils here. They provide little surprises of juicy tartness that pop in your mouth and makes this dish unforgettable.
Prawn and tomato stew with coriander sauce
You cook the prawns in a creamy tomato sauce that you season with fresh ginger, fresh garlic, aromatic spices and a green chili. Then you top the dish with a heavenly vibrant green coriander pesto. This dish got 8 thumbs up at our table. Hubby and the kids and myself loved it. I served it with a crusty baguette to soak up all the goodness. The tomato sauce did not have added veggies, but I added some bell peppers. I can’t seem to make a tomato sauce and just have it as is. Anyone recognises that, or am I the only one? I think that’s the mum in me.
Chilled cucumber and tahini soup with spicy pumpkin seeds
This cold cucumber soup is incredibly easy to make, taking no more than 20 minutes. All you have to do is peel the cucumbers, and pulse them in a blender with some tahini, lemon, garlic, chili, and a lot of fresh herbs to deepen the flavour. We had a scorching hot summer period here in the Netherlands. And what do you do when it’s too hot to chew? You make a cold soup in a blender like this.
Za’atar bread, also known as fatayer fallahi
They are light, soft, smell amazing and are utterly delicious. They can be a nice side dish for any soup or stew, or a snack on the go for the kids (and adults) who loved them by the way. Seasoned with za’atar (or oregano if you can’t get hold of za’atar) and stuffed with feta, this became my favourite bread recipe from Falastin.
Sticky date and halva puddings with tahini caramel
These puddings are a Middle Eastern take on the classic sticky toffee pudding. The crucial ingredients here are, like in any sticky date pudding, are the soaked dates, which add a rich and sticky sweetness. You soften the dates in boiling water, strong brewed coffee, vanilla, and bicarbonate of soda before you add them to the batter. I love the Middle Eastern twist of adding tahini and rosewater to the caramel. The pudding is as light as a feather and the addition of halva is pure genius.
Filo triangles with cream cheese, pistachio and rose
This recipe is basically filo dough with a filling of cream cheese flavoured with mastic. You bake it in the oven and then drizzle it with a sugary-lemony-rose syrup. It’s an easy and amazing dessert. I used a slightly different approach in the folding than the recipe asked for. Check for my folding technique here. If you’re not scared of filo dough then this is the perfect recipe, and if you are afraid then this recipe is worth setting that fear aside. That’s why I’m including the recipe for this dessert at the bottom of this blog post.
Other recipes we thought were also amazing (see, I can’t just list 10 of them):
- Open pies with cauliflower or meat
- Chicken musakhan
- Red and Green Shatta
- Arabic samosas
- Beetroot and feta galette with za’atar and honey
- Upside-down spiced rice with lamb and broad beans
- Spiced salmon skewers with parsley oil
- Sumac onion and herb oil buns
All the recipes in Falastin are easy to follow, the instructions are clear and we were never let down by the result. I especially love the ‘playing around’ part of the recipes. All future cookbooks should introduce this concept. I jokingly once said to Sami that this cookbook is easier than Ottolenghi’s ‘Simple’ cookbook. Because the recipes are not difficult and very well explained. I also told Sami not to tell Yotam I said that, but now he can read it here ;-).
Now the big question: Did Falastin dethrone Jerusalem as my favourite cookbook? I’m a firm believer in never splitting up siblings as it isn’t something anyone benefits from. That’s why these sister cookbooks will share first place in my ranking from now on. The Jerusalem cookbook was my first Middle Eastern cookbook and therefore will always have a special place in my heart. And Falastin cookbook is just lucky it has this amazing big sister, but it is also unique in her own special way. I hope the Ottolenghi family will make more babies like this. Coming from a family of 3 brothers and 6 sisters (so yes counting me, that makes 10 kids) I know how much fun it can be to have a lot of siblings.
I hope you enjoy the filo triangles with cream cheese, pistachio and rose recipe as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog! And if you are looking for a new cookbook look no further: Falastin is the perfect present for yourself or a friend.
Source: 'Falastin' – Sami Tamimi & Tara Wigley
- — — For the filo
- 10 sheets filo pastry, each sheet 31cm x 38cm
- 120 g unsalted melted butter for brushing the filo
- — — For the syrup
- 100 g caster sugar 100g
- 1½ tsp lemon juice
- ¾ tsp rose water
- — — For the filling
- 450 g full-fat cream cheese
- 2 tsp cornflour
- 55 g caster sugar
- ½ tsp flaked sea salt
- ¼ tsp powdered Arabic mastic gum or,
- ½ tsp vanilla bean paste
- — — To garnish
- 20 g pistachios, finely crushed
- 1/2 pomegranate (the original recipe uses rose petals, but I used pomegranate kernels)
Put 55ml of water and the sugar into a saucepan and place on a medium-high heat. Mix well, then, once it starts boiling, add the lemon juice. Simmer gently for 2 minutes, then stir in the rose water and remove from the heat straightaway. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180C fan.
For the filling, put the cream cheese, cornflour, sugar, salt and mastic (or vanilla bean paste) into a medium bowl and whisk well to combine.
To assemble, spread one filo sheet out on a work surface and brush with some of the melted butter. Top with another sheet and brush with butter again. Repeat the process until you have 5 layers evenly brushed with butter. As always when working with filo, you’ll need to work fast when you start brushing and folding: the pastry will dry out if you don’t. You should have used about a quarter of the melted butter at this stage.
Using sharp scissors or pizza cutter (my favourite way of cutting filo), cut the layered sheet of pastry into 6 squares, all 12cm x 12cm – you’ll need to trim the sheets to get even squares. Taking one square at a time, spoon about 35g (or 2 tablespoons) of the thick filling into the centre of each square, leaving a 2-3cm border around the edge. Fold the pastry diagonally in half to form a triangle, press on the edges without reaching the filling (so that it stays well sealed within the pastry), then brush all over with more butter. Once all 6 triangle pastries are on a parchment-lined baking tray, repeat the whole process with the remaining pastry, butter and filling (I used a slightly different approach to the folding by the way, check my Instagram for a video)
Once all 12 pastries are made up and spread on two parchment-lined baking trays, bake for 22 minutes or until golden and crisp: some of them will pop open, but that’s OK. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Drizzle over the syrup, sprinkle over the crushed pistachios and pomegranate kernels, if using, and serve.