Falastin: 3 Palestinian recipes from Ottolenghi head chef Sami Tamimi’s new cookbook

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Love to travel while you cook? Then transport yourself to Palestine with Falastin, the new cookbook by Ottolenghi head chef Sami Tamimi and food writer Tara Wigley.

In normal times, the publication of a new cookbook by Sami Tamimi – Yotam Ottolenghi’s longtime head chef and the co-author of Jerusalem and Ottolenghi: The Cookbook – would have been unmissable. But we’re not living in normal times, and so the release of Falastin (Ebury Press) on 26 March might have passed you by.

Our advice? Don’t let it. Co-authored by food writer Tara Wigley (who also co-wrote Ottolenghi Simple), Falastin is a beautifully relaxed, detailed and affectionate celebration of the Palestinian cuisine Tamimi grew up eating. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Tamimi gives an insider’s glimpse into the rich diversity of Middle Eastern food as the book journeys through his homeland. 

Along the way, the beautiful recipes are interwoven with stories from unheard Palestinian voices – transporting you from your kitchen counter to Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Haifa, Akka, Nazareth, Galilee and across the West Bank. 

To celebrate the release of the cookbook – and provide some much-needed culinary inspiration if your mealtimes are fast becoming repetitive – we’re bringing you three delicious recipes from Falastin, including musaqa’a (aubergine, chickpea and tomato bake), roasted cod with a coriander crust and labneh cheesecake with apricots, honey and cardamom. 

Try them at home, sample the cuisine, then buy the book: sunnier days will be here before you know it. 

Aubergine, chickpea and tomato bake (musaqa’a)

Falastin: Aubergine, chickpea and tomato bake

Echoes of the Greek dish moussaka are correctly heard here, both in the name and the feel of the dish. It’s a vegetarian take on the hearty, humble, healthy and completely delicious traybake. 

It works well either as a veggie main or as a side with all sorts of things: piled into a jacket potato, for example, or served alongside some grilled meat, fish or tofu. It’s just the sort of dish you want to have in the fridge ready to greet you after a day out at work. It’s also lovely at room temperature, so it’s great to pile into the Tupperware for an on-the-go lunch.

Getting ahead: You can make and bake this in advance: it keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days, ready to be warmed through when needed. 

Serves four as a main or six as a side

Ingredients

  • 5 medium aubergines (1.25kg)
  • 120ml olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped (160g)
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp tomato purée
  • 2 green peppers, deseeded and cut into 3cm chunks (200g)
  • 1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (240g)
  • 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1½ tsp caster sugar
  • 15g coriander, roughly chopped, plus 5g extra to serve
  • 4 plum tomatoes, trimmed and sliced into 1½cm-thick rounds (350g)
  • Salt and black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 220°C fan. Use a vegetable peeler to peel away strips of aubergine skin from top to bottom, leaving the aubergines with alternating strips of black skin and white flesh, like a zebra. Cut widthways into round slices, 2cm thick, and place in a large bowl. 

Mix well with 75ml of oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper and spread out on two large parchment-lined baking trays. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until completely softened and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C fan.

While the aubergines are roasting, make the sauce. Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large sauté pan and place on a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 7 minutes, until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic, chilli, cumin, cinnamon and tomato purée and cook for another minute, or until fragrant. 

Add the peppers, chickpeas, tinned tomatoes, sugar, 200ml of water, 1¼ teaspoons of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 18 minutes, or until the peppers have cooked through. Stir in the coriander and remove from the heat.

Spread out half the plum tomatoes and half the roasted aubergines on the base of a large baking dish, about 20 x 30cm. Top with the chickpea mixture, then layer with the remaining tomatoes and aubergines.

Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil, then cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the tomatoes have completely softened.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 20 minutes. Top with the remaining coriander and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Roasted cod with a coriander crust (samak mashew bil cozbara w al limon)

Falastin: Roasted cod with a coriander crust

The combination of fish and tahini is one we find hard to resist, but this works just as well without the tahini sauce if you’re looking for a shortcut or want to keep the focus on the lemon. Either way, this is as close to fast food as you can get. It’s a 15-minute meal to make, beginning to end. Possibly even less time to eat. 

If you are using the tahini sauce, make the whole quantity of the master recipe below. It keeps in the fridge for about 4 days and is lovely to have around to drizzle over all sorts of roasted vegetables, meat, fish and salads.

Playing around: Any other meaty white fish works just as well here: sea bass and halibut, for example. Salmon also works well.

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 60ml olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 50g coriander, finely chopped
  • 2½ tsp fish spice mix (recipe below)
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • 4 large cod loin (or another sustainably sourced white fish), skin on (about 700g)
  • 4 large fresh bay leaves (optional)
  • 2 lemons: cut one into 8 very thin slices, and quarter the other lengthways, into wedges, to serve
  • About 4 tbsp/65g tahini sauce (optional, recipe below), to serve
  • Salt and black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 250°C fan.

Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a small saucepan and place on a medium-low heat. Add the crushed garlic and cook for 10 seconds, then add the coriander, fish spice mix, chilli flakes, ¼ teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring frequently, for the garlic to really soften, then remove from the heat.

Place the cod in a parchment-lined roasting dish, skin side down, and brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper then spoon the coriander mix on top of each fillet. Spread it out so that the whole top is covered, then top each one with a bay leaf, if using, along with 2 slices of lemon. 

Roast for 7–8 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Serve at once, with about a tablespoon of tahini sauce drizzled over, if using, and a wedge of lemon alongside.

Fish spice mix (baharat samak)

Double or triple the batch, if you like. It keeps well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a month, and much longer in the freezer. It’s also great to use as a marinade for all sorts of things: cubes of chicken or tofu, for example, prawns for the barbecue or roasted mixed vegetables. 

Makes just over 2 tbsp

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric

Method

Place all of the spices in a bowl and mix well to combine. If making more than you need, transfer to a sealed container where it will keep for a month. 

Tahini sauce

Tahini sauce: the creamy, nutty, rich addition to many a snack, dish or feast. It’s there on every table in Palestine, ready to be dipped into or drizzled over all sorts of things: roasted vegetables, fish or meat, and all sorts of leaf, pulse or grain-based salads. It keeps well in the fridge for 3–4 days, so always make the full recipe here, even if what you are cooking only calls for a few tablespoons.

Makes 1 medium jar

Ingredients

  • 150g tahini
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Salt

Method

Mix together all the ingredients, along with 120ml of water and ¼ teaspoon of salt. If it is too runny, add a bit more tahini. If it is too thick, add a bit more lemon juice or water. You want the consistency to be like that of a smooth, runny nut butter. It will thicken up when left to sit around, so just give it a stir and some more lemon juice or water every time you use it. 

Labneh cheesecake with roasted apricots, honey and cardamom

Falastin: Labneh cheesecake with roasted apricots, honey and cardamom

Cheesecake is not, traditionally, a dessert eaten in Palestine, but all the ingredients are: the labneh and filo, for example, the nuts and floral orange blossom. The base was Noor’s idea: blitzing up the sheets of filo to make crumbs. Mixing this with the nuts calls baklava to mind. The result, we think, is distinct and special.

Getting ahead: If you are making your own labneh (which couldn’t be easier: it just requires getting organised a day ahead), then it needs to be made 1–5 days before using. To get the 500g of labneh required, you’ll need to start with 850g of Greek-style yoghurt, mixed with ⅔ teaspoon of salt. 

The base and cheesecake are best baked the day before serving, so that it can chill in the fridge overnight. The apricots are best roasted and put on top of the cake on the day of serving. Once assembled, the cake is best eaten the same day.

Playing around: Rose water or vanilla extract can be used instead of the orange blossom water, if you like. If using vanilla in the filling, use 1½ teaspoons of vanilla paste or the scraped seeds of ½ a vanilla pod, in addition to the vanilla extract already there. 

Lots of other fruits – stone fruits or otherwise – work as well as the apricots here. Peaches, plums and cherries are also good, as are strawberries. As ever, with nuts, other nuts can be used apart from those we suggest: Brazil nuts, for example, or macadamia nuts. They both work well in any combination in the base: just keep the net weight the same.

Serves ten to twelve

Ingredients

Base

  • 5 sheets of good-quality filo pastry (about 110g)
  • 90g unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
  • 40g walnut halves
  • 60g pistachio kernels
  • 1½ tbsp plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 10 cardamom pods, shells discarded and seeds finely crushed in a pestle and mortar (or ¾ tsp ground cardamom)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp flaked sea salt

Filling

  • 500g labneh (either shop-bought or 850g of Greek-style yoghurt)
  • 500g ricotta
  • 210g caster sugar
  • ⅔ tsp flaked sea salt
  • 5 eggs (2 whole, and 3 with yolks and whites separated: you will only be using the yolks of these)
  • 2 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1½ tbsp cornflour

Topping

  • 75g runny honey
  • 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 40ml orange juice
  • 6 cardamom pods, shells on, seeds roughly bashed together in a pestle and mortar
  • 350g ripe apricots, stones removed, cut into 6 wedges
  • A small handful of picked mint leaves, to garnish (optional)
Falastin: Ottolenghi's head chef Sami Tamimi and food writer Tara Wigley, the new cookbook's co-authors

Method

To make the filling, clean out the food processor and add the labneh, ricotta, sugar and salt. Pulse for just a few seconds, to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs, egg yolks (the spare whites can be saved for something else), orange zest, orange blossom water, vanilla extract and cornflour.

Pulse for about 15 seconds, to combine, then pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 60–70 minutes, or until the cake is beginning to take on some colour around the edges but still has a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and leave to cool at room temperature for an hour before refrigerating for at least 4 hours or (preferably) overnight.

On the day of serving, preheat the oven to 200°C fan and prepare the topping.

Put the honey, orange blossom water, orange juice and bashed cardamom pods into a small saucepan and place on a medium-high heat. Cook for 4–6 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced by half and is beginning to form a thin syrup. 

Spread the apricots out on a parchment-lined baking tray, on their side, and drizzle over half the syrup. Bake for about 8 minutes, turning the apricots over halfway through baking, until completely softened but still retaining their shape. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 30 minutes, until completely cool.

Just before serving (or up to 1 hour, if you want to prepare ahead), release the cake from its tin and transfer to a round serving platter. Top with the apricots – there should not be any overlap – and drizzle with the remaining syrup. The bashed cardamom pods can be used for garnish as well – they look nice – but these are not to be eaten. Scatter over the mint leaves, if using, and serve.

Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (£27, Ebury Press) is out now

Photography: Jenny Zarins

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.