It is currently olive harvest season in Palestine, which makes it the perfect time to talk about Yasmin Khan’s book Zaitoun, which translates to “olive” in Arabic and is the essence of Palestinian cuisine. There are very few dishes in Palestine that are not either started or finished with a drizzle of olive oil.
This is not just a cookbook, as Yasmin shares not only the cuisine of the Palestinians, but also her experiences during her travel in the country. She takes us into the homes of Palestinians both in Palestine and in the diaspora. I especially like her honesty in telling their stories and how not everyone was thrilled at being seen as another subject of research. I believe she did a good job of telling their stories, highlighting their challenges and celebrating their food and culture.
Just as one cannot judge a book by its cover, I believe you cannot truly judge a cookbook without trying out the recipes in it. While there are some traditional Palestinian recipes, there are also many dishes inspired by her travels, experiences or Palestinian flavours and those caught my eye, as I myself am Palestinian and regularly make traditional dishes. I was actually more interested in trying the recipes she developed on her own, so made the seared halloumi with orange, dates and pomegranate, as well as the aubergine and feta kefte. Both recipes stood out to me as being very much inspired by Palestinian ingredients: the seared halloumi with the oranges, pomegranate molasses and Medjool dates, and the kefte with the aubergine and bulgur wheat.
I am generally an adventurous eater and enjoy trying new flavours and dishes, but I was keen to test these dishes on some of the pickier eaters I know. They both went down a treat. The seared halloumi was phenomenal. The way the flavours complimented each other made this dish perfectly balanced and it couldn’t have been easier to make. The kefte was also quite delicious and earthy and I could definitely see myself using them as a way to sneak in more vegetables for my children.
All in all, the book is great for people who are looking for a mixture of traditional Palestinian and Palestinian-inspired recipes, along with some great story telling. I should mention that the author could have been a bit more specific in some dishes, such as the kefte recipe; specifying what type of bulgur wheat to use would’ve been helpful, for example. However, this does not take anything away from the delicious recipes and amazing stories found in the book.