By Ella Walker
Falastin is as much a portal to a place as it is a cookbook. “In this part of the world, unfortunately, everything that you touch or say, it turns into politics,” says Jerusalem-born chef Sami Tamimi of his homeland – and that very much includes the origin of hummus.
But, adds Tara Wigley, his British-born co-author, an in-depth knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian relations is not vital to pick up the book and start cooking. Instead, “people who are interested in food – beautiful aubergines and olive oils – should be reading this.”
She calls Falastin a “window through which to see modern day Palestine”.
The collection is strewn with profiles that tell stories of Palestinian producers and makers, from a granny making cheese in a tumble dryer, to a woman who runs cookery classes in a refugee camp, and a man who sells the nuttiest, silkiest tahini.
Palestinians, says Tamimi, are very aware that tourists take “religious buses to go and visit the holy sites, but they’re not eating or stopping there.”
As such, “all the good food’s happening in people’s houses,” says Wigley.
Falastin is “about getting everyone to the table and sharing and eating rather than falling over themselves with semantics,” says Wigley.
While the book is not a faithful representation of traditional Palestinian food, how Palestinians eat is at its core.
“You don’t cook for two people, you cook for 20 people,” says Tamimi. “It’s an open house – you never know who is going to come and it’s a big no-no not to have enough food for everybody.”
1 chicken (about 1.7kg), divided into 4 pieces (1.4kg) or 1kg chicken supremes (between 4 and 6, depending on size), skin on, if you prefer
120ml olive oil, plus 2-3tbsp extra, to finish
1tbsp ground cumin
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground allspice
30g pine nuts
3 large red onions, thinly sliced 2-3mm thick (500g)
4 taboon breads, or any flatbread (330g)
5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 lemon, quartered
Preheat the oven to 200C fan.
Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with two tablespoons of oil, one teaspoon of cumin, one and a half teaspoons of sumac, the cinnamon, allspice, one teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take about 30 minutes if starting with supremes and up to 45 minutes if starting with the whole chicken, quartered. Remove from the oven and set aside. Don’t discard any juices which have collected in the tray.
Meanwhile, put two tablespoons of oil into a large saute pan, about 24cm, and place on a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook for about two to three minutes, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with kitchen paper (leaving the oil behind in the pan) and set aside.
Add the remaining 60ml of oil to the pan, along with the onions and three quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Return to a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are completely soft and pale golden but not caramelised.
Add two tablespoons of sumac, the remaining two teaspoons of cumin and a grind of black pepper and mix through, until the onions are completely coated. Remove from the heat and set aside.
When ready to assemble the dish, set the oven to a grill setting and slice or tear the bread into quarters or sixths. Place them under the grill for about two to three minutes, to crisp up, then arrange them on a large platter. Top the bread with half the onions, followed by all the chicken and any chicken juices left in the tray. Either keep each piece of chicken as it is or else roughly shred it as you plate up, into two or three large chunks. Spoon the remaining onions over the top and sprinkle with the pine nuts, parsley, one and a half teaspoons of sumac and a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve at once, with the yoghurt and a wedge of lemon alongside.
Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley is available now