Palestine on a Plate, by Joudie Kalla

Palestine on a Plate, by Joudie Kalla

There are a lot of broadly Middle Eastern cookery books around at the moment.

In the last few months, I’ve cooked from Ottolenghi’s peerless Jerusalem, and Levant by Anissa Helou, and now Joudie Kalla’s excellent Palestine on a Plate.

All of these books share a common sense of identity, of place, and of history. The Middle East is a region with problems, to understate enormously, but it’s also a region with a rich and heartfelt culture stretching back thousands of years, and the food of the area acts like a seam running through the years, connecting generations.

No matter what happens, no matter how unexpected the twists, the turns, no matter what direction events may take, there will always be these recipes, these ingredients, handed down and cooked over centuries.

Kalla’s book carries the sub-title ‘memories from my mother’s kitchen‘, which highlights the importance of tradition in the Middle East in general, and in Palestine in particular, of family tradition and continuity.

Kalla asks “what is more fundamental to a people’s history and culture than their food?” It’s an astute question, a statement, even. The answer is ‘nothing’, except perhaps the way those people keep that food tradition alive and help it to grow and flourish, for nothing becomes of the past if it is not alive to inform the present, if it isn’t developed and nurtured.

Everything changes, everything stays the same.

Kalla’s food is colourful.

Pictures pop with vibrancy and life, food leaps from the page. There’s warmth, and heat, and love in these pictures and in these words.

This is a book of classics, celebrating Palestinian food at its simplest and most honest, at its very best.

It’s true that the food eaten across the Middle East follows a basic canon of ingredients, techniques and recipes. There is similarity from region to region, from country to country, and a degree of homogeneity of food, but with crucial differences depending on what’s available where. This means that Palestinian food can be said to have a distinct identity, which cooks like Kalla seek to fiercely preserve.

And the food?

Excellent. Accessible and approachable, well-written recipes using ingredients that most people with access to a decent supermarket will be able to source, challenging enough to stretch and excite the more adventurous cook.

There’s a lot to like in this friendly and intimate collection of recipes. Each one clearly has a place in Kalla’s family legend, each one is a small foundation stone in the history of her country.