We are very happy that Mediterranean cuisine specialist and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins has contributed a wonderful foreword to The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt. The book has also received significant praise from other luminaries, including:
Endorsements from the aforementioned luminaries follow this brief excerpt from the Foreword:
From cookbook author and Mediterranean cuisine specialist Nancy Harmon Jenkins:
"... In many ways, food in Gaza is classic Palestinian, Middle Eastern cuisine, but it is unique with its own regional diversity, which includes a deep appreciation for the kick of red chili peppers, the zest of eastern spices (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon), and the soothing calm of fresh dill and dill seeds. You can see this immediately in Gaza-style falafel, those delectably crisp, deep-fried morsels of ground chickpeas with spices, universal street food throughout the Middle East, from Turkey to the banks of the Nile. In Gaza, though, the addition of chopped chilis and fresh green dill gives a special twist to falafel. (Only in Greece is dill used to the delicious extent it is in Gaza.) Or take stuffed grape leaves, warak inab, another classic of the eastern Mediterranean, filled with ground meat and rice or burghul—in Gaza the filling is sparked with allspice, cardamom, nutmeg, and black pepper, a reflection of Gaza’s great crossroads history, connecting southern Arabia and the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean.
"There are also special dishes here, ones you’d otherwise have to travel to Gaza to experience, which few of us are able to do. I think of the spicy roasted watermelon salad called fattit ajir, in which a whole, under-ripe watermelon is charred on the grill, then peeled, chopped and mixed with hot chilis and fresh dill, along with ripe tomatoes and torn bits of toasted Arab bread. Or tabeekh baqla, a stew of fresh purslane (baqla) with chickpeas and cilantro, sparked with pepper flakes and fragrant with olive oil. And I think especially of sumagiyya, which the authors describe as the quintessential Gaza dish, a basic meat stew with lots of tart-flavored sumac (hence its name), with the freshness of green chard and the heft of chickpeas, and of course with the ubiquitous dill and chilis, red and green alike. Sumagiyya, too, has that famous Gaza specialty red tahina, the endangered species of this fascinating kitchen....
"Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt understand right from the start that cuisine is something much more than a collection of recipes, no matter how delicious and varied—and the recipes in The Gaza Kitchen are indeed delicious. More than recipes, cuisine, taken as a whole as they have done in this book, is a singular expression of culture, of history—as painful as that has been—and of heritage—as important as it is for defining the future. So do leaf through this book, find recipes that attract you, try them out and then try them a second and third time, and as you do so, think about the place and the people and the way the cuisine reflects both.
"But read the book too—the little essays on Gaza traditions, the profiles of cooks, farmers, fishermen, and food producers, the images of a still tormented history, all lend tremendous weight to its appeal. I guarantee you will come away with a renewed respect for the spirit and resilience of the people of Gaza. Not just a cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen is a reflection of a unique group of people at an important moment in their history. And as such, of course, it is a reflection of all of us, of our common humanity."
Intriguing, homely and delicious, the recipes are familiar as broadly Middle Eastern but they are distinctively Palestinian and many also uniquely of Gaza—with more pronounced flavours, more herby, spicy, peppery, lemony, than those of their regional neighbours. We also get from this very special book a rare insight into the intimate everyday lives of engaging people who grow vegetables and herbs and raise pigeons and rabbits on their rooftops even as they lament their predicament.
The people in this moving, mouthwatering book transform humble ingredients like garlic and dill into recipes for survival. A wise, generous, and fearless exploration of how Gazans use food, even under incredible hardship, with strength and grace.
A refreshing, new angle on Gaza's story. This splendid book will make your mouth water and show you the wonders of a rich, yet simple cuisine undimmed by years of a cruel and pointless siege. A tribute to its authors and a celebration of Gaza's brave and undaunted people.
I have never seen a cookbook like The Gaza Kitchen. And that is a shame because this is exactly as a cookbook should be. It is a guide to knowing a place—its tastes, its ecology, its struggles and its spirit—through the food that people share there. It has changed how I cook, and it has filled me with respect for the ways in which food traditions create power and resilience in the face of adversity.
The Gaza Kitchen is a remarkable hybrid: a richly researched, elegantly written cookbook, it’s also a moving chronicle of the people whose food it describes. El-Haddad and Schmitt don’t avoid difficult political questions; neither do they fixate on them. Like the down-to-earth Gazan home cooks whose often surprising recipes they’ve recorded, they convey with sensitivity and a contagious kind of delight the way life somehow goes on, even with joy, amid the greatest hardships.