The food you grow up with stays with you as an evocative reminder of home. But for Reem Kassis, who left her her Palestinian family to study and then work in America, the food of her homeland was set so deep in her psyche that she gave up her successful career as a business consultant to turn food writer. Her debut book The Palestinian Table (£24.99, Phaidon) has over 150 recipes, inspired by the women that Kassis grew up learning from in the kitchen; there are the dips and salads that are a fundamental part of Middle Eastern food (including the zingy and moreish avocado, labneh and preserved lemon spread) and, of course, a great chapter on the succulent breads with which to eat them. There are lots of refreshing tomato based salads and brilliant sharing plates – we love the sound of chickpeas with lamb on toasted pita with tahini sauce – a classic Palestinian brunch dish. Many recipes begin with an introduction about their significance or other personal anecdotes and the whole book is dotted with beautiful images – both of food and of daily life in Palestine. As a taster we are including one of our favourite recipes from the book below – a warming chicken stew that’s perfect for autumn nights.
From THE PALESTINIAN TABLE by Reem Kassis
Chicken, Onion and Sumac Casserole
The combination of onions and sumac cooked in olive oil is one of the most traditional and uniquely Palestinian flavors you will ever come across. The combination is sublime: it makes you want to go back for another bite… and another…and another. In this recipe, which is more common in the northern part of Palestine, the onions and spices are cooked with chicken, and sometimes potatoes, in a roasting pan. The word mhammar can mean both roasted and red and aptly refers to the use of paprika, which lends the dish a distinct reddish color. It makes a perfect weeknight dinner, as it can be oven-ready in less than 15 minutes; if you have leftovers, you can always use them as stuffing for Chicken, Sumac, and Pine Nut Rolls.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
2 ½ lb/1.25 kg chicken pieces (about 4 whole legs or 6 skin-on breasts)
6–7 onions, diced
3–5 potatoes cut into rounds (optional)
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons sumac
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Nine Spice Mix
1 tablespoon salt
3–4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Toasted Pine Nuts, to serve
— pita bread (if not using potatoes), homemade or store-bought (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4.
Put the chicken, onions, and potatoes, if using, into a greased or non-stick, deep roasting dish.
In a small bowl, mix together all the spices, salt, and olive oil until evenly combined. Pour the mixture into the roasting
dish and use your hands to work the spice rub evenly into the onions, chicken, and potatoes. Make sure the chicken pieces are not crowding each other and that they are skin side up.
Add ½ cup (4 fl oz/120 ml) water to the tray, cover with aluminum foil, and bake in the oven for 1–11/4 hours until the chicken is fully cooked. Check once or twice during cooking to make sure liquid has not entirely evaporated and top up with more water if necessary. You do not want the dish to be completely dry but you also do not want a soup, more of a gravy sauce coating the onions.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove the foil and increase the oven temperature (or preheat the broiler/grill). Continue to cook for another 5–10 minutes to allow the chicken skin to crisp up. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and serve with pita bread, if desired.