The cover of Zaitoun is beautiful and it will make you want to look inside. It turns out that the dishes that British author Yasmin Khan describes are also photographed with great skill bringing out the vibrant colors, and there are also location shots showing places and people. It is a lovely book and would make a great gift.
The contents are divided up into the mazzeh, salads, soups, main courses and desserts. There are geographical associations with each: Haifa, Akka, Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Gaza, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Galilee. Khan writes about Palestinian culture and life at the start of each section and in side bars along the recipes.
But it is mainly about the food. At the start of the book there is a guide to the staples you will need in your kitchen to cook Palestinian food regularly. Most of the ingredients are easily available at good food stores, but some others are more specialized. We may need to take a special trip to obtain freekeh, fruit molasses, maftool and za'atar. Not all the recipes use these though, and it is possible to make substitutions too.
As an outsider, it is easy to lump together a lot of middle eastern food, and Zaitoon has recipes for the regulars such as hummus, baba ganouj, falafel, shakshuka and baklava. Browsing the internet will show there is a good deal of variation in recipes for these things, so having the ones from Khan different from what you will get from googling. There are also recipes for dishes here that will be harder to find elsewhere. It is hard to say whether they are uniquely Palestinian -- that seems unlikely -- bit they are good. While the main courses have a lot of fish and meat dishes, most of the other recipes are vegetarian. There's also a greater selection here than you will find if you just so an internet search for "Palestianian food."
So Zaitoon is an impressive cookbook that will appeal to those who are somewhat familiar with middle eastern food and want to explore the options more fully.
© 2019 Christian Perring
Christian Perring teaches in NYC.