Oscar Wilde once wrote: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations”. He was definitely onto something – food is a language of love that can unite people, even enemies.
That is precisely what Joudie Kalla serves up in her recipe book, Palestine on a Plate: Memories from My Mother's Kitchen.
Kalla’s love for cooking began when she was 4 years old and would spend hours in the kitchen watching her mother cook several dishes at a time.
“I loved baking cakes with her, and bread stuffed with different fillings,” she says. “I knew then that I wanted to be a chef.”
Born to Palestinian parents, Kalla grew up in the United Kingdom. At 21, with dreams of becoming a world-renowned professional chef, she attended Leiths School of Food and Wine, a cookery school in London.
During her early days in the industry, Kalla was often the only woman in the kitchen, but that didn’t deter her and she made the most of her talents, landing herself a job in Pengelley at Daphne’s and Papillon, a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.
Just over a decade later, in 2010 Kalla opened her own delicatessen – Baity Kitchen. During this time she started making notes of the dishes her mother had passed down to her.
“I began a little love story to my home and my mother,” Kalla says. “It was a very natural thing for me as I love food.”
With the help of a friend, she turned her passion for cooking into an app – Palestine on a Plate, which caught the eye of Jacqui Small Publishing, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, who transformed the app into a book that was published last week.
“The book itself was already under way before I met the publisher, but in essence it took about a year from us meeting to finalising the photos and text – a lengthy process to make sure everything was as perfect as it could be.”
Palestinian food is very important to Kalla.
“It is historical, traditional and really gives an essence of what is slowly being lost,” she says. “We [Palestinians] have an identity and if I can capture that through food then that is the most beautiful way to do it for me.
“I think any culture or country or people would be proud to have a book to represent their historical memory.”
This is what Palestine on a Plate represents to Kalla.
“The dishes in this book are all passed from my grandmother, who was from Yaffa and Al Lydd in Palestine. She passed these recipes on to my mother, and then to me.”
The book, she says, is about “creating unity between people and cultures and really allowing others to know that this is not just another Middle Eastern book. It has its own identity, focusing on Palestinian style of cooking”.
“The characteristics of Palestinian food is local, healthy, fresh, organic product, using simple ingredients, making delicious dishes and varied ones with plenty of character and history,” she adds.
Essentially, Kalla wants to educate people about Palestinian cuisine.
“We have enough Italian, French and Chinese restaurants out there – but not many Palestinian restaurants,” she says.
Of the 100-plus recipes in the book, 95 per cent are Kalla’s take on her family favourites.
“Some very traditional dishes include Maftoul, which is a delicious chicken marinated in caraway and spices, served on Palestinian couscous and served with yogurt and broth,” she says.
“One of my favourites is Fatet Djaj, which is just so moreish. It is baked pita bread doused in a tangy chilli garlic yogurt sauce, layered with spiced minced rice, and topped with chicken and buttered nuts. It is always on our dinner table for any occasion.”
Palestine on a Plate: Memories from My Mother's Kitchen will be available in the UK, North America and Australia, before being translated for the Middle East and Europe.
Kalla has already started work on her next book, which will include recipes from her experiences with cooking using Middle Eastern ingredients, and more casual cooking styles based on what she has served at Baity Kitchen.
• For more details, visit www.palestineonaplate.com.