A few weeks ago I had some friends over for Arab food. Though I’ve known them a few years, busy schedules and life responsibilities have prevented us from getting together for a meal in quite some time, and homemade lunch/dinner seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to reconnect. What made this get together especially wonderful is that both these women take great pride in their respective Mexican and Korean cultural and culinary heritages. Their enthusiasm about coming to my house for traditional cooking reminded me, once again, that the legacy of a culture and learning occurs through its food. My Arabic language skills may be middling, but the nuances of my upbringing–generosity, community, connection to the land through the regional and seasonal products, as well as the irrepressible Palestinian spirit–are transmitted through these meals.
Salads are ever-present on the Arab and Palestinian table. During summer, I like to serve at least two wand almost always include the traditional Palestinian salad (cucumber, tomato, onion sprinkled with sumac, lemon juice, an olive oil) especially when kebab are on the menu. For this lunch, I also made fattoush, which is a personal favorite because of the way the crunchy pita chips absorb the dressing. Kifta kebab made of lamb were the central feature of this lunch, drizzled in tahineh sauce and eaten in pockets of fresh, warm, pillowy homemade Arabic bread. Arabic bread is also an excellent way to sop up juices from the lamb and scoop mouthfuls of salad. The sandwiches were doused in toum (garlic mayonnaise), pickled red onions, and Palestinian salad. We were all so hungry we didn’t remember to take photos of the assembled kifta sandwiches, but I think our ability to delay gratification is sufficiently displayed by the photos of the spread on the table. I made a basic hummus sprinkled with lemony sumac and generous amounts of olive oil, harisseh with coconut and orange blossom syrup for dessert, and served strawberry mint sharab in sparkling water as the refreshment. The menu was simple–made with the bright flavors of summer like citrus, fruit, fresh mint, and other herbs. It is classically Palestinian.
Menu for a summer lunch. Recipes are in the links above, except for Palestinian salad, toum, and pickled onions, which will be provided below.
Strawberry mint sharab in sparkling water, on ice
Lamb kifta kebab
Arabic bread (pita)
Palestinian chopped salad
Served with olives, toum, and pickled onions
6-8 Persian cucumbers
1 red onion
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Handful of chopped mint, if desired
1/8 cup sumac
salt and pepper to taste
Chop all vegetables, place in a bowl, and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and sumac marinade.
Toum (garlic mayonnaise) –toum is a condiment, marinade for meats and fish, as well as a dipping sauce for falafel and vegetables. It’s especially delicious over grilled meats, such as kebab.
1 cup of peeled garlic cloves
3-4 cups neutral oil, such as sunflower or canola
Juice of 2 lemons (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon salt
Place garlic and salt into a large food processor. Pulse the garlic in short bursts until it is finely minced. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and process until garlic becomes a paste. Then add another tablespoon of lemon juice. With the food processor running, drizzle in 1/2 cup of oil and alternate this this with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Repeat this process, alternating with cold water as well, until all the oil and water have been incorporated and the oil is emulsified into a light and fluffy mayonnaise. This process can take about 10 minutes. Alternating the oil with the liquids is important because it ensures the emulsification won’t break. Store toum in a jar for up to one month in the fridge.
Quick Pickled Onions
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 red onion
Peel a red onion, slice it thinly. In a bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Place onion slices in a ball or mason jar and pour the vinegar mixture over it. Seal and leave at room temperature for 1 hour. You may then place onions in the refrigerator where they will keep for several weeks. They are best within a few days, but with this recipe can be eaten same-day.