Recipes from Palestine

A celebration of Palestinian food and hospitality.  April, 2016

​​​ABCD's Georgina and Val, their colleagues, families and friends, have enjoyed Palestinian food for decades, tasting many dishes of the family-type repertoire in homes they visit via their work, and at restaurants and other venues such as BASR's cafe at Beit Jala and in other towns, villages and cities throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

​The fundamental elements of Palestinian cookery include olive oil, ​yoghurt (fresh and strained), legumes (chickpeas, lentil, broad beans), grains (bread, sesame, black seeds), vegetables (aubertines, tomatoes, cauliflower, zucchini) leaf vegetables, freekeh (roasted green wheat) and herbs.  Cooking styles vary by region, each type of cooking style and the ingredients used generally based on the climate and location of the particular region and on traditions.  Rice and variations of kibbeh, a fried croquette stuffed with cooked minced beef or lamb with onion and sauteed pine nuts, ar common in the Galilee, for example.
The West Bank’s meals might choose taboon (flat) bread, rice and meat while coastal plain inhabitants choose fish, other seafood, and lentils. Gaza home cooking is a variation of the Levant dishes, but is more diverse in seafood and spices including chillies.

Palestinian food is a mark of family life, its simplicity and quality telling the story of a land which celebrates its native produce including za’atar, an essential to Palestinians, the smell of home to anyone who grew up in the area. Known as hyssop, it is picked during the spring and early summer and either used fresh or dried and hydrated. It is also combined in a spice mix with ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt. Za’atar is also made with oregano or thyme. Sumac? If not familiar with this other essential, it’s the berries of the rhus plant which are ground into a reddish-purple powder adding a sour, stringent, lemony taste to many dishes.

To mark their appreciation of Palestinian hospitality, Georgina and Val would like you to sample some of the dishes which have been part and parcel of their time spent there. Although a few of the ingredients may be unfamiliar, rest assured: even za’atar and sumac are readily available in most supermarkets as are most ingredients including maftoul (look for giant couscous).  But if you have difficulty in finding any, contact, which develops UK market for artisanal Palestinian produce.

We’ll be adding further dishes in due course to further whet your appetite. Better still, visit this fabulously hospitable area to taste authentic dishes.

Carol Godsmark  ABCD Trustee

Musakhan: Za’atar Chicken with Sumac and Pinenuts 

Musakhan is one of the most popular and traditional of Palestinian recipes. It is usually prepared during the olive oil pressing season to celebrate freshly pressed oil but you can see it on the menu all year round in family gatherings and parties. This simple dish is often served on Taboon bread. If you can’t find this, replace it with any flat bread you like, just make sure it is not too thin as it needs to hold onions and chicken. I used a whole chicken as I prefer to make stock from the carcass.

For 2 – 4 depending on what else you’re serving this with. I have married it with a maftoul and lentil salad (see recipe below).

·       1 kg onions peeled and chopped but not too finely
·       450 ml olive oil or thereabouts – see recipe
·       2 tablespoons sumac
·       1/4 teaspoon cardamom
·       1/4 teaspoon black pepper
·       Salt – I only use seasalt
·       1 chicken cut into 4 pieces
·       1/4 teaspoon cardamom, crushed
·       1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
·       2/3 flat breads

For the decoration

·       Nuts for topping (pine nuts or almonds are the most commonly used ones)
·       1 tablespoon sumac


Place the onions in a pot and add enough olive oil to submerge the onions completely (it may vary a little with the size of your pot so you may not need all of the oil) Cook the onions over low heat stirring occasionally till the onions are translucent but still hold their shape. This may take 20- 30 minutes.

Once the onions are done, place them in a colander to drain off the olive oil. Do not discard the oil. After all the oil has been drained off, sprinkle the onions with sumac, cardamom and black pepper and toss them till they are completely coated with sumac. Season the chicken on both sides with 1/4 teaspoon cardamom,1/4 teaspoon black pepper and a pinch of salt. Once the onions have been removed from the pan, add a little more oil and when medium-hot, add the chicken pieces, not crowding them in the pan. You may cook in two batches.

Cover and cook over a low heat until the chicken is cooked or transfer to a 350F/175C for 20 or so minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Add the onions for the last 10 minutes of cooking for either method. I used the oven method. Toast pine nuts and sprinkle over the finished dish. Crisp up the bread, if choosing to add this to the dish and serve.

Maftoul and Lentil Salad

This moreish salad tends to be even better the following day, even when dressed. A colourful addition to any meal or simply served on its own. I use puy lentils as they keep their shape and are more tasty than other varieties. Part of a meal which will serve at least five, particularly if part of a spread of dishes.

·       100g spinach, finely chopped
·       generous bunch of parsley, finely chopped
·       100g Palestinian Maftoul (giant couscous)
·       200ml vegetable or chicken stock
·       75 gr puy lentils
·       ½ red onion, finely sliced
·       1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
·       16 sweet cherry tomatoes
·       1 pack of halloumi cheese, cut into chunks

For the dressing

·       Olive oil – 3 – 4 tbsp
·       The juice of ½ a juicy lemon or a whole one
·       Sumac – to taste
·       Salt
·       Pepper
Mix all to taste, adding whatever amounts you deem suitable to dressing


Bring the stock to the boil and add the maftoul, cook for around 6 minutes, drain and set aside. Don’t overcook. Boil the puy lentils until tender. These may take up to 20 minutes. Cool both and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the onion, tomato halves, garlic, chopped spinach, parsley. Add the cooled maftoul and mix well. Place the halloumi chunks in a bowl and cover with boiling water, leave for a couple of minutes. This helps extract some of the salt from the halloumi. Remove and pat dry with kitchen paper then fry lightly in a little oil on a griddle or frying pan.

Mix the maftoul, lentils, tomatoes, spinach, parsley, garlic and onion in a large serving bowl. Toss with the dressing, taste and add more seasoning or oil or sumac if necessary. Place the halloumi on the salad to decorate. Will keep well refrigerated until the next day.

أتمنى لك وجبة شهية.
‘atamanna lak wajibbat shahyat.
(Enjoy your meal!)

Ma’moul or Holy Land Biscuits

These are traditional festive Middle Eastern biscuits eaten at Easter by Christians and at Eid by Muslims. They are quite complicated and time consuming to make, so, if you can, enlist the help of friends and children. Everyone enjoys making dough balls between the palms of their hands. Try for yourself – the recipe here.  mamoul.pdf

Holy Land Cake

This recipe comes to us courtesy of a very dear friend of ABCD and is from his family’s book of recipes going back over the decades. They are a Palestinian Christian family, having roots in West Jerusalem.

Find out how they taste by following this recipe.   holylandcake2.pdf

We made this cake using Jericho’s finest Medjoul dates.  These, and other ingredients from Palestine, including Palestinian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, are imported by Zaytoun – visit their website to find your nearest retailer or to buy directly from them on-line at

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