Types of meals
Rice is the basic ingredient in ceremonial dishes, and is a very important element of Palestinian meals. Rice dishes are usually the main dish of Palestinian dinner, because they consist of a variety of ingredients commonly found within the Palestinian land. Rice is usually not served alone or as a side dish, but rather it is incorporated within a larger dish or tabeekh (dish), that would include soups, vegetables, and meat (chicken or lamb). Meat is almost always present in Palestinian dishes.
Mansaf is a very popular dish that is usually served during important events, such as a traditional wedding, engagement, funeral, baptism and circumcision. It is a dish incorporating all the elements of Palestinian land, such as bread, laban (yoghurt) soup, rice, nuts (pine nuts), parsley and lamb, making it an important cultural dish. The meal is oftentimes served the traditional way in a large common plate, a sidr. The meal is usually eaten without the use of tableware, but rather each person sits beside each other eating from the same large plate.
Maqluba means “upside down” in Arabic, and it is a dish made with a meat, fried vegetables and rice. The dish is cooked with the meat at the bottom of a large pot, then layered with fried vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and eggplant. Rice is then added to the dish as it completes cooking. When served, Maqluba is flipped upside down with the meat now at the top, hence the name. Maqluba is a popular dish, commonly served with salad and yoghurt by Palestinians.
Quzi is a rich rice dish with chopped vegetables and roasted meat made in the Taboon served with it. The dish is seen as comparatively simpler in its cooking than other Palestinian dishes, because it is cooked with basic rice (with diced vegetables) and a meat served on top of it. The meal is served in a large sidr, similar to mansaf, decorated with chopped parsley and pine nuts or chopped almonds. Another variant of this is the Zarb which has bread dough instead of rice although this is due to the Jordanian influence in the region.
Ruz ma Lahma is generally the only rice side dish in most Arab and Palestinian cooking, with simply cooked rice, spices, ground beef and nuts. It is usually served with a full lamb, kharoof, as the main dish.
Stews are basic fare for every day family cooking and are always served with vermicelli rice or plain rice. They are popular because they provide a wide range of nutrients from the meat, the vegetables and the rice. The extra liquid is also essential in such dry climate. Stews are also economically beneficial, as they provide relatively small amount of meat into feeding large families, especially within the poorer population.
Mloukhiyeh is a stew made from Jew’s mallow. The Jew’s mallow is picked during harvest time, and is either frozen or dried. It is widely popular in the middle east, as it is commonly grown in dry climate areas. The stew is cooked with lemon juice and water, and served with cut lemons and rice. The meal can be served with either chicken or lamb however it can be served without either (unlike many other Palestinian meals).
Adas is a healthy lentil soup, common in the Middle East. Unlike other parts of the Middle East, Palestinians do not incorporate yoghurt or other ingredients into this soup. Rather, it is made with lentils and chopped onions and served with sliced onions and bread on the side.
Palestinians bake a variety of different kinds of breads: they include khubz, pita and markook and taboon. Khubz is an everyday bread and is very similar to pita. It often takes the place of utensils; It is torn into bite size pieces and used to scoop various dips such as hummus or ful. Markook bread is a paper-thin unleavened bread and when unfolded it is almost transparent. Taboon receives its name from the ovens used to bake them.
Musakhan is a widely popular Palestinian dish composed of roasted chicken, with fried onions, sumac, allspice, saffron and pine nuts atop one or more taboons. The dish is usually eaten with the hands and served with cut lemon on the side. In April 2010, Palestinians were entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for largest Musakhan dish.
Palestinian cuisine also includes many small pizza-like foods, including Manakish, sfiha, fatayer, sambusac and ikras. Sfiha is a baked miniature flatbread, topped with lamb and cooked red peppers or tomatoes. Manakish is a baked flat bread, usually topped with za’atar and olive oil. Sfiha are meat patties decorated with spices and peppers. Sambusac and fatayer are baked or sometimes fried dough stuffed with minced meat and cooked onions or snobar (pine nuts). Fatayer is usually folded into triangles and unlike sambusac, it could be filled with arabic cheese or za’atar. Ikras is similar to sambusac and fatayer, by using dough stuffed with either meat or spinach, however they are not fried (like sambusac), and are usually served as a meal rather than meal addition or side dish.
Sandwiches usually using markook or khubz, such as Shawarma and Falafel are also common bread meals. Shawarma can be served as a sandwich or meal with shaved meat and bread. Shawarma can be chicken or beef, and is adorned with a variety of garnishes. These can include pickles, hummus, or a garlic yoghurt mix. Falafel, fried chickpeas, parsley and onion are fried into small patties and are adorned with similar toppings as shawarma.
Mahshi dishes are composed of rice stuffed vegetables such as, eggplants, baby pumpkins, potatoes, carrots and marrows as well as a variety of leaf vegetables, primarily grape leaves, cabbage leaves and less often chard. Mahshi requires delicacy and time—the main reason it is prepared before the day it is cooked and served. Many female family members participate in the rolling and stuffing of the vegetables, relaxing the amount of individual effort required, with great attention to detail.
Waraq al-‘ainib (stuffed grape leaves), is a mahshi meal reserved for large gatherings. The grape leaves are normally wrapped around minced meat, white rice and diced tomatoes, however meat is not always used. Dawali is an excellent representation of the attention to detail commonly found in Palestinian and Levant cuisine, with each piece being tightly wrapped to the size of cigarette morsels (some families differ in their structure).It is then cooked and served as dozens of rolls on a large plate usually accompanied by boiled potato slices, carrots and lamb pieces. Kousa mahshi are zucchinis stuffed with the same ingredients as waraq al-‘ainib and usually served alongside it heavy meals. If made with a large number of zucchinis as well as dawali it is known as waraq al-‘ainib wa kousa.
Dips and Side Dishes
Bread dips and side dishes such as, hummus, baba ghanoush, mutabbel and labaneh are frequented during breakfast and dinner.
Hummus is a staple in Palestinian side dishes, in particular in hummus bi tahini, in which boiled, ground beans are mixed with tahini (sesame paste) and sometimes lemon juice. Hummus is often slathered in olive oil and sometimes sprinkled with paprika, oregano and pine nuts; the latter are especially popular in the West Bank. Chick peas are also mixed with ful (fava beans), resulting in an entirely different dish, mukhluta, with a distinct flavour and brownish colour.
Baba ghanoush is an eggplant (aubergine) salad or dip with several variants. The root of all the variants is broiled and mashed eggplant and tahini lathered with olive oil, which can then be flavoured with either garlic, onions, peppers, ground cumin seeds, mint and parsley. Mutabbel is one of the spicier variants that receives its zest from green chilli peppers.
Jibneh Arabieh or jibneh baida is a white table cheese served with any of the above dishes. Ackawi cheese is a common variation of jibneh baida. Ackawi cheese has a smoother texture and a mild salty taste. Labaneh is a pasty yoghurt-like cream cheese either served on a plate with olive oil and za’atar—which is generally called labaneh wa za’atar—or in a khubz sandwich.
The most served Palestinian salad is a simple type known as salatat bandura (tomato salad), similar to Arab salad. It is composed of diced tomatoes and cucumbers combined with olive oil, parsley, lemon juice and salt. Depending on the area of Palestine, the recipe may include scallions and garlic as well.
Tabbouleh is a Mediterranean-style table salad originating in the Levant. The salad is made from parsley pieces, bulgur, diced tomatoes, cucumbers and is sautéed with lemon juice and vinegar. In 2006, the largest bowl of tabbouleh in the world was prepared by Palestinian cooks in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Fattoush is a combination of toasted bread pieces and parsley with chopped cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes and spring onions (scallions) and flavoured by sumac. Dagga is a Gazan salad usually made in a clay bowl and is a mix of crushed tomatoes, garlic cloves, red hot peppers, chopped dill and olive oil. Its seasoned with lemon juice immediately before being served.
Salatah arabieh or “Arab salad” is a salad used with most meals. Romaine lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers are the main ingredients. Lettuce is cut into long strips, then chopped into thin strands, the tomatoes and cucumbers are chopped into cubes. Finely chopped parsley and mint give it a “particular zest” according to chef Ali Qleibo. A pinch of salt, the juice of a whole fresh lemon and several tablespoons of olive oil are used for final touch ups.
Palestinian desserts include baklawa, halawa and kanafeh, as well as other semolina and wheat pastries. Baklawa is a pastry made of thin sheets of unleavened flour dough (phyllo), filled with pistachios and walnuts sweetened by honey. Burma Til-Kadayif, or simply Burma, especially popular in East Jerusalem, has the same filling as baklawa, but is cylndrical in shape and made with kanafeh dough instead of phyllo. Halawa is a block confection of sweetened sesame flour served in sliced pieces. Muhalabiyeh is a rice pudding made with milk and topped with pistachios or almonds.
Kanafeh, a well-known dessert in the Arab World and Turkey. Made of several fine shreds of pastry noodles with honey-sweetened cheese in the centre, the top layer of the pastry is usually dyed orange with food colouring and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Nablus, to the present day is famed for its kanafeh, partly due to its use of a white-brined cheese called Nabulsi after the city. Boiled sugar is used as a syrup for kanafeh.
It is common for Palestinian hosts to serve fresh and dried fruits, nuts, seeds and dates to their guests. Roasted and salted watermelon, squash and sunflower seeds as well as, pistachios and cashews are common legumes.
Watermelon seeds, known as bizir al-bateekh and pumpkin seeds, known as bizir abyad are eaten regularly during various leisurely activities: playing cards, smoking argeelah, conversing with friends or before and after meals.