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For Reem Kassis, the Palestinian Kitchen Chef is ‘A powerful place’: NPR



Cookbook author Reem Kassis said many foods considered to be Middle Eastern or Israeli are of Palestinian food.

Dan Perez / Phaidon Press


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Cookbook author Reem Kassis said many foods considered to be Middle Eastern or Israeli are of Palestinian food.

Dan Perez / Phaidon Press

Reem Kassis, a Palestinian cookbook author, raised in East Jerusalem, never expected to enter the food industry. For her, the kitchen represents “Life imprisonment” for women

Kassis moved to the United States when she was 17, first studying business at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and then at the London School of Economics until she had a child. A “powerful place” where she can share important food and culture stories with her daughter.

“I started putting together recipes and family stories together, almost as a way of giving her a home, no matter where in the world she was,” says Kassis. Come together, I know, yes, this is my family recipe, it’s a family story. But when taken together as a whole, it could be the story of every Palestinian family “

Many of the foods considered to be Middle Eastern or Israeli are of Palestinian food, said Kassis. Her first cookbook Palestine table Record the Palestinian food history along with her resume. In her new book Arabesque table Kassis extends its focus to the cross-cultural culinary history of the Arab world.

Interview Highlights

Arabesque table by Reem Kassis.
Arabesque table by Reem Kassis.

On her identity as an inherently political Palestinian.

It’s funny because I have to use the word “Palestine” and whatever I want to talk about, no matter how far away from politics – suddenly it’s political. But at the same time … as Palestinians, as people living under occupation fighting for justice, it is difficult to separate that reality from anything else we do. Everyone thinks in different ways. I live in the food and writing world and that’s how I try to fix or deal with that from that angle. And other people in different spheres might deal with it from different angles … It could be minefield, but it shouldn’t … Food is the lowest common denominator we all have. Yes … no matter where you come from or what religion or beliefs you have, you have to eat. But do I believe food can bring people together? I think that’s a stretch.

About the controversy about the origin of the cream

Hummus itself has been debated internationally, because just a few decades ago it was not known what it was. When my husband takes it to school, people will enjoy eating this beige chili paste. Suddenly, since the late 80’s it has grown in popularity and is recognized abroad as an Israeli. And I think that’s where the controversy arises …

This is a food of inherently Arab origin and abroad it is marketed as Israeli – with no mention of those origins … When I was here and I saw some things I knew were an integral part of My culinary identity was classified as Israeli, it felt like an insult to injury and meant to say that I didn’t exist that I was not. There is no past that I never lived there or that is part of history. I’ve said before, that it’s not about chickpeas, it’s not about food, it’s what the omissions mean to people like me, a Palestinian, who see our history shunned. Completely and was completely ignored abroad.

On an arabic bagel

Kassis explores the cross-cultural culinary history of the Arab world in her cookbook. Arabesque table Shown above (clockwise from top left): sujuk fried eggs; The “Secret” Shankleesh Salad; Fried Arabian White Cheese And Labneh Red Chilli and Egg Salad

Dan Perez / Phaidon Press


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Dan Perez / Phaidon Press

Kassis explores the cross-cultural culinary history of the Arab world in her cookbook. Arabesque table Shown above (clockwise from top left): sujuk fried eggs; The “Secret” Shankleesh Salad; Fried Arabian White Cheese And Labneh Red Chilli and Egg Salad

Dan Perez / Phaidon Press

In fact, I always thought it originated in the Ashkenazi community in Eastern Europe. I then started researching for this book … and it’s part of the research involved looking at ancient medieval Arabic cookbooks. And I’m looking at one of them from the 13th century, and in the bread chapter, I see part of the ka’ak, a ring-shaped dough that the Arabs used to make centuries ago. And I was reading a book and in it said “Put the ring-shaped batter on the pallet, boil it in water and bake it,” and that’s what today’s bagels are.

So, as you start digging deeper, you will find that the bagels are traceable, and this was done by a number of Jewish researchers.They trace back to Poland in the 16th century, however, in Poland they revert. Roy goes back to their royal family until the 13th century, as you look at those who marry the royal family are women from Bari Italy and Bari Italy in the Middle Ages is … [a] The stronghold of the Islamic Empire and from there the food of Europe was greatly influenced by Arab traders and the conquest of that region. So you start to see how the original bagels travel across the world. You will then see a very similar version in China where the trade routes go too. And then you know that what connects them is their origins in those Arab cookbooks. The truth is that the flour is cooked before baking.

What inspired her to start cooking Arabic from childhood

I think a lot of times you gave up on things as a kid – and I definitely did that with my mom. My daughter does the same with mine. But when I left and arrived in the United States, I had a little shocking about the culture. Part of it was seeing how I was eating for myself in the dining room. There is no family feeling where everyone is eating together and then the food itself. I started to crave it I miss it. I miss not only taste and flavor. But also all the feelings surrounding it, and that’s when I actually started cooking, and I would call Mom and ask her for a recipe. It started easy.

I remember the first dish I wanted to make was maclubar, upside down rice and a plate of vegetables … I thought I called her maybe 15 times over two hours. [and] At one point she said “It was cheaper for me to fly to cook for you than to have to answer your questions about how to make it!” But I remember eating it, it made me feel satisfied to be close. More houses And even though just a little bit of nostalgia I used to feel relieved just by eating that dish.

on To season

Za’atar is a self-contained herb and comes from the oregano family. What happens here is when people say za’atar, they mean the herb flavored mix with sumac, sesame and salt. And sometimes people call it basil. But it’s actually not basil. It is closer to oregano than basil. And the reason it is so misleading is that people may not know they are real plants. So we made a seasoning out of that plant, and we creatively call it the same name as the plant. But we also use it in many other applications, we use it in different types of bread dough and pastries. We use it to make tea as well. And, of course, this condiment is probably the most used and well known … mixed with sumac, sesame seeds, and salt, and probably in every table in Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian households. And it’s your going Breakfast: You dip the pita bread in olive oil and satar, and you’re good to go.

On developing friendship with Israeli chef Michael Solomonov (Zahav is known for his award-winning Philadelphia restaurant).

First time I’ve ever eaten at Zahav … [I had] The dish that reminded me of the food my mom made was freekeh, and I remember part of me being satisfied to eat this dish at home and the other to be very disappointed. Why am I eating the best Palestinian food I’ve ever eaten since coming to an Israeli restaurant in the US?

Then you go 10 years forward and I’m writing this book on one hand, yes, to protect our culture, for my daughters, and our culinary history. But this part also shows the world that this is our food that we Eaten for generations before Israel even became a state. And when my book came out, I sent the mic. [Solomonov] A copy of the book with some handwritten letters to say “This is our food, this is what we are doing” … and I think he is very impressed. I didn’t expect to hear from him when I submitted the book. But he stretched out his hand and said “I’m so impressed with your book,” and he wanted to meet up with coffee, and we did, and I was surprised to learn that there were so many things missing in the translation. You see Mike and you think he is the face of Israeli food. He had to deny the origin of the food he served by the Palestinians. He has to continue to resist the Palestinians, and once you get to know someone on a personal level, you will begin to realize how much misunderstanding you have about that person. And that was the beginning of that friendship.

Amy Salit and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview.Bridget Bentz and Molly Seavy-Nesper adapted to the web.


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