Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recipes from the Gaza Strip

I don't actually know how to dive back into my old routine now that our visitor (my niece Imogen from the UK) is gone … we had such a great time with her though I think we're all about dead from all the fun and activity. And now here I am all alone in a very quiet house actually wishing for some chaos. Imagine that!

Anyway I have to write this post in a bit of a hurry, since Imogen only just left for the airport and I have to pick up the kids in less than two hours. So yeah, there won't be much of a break from all of that chaos.

This week we're on the Gaza Strip, which if you've been permanently living on Antarctica or Bouvet Island you've probably never heard of. If you live in any part of the populated universe, however, you know that the Gaza Strip is that disputed territory between Egypt and Israel that is currently governed by Hamas, a Palestinian faction. At just 141 square miles the Gaza Strip is actually quite small, but that hasn't stopped Israel and Palestine from fighting in, around and about it for the last half-century or so. I am actually going to spare you from those particular details since if you don't already have an inkling of what's going on there you really need to turn on the news once in a while.

The sad truth  (well, one of many) about this part of the world is that when it comes to the Gaza Strip no one seems to want to talk about anything but the Israel/Palestine conflict. I find vague references to some of the other things the Gaza Strip has going for it (a university, some historical sites, a beach that is a big surfing destination and an amusement park), but most sources just want to talk about war and politics.

I, on the other hand, want to talk about the food so I'll just get right into that instead.

Food on the Gaza Strip is, as you might imagine, similar to the food you might find in Egypt, with which it shares a border. The region's location along the Mediterranean coast means that seafood is also an important part of its traditional cuisine, although I did not personally choose any fish dishes for my meal. Here's what I did choose:

Chicken Fatteh
  • 1 small chicken
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, peeled
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 pita bread
  • 2 cups Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice*
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
* The original recipe called for "sour yogurt." After much Googling I learned that you can approximate this by adding lemon juice to Greek yogurt.

  • 2 tomatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into small cubes
  • 2 spring onions, finely diced
  • Lettuce, chopped
  • 1 Radish, cut into small cubes
  • Parsley, chopped
  • Green mint, chopped
  • 1 loaf of pita bread
  • Dressing: Lemon, salt, and olive oil

Saj Bread

  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (about 110 to 115°)
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Oil for coating the dough
(All of these recipes come from a website called

The bread is always a good place to start, since it takes some time to put together. Here's how:

Mix the yeast with 1/4 cup of the water and the sugar. Let stand until frothy. Now measure out 2  1/2 cups of flour and sift together with the salt into a bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the yeast and the rest of the water.

Now mix the ingredients together, slowly adding the rest of the flour (or as much as you need to make a smooth dough). Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until no longer sticky.

Rub some oil around the inside of a large bowl and transfer the dough into that bowl. Turn the dough ball until it is completely coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

Punch down then knead again for a few minutes. Divide the dough into balls that are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin. Brush lightly with olive oil.

Now, you are supposed to cook this bread on a rounded surface like you would get if you flipped a wok over. I just baked mine in my regular non-stick skillet because I didn't really have anything I could use to improvise. However you choose to do it, cook on both sides until you get a golden crust.

The original recipe described this bread as cooking in "sheets," which implies that they're supposed to be quite thin, like a tortilla. Mine were much thicker than that and really just reminded me of Indian naan bread. Either way I'm sure they are very good. Now on to the chicken.

Season the chicken all over with the cardamom, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Place the peeled onion in the cavity.

OK, the original recipe said to cook this chicken in an oven bag with a cup of water. I simply roasted mine, since I suspect that oven bags weren't used in the traditional version of this recipe anyway.

Roast the chicken in a  375 degree oven until an internal thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh reads 175 degrees (ideally you would want the breast to also be 165 degrees, though it's tricky to get the temp right in both places). Remove from the oven and reserve the pan juices.

Meanwhile, cut your pita bread up into small pieces and fry them in a little bit of oil. Cook the rice and drain.

Line a serving dish with the bread pieces and pour in the pan juices.

 Add one of the garlic cloves and about a tablespoon of the rice. Now spread the rest of the rice evenly over the bread. In a separate bowl, mix the yogurt with the lemon juice and the rest of the garlic. Spread that over the rice.

Now if you're feeling ambitious, remove the bones from the chicken and place the pieces on the top of the dish. If you're feeling lazy like I was, simply cut the chicken up into fully-boned pieces and put that on top of the rice. Serve.

While the chicken is cooking, make the fattoush:

Mix the vegetables together with the lettuce, parsley and mint.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into small pieces and fry in a little bit of oil until golden.

Now mix the lemon juice with the salt and olive oil. Just before serving, add the bread to the vegetables and dress with the lemon juice mixture. Ta da!

I actually loved this meal, probably more than Martin did. The chicken was very raw-garlicky, which pretty quickly came back to haunt me but certainly was yummy. I liked the little fried pita bits in both the chicken and the salad, which I like to think of as Gaza's answer to the crouton. The bread was also very tasty and satisfying and went really nicely with the tart yogurt in the chicken dish. And the salad was a nice refreshing side, though I do think that particular dish is a Ramadan meal (served during the month of fasting) and probably wouldn't have ordinarily been served with the chicken. I liked the combo, though, since it stopped the meal from being overly heavy.

Anyway that's Gaza. Good food, not too difficult to prepare … just the way I like it!

Next week: Georgia

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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