A Conversation & Cooking Demo with Author Laila El-Haddad

The cover of The Gaza Kitchen is a full cover photograph of a wide variety of food, including a whole fish, rice, and hummus.

by Kristen B.

Author and Journalist Laila El-Haddad discusses the history of spices and cuisine from the Middle East and demonstrates some of her recipes in this special virtual event on January 20.

Her book is extraordinary, clearly a labor of love. She talks about living and political conditions in Gaza, while also providing recipes for standard and special dishes of the region. She explains the regional pantry of ingredients and various techniques. I learned that the flavors that separate Gazan cuisine from other Palestinian cooking are hot chilies and dill. I can’t wait to try a couple of recipes (although my family has a notoriously low tolerance for heat), especially for various kebabs.

My favorite parts, though, are the abundance of photography and the personal interviews. This book is simply stuffed full of pictures: food and preparation steps, sure, but also portraits and places. It’s like taking a tour! And El-Haddad included these wonderful side-bar individual interviews, mostly with women and some local farmers. They give such a revealing glimpse into the lives of ordinary Gazan people. My favorite was with one woman, Um Sultan, who was less than happy that her routine, easy kufta recipe was to be included. Who wants to be to be singled out for their good, plain cooking as opposed to something more complicated and impressive? I learned a lot, but mostly was reminded of the power of food to cross barriers and bring people together to enjoy a good meal.

The Fertile Crescent region—the swath of land comprising a vast portion of today’s Middle East—has long been regarded as pivotal to the rise of civilization. Alongside the story of human development, innovation, and progress, there is a culinary tradition of equal richness and importance. The book includes a quote from Anthony Bourdain on the cover:

“An important book on an egregiously underappreciated, under-reported area of gastronomy. This is old school in the best possible meaning of the word.”

Laila El-Haddad is an award-winning Palestinian-American author and journalist.  She frequently speaks on the situation in Gaza, the intersection of food and politics, and contemporary Islam.  She has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, the Guardian and the International Herald Tribune and has appeared on many international broadcasting networks, including NPR, CNN, Al Jazeera, and CCTV.

She is the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between and, co-author of the critically acclaimed The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, which was the recipient of the ‘Best Arab Cuisine Book’ award from Gourmand magazine, and a finalist at the 2013 MEMO Palestine Book Awards.  She is also the co-editor of the anthology Gaza Unsilenced and contributor to The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great.  Her forthcoming book, Halal Tayyib: A Muslim American Culinary Journey, explores the history of Islam in America as told through food.  An avid gardener and outdoor enthusiast, she makes her home in Howard County, MD with her husband and their four children.

Thursday, January 20 at 7 pm, online. Please register here.

Sponsored by Muslim Family Center – Howard County, MD and RIVUS Consulting, Howard County, MD