Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Food & Drink
20 July 2018updated 30 Jun 2021 11:51am

Bush Tukker Trials: Zaitoun, Recipes and Stories from the Palestinian Kitchen

Yasmin Khan’s second book is an excellent addition to the working cook’s collection.

By Stephen Bush

Never have something in your home that you do not either believe to be beautiful or know to be useful. That was one of the few principles that William Morris believed should be a universal law, and Yasmin Khan’s Zaitoun: Recipes and Secrets from the Palestinian Kitchen is certainly beautiful. The cover design is so beautiful that I wanted to kiss it; the pictures inside are mouthwatering and gorgeous in equal measure… but is it useful?

First, a disclaimer: if you’re the type of person whose cooking is largely restricted to a few set piece events then you are going to disagree, violently, with how I assess cookery books. I come to it from the perspective of someone who does essentially all the cooking in my house, while doing a fairly busy job, and who believes that a good cookery book is one with recipes that you can make happily and well at the end of a working day.

I am highly suspicious of any cookery book in which the bulk of the recipes involve you to marinating something for 48 hours or similar, or require an excessive number of gadgets to prepare. I am outright opposed to ones that pretend that none of the great labour-saving devices of the 20th century, like processors and blenders, exist and which call on busy people to mash up things by hand over long hours. And I don’t like recipe books that assume a spice rack roughly the same size of my flat. If that’s your sort of thing, you should take any recommendations I make with a pinch of salt, doubtless one that you crushed yourself, by hand.

Zaitoun, happily, is a working cook’s book. It doesn’t expect the reader to make their own za’atar (a combination of sumac, sesame seeds, salt and za’atar itself) by hand, though it does have a handy recipe for how to make “almost za’tar” if you run out midway through, and a preferred brand of the stuff, which is always helpful. There are a few recipes that require prolonged marinating or a longer run-up, but most of these recipes can be made at the end of a long day’s work, and made well.

There are a few unnecessarily convoluted recipes – the hummus recipe requires you to soak dried chickpeas overnight in cold water, when you can achieve the same result with a simple can of tinned chickpeas, which Khan uses freely elsewhere in the book – but for the most part, this is a recipe book that you can happily use day-to-day.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The recipes are interspersed with Khan’s recollections of her travels in Palestine, which follow (I think) some kind of geographical trajectory. I found these interesting but their relation to the rest of the book – helpfully ordered by courses, beginning with starters and winding towards desserts – was occasionally somewhat confusing.

Content from our partners
What are the green skills of the future?
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets

More annoying are the serving suggestions. Recipes for starters – Mazzeh – are intended to serve “four to six people as part of a spread”. Khan never sees fit to inform the reader how many dishes your spread should comprise, which is a little daunting the first time out. After experimentation I concluded that “a spread” compromises at least three dishes assuming that your guests aren’t fussy and won’t leave any of them. One of the good things about Zaitoun is that it is designed for an ordinary oven in an ordinary kitchen, but that also means that the quantities don’t quite match. The flatbreads recipe produces six flatbreads, which isn’t anywhere near enough to do all the dipping that a spread of hummus, broad bean and dill, aubergine and tahini dips will require. The falafel recipe goes to the opposite extreme, leaving you with 20 – 20! – pieces of the stuff. 

But while the quantities are a bit of a lucky dip, the quality is not: the recipes are consistently easy to follow and good to eat. The salads in particular are great and the number of store cupboard ingredients is eminently manageable. It all adds up to a book that is both beautiful and useful.

Zaitoun is published by Bloomsbury Books and is on sale now.