‘The Gaza Kitchen’ Spreads Palestinian Cuisine at Shepard

Don’t know much about cuisine from the notorious territory? You’re not alone. Learn about and taste it at a book signing in Cambridge.

Figaiyya stew from 'The Gaza Kitchen.'

Figaiyya stew from ‘The Gaza Kitchen.’ / Photo courtesy of Maggie Schmitt and Laila El-Haddad

Think about what you know about the Gaza region in Palestine. Likely that it’s been a battleground over Israeli and Palestinian interests for decades, and that the international community is watching it ever closer in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. You likely know its borders are tight, and tourism is nonexistent. So, what about the food scene?

Maybe you’ve seen the Israel episode of Parts Unknown, in which Anthony Bourdain ventures to the West Bank and Gaza with local food and politics author, Leila el-Haddad. He visits a Gazan family’s home to have maqluba, a warmly spiced, Palestinian rice dish made with hand-raised chickens, fried eggplant, potatoes, and tomato.

“One surprise, Bourdain says, was how delighted the Palestinians were to be portrayed going about their everyday lives because ‘they are so used to camera crews coming in to just get the usual shots of rock throwing kids and crying women,'” reported Business Insider at the time.

With that in mind, if you have literally never thought about food in Gaza, know you are not alone. Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born chef based in London and author of a cookbook called Jerusalem, confessed his own ignorance to Leila el-Haddad in a 2013 conversation in Bon Appetit.

It’s why el-Haddad and co-author Maggie Schmitt, a Harvard-educated writer focused on the Mediterranean region, wrote the Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey. First published in 2013, the cookbook was recently re-released with new recipes, stories, and photos.

The authors visited private homes, farms, and merchants to look at the heritage and history of Gazan cuisine, full of “enticingly herby, peppery, lemony” stews, dips, seafood, and “honey-drenched desserts.”

Thanks to the involvement of Mediterranean food authority Nancy Harmon Jenkins (the Maine native wrote the book’s forward), the Gaza Kitchen is coming to Shepard this week. The longtime friend of owners Susan Regis and Rene Becker approached them about hosting a book-signing and tasting, Regis says.

During the meet-and-greet on Wednesday with both el-Haddad and Schmitt, the Shepard kitchen is serving up tastes of Gazan cuisine, like ujjit zahra (cauliflower fritters), khubz (griddled bread) with bisara (fava bean spread) and imtabbal ari (autumn squash dip), and kibda magliya (spicy fried liver). Tickets include a signed copy of the Gaza Kitchen.

The Gaza Kitchen, $45, Wednesday, November 16, 6-10 p.m., Shepard, 1 Shepard St., Cambridge, 617-714-5295, shepardcooks.com, Eventbrite.

Fried Fish from 'the Gaza Kitchen.'

Fried Fish from ‘the Gaza Kitchen.’ / Photo courtesy of Maggie Schmitt and Laila El-Haddad

Zibdiyit khudar from 'The Gaza Kitchen.'

Zibdiyit khudar from ‘The Gaza Kitchen.’ / Photo provided by Just World Books