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Bethlehem by Fadi Kattan

Posted by Nigella on the 23rd May 2024
Image of Fadi Kattan's Mafghoussa
Photo by Ashley Lima and Elias Halabi

Last week’s CookbookCorner featured The Authentic Ukrainian Kitchen; this week, I bring you Bethlehem: A Celebration of a Palestinian Food by Fadi Kattan. It’s not a strategy, but it does say something that I think we all understand: facing existential threat, we cling to what matters most; food doesn’t just sustain us, but is an essential marker of identity. Even so, I know that many think that in light of the suffering in Gaza, while people are starving there, it is somehow in poor taste to focus on a book of Palestinian food; I’d argue that it is, in fact, essential.

In Cook, Eat, Repeat, I wrote about In Memory’s Kitchen, a compilation of recipes from the inmates of the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, who “imprisoned, starving and facing extinction, shared between them the recipes they’d grown up with, the recipes that said who they were, what was taken from them and what they longed to return to”. It is such a very natural impulse. Bethlehem is the work of a chef (whose wonderful food I’ve been lucky enough to eat at his London restaurant, Akub) and was written before this latest eruption of violence but, as he has said in a recent interview in the Guardian, “For me the book brings hope,” said Kattan. “A cookbook makes these things that could be gone contemporary. People cooking these recipes is a way to keep the culture alive.”

Food is a serious subject; it is also a source of deep pleasure, and those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy that should do so not guiltily, but gratefully. It’s tricky, I know, but to my mind it’s a mark of respect, too. And there is so much to seize upon gratefully in this essentially celebratory book. It’s a generous and beautifully illustrated guide to Palestinian cooking, in all its variety, and I was royally spoilt for choice as I deliberated deliciously over which recipe to share with you. In the end, I kept coming back to the Mafghoussa, a dish of mashed courgettes/zucchini with garlic, chilli, pine nuts and mint that I feel will be gracing my table all Summer long.

From Bethlehem: A Celebration of Palestinian Food by Fadi Kattan (Hardie Grant, £28).
Photography © Ashley Lima, Elias Halabi.

Try this recipe from the book

Image of Fadi Kattan's Mafghoussa
Photo by Ashley Lima and Elias Halabi
Mafghoussa
By Fadi Kattan
  • 14
  • 2
Swedish Pancakes