“May you arrive as part of the family and tread an easy path as you enter.” It’s a phrase you’ll hear as soon as you enter the West Bank, says cookbook author Yasmin Khan. She should know. Khan’s just-published book, “Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen,” took her to the region to eat in people’s homes and explore the food and culture on the ground.
Khan spoke about the book on Milk Street Radio last week, diving into topics that range from her favorite sweet dish—warm, cheese-filled pastries topped with cardamom sugar syrup—and a trick for unripe avocados, to what separates good falafel from, well, everything else.
Read this collection of a excerpts from the full interview below, and listen to the episode of Milk Street Radio here.
On falafel—and why it’s so bad in the U.S.
I'll never forget my first falafel I had in Bethlehem. You have a pocket of pita bread stuffed with three crunchy balls of chickpeas and the exterior is crisp and the interior is soft and hot and fragrant. You can smell coriander, you can smell cumin. The key thing is falafels have to be eaten fresh. They are a food that you can't reheat, that you can't have lying around. You fry them, you eat them. That way they keep that gorgeous texture. But also they just need to be seasoned properly. Any pulse or legume needs a generous amount of salting and fat in order to have flavor.
On quick-pickled avocados
We've all been in that situation where you were going to use some avocados that evening and so you've got people around for dinner, but the avocados are firm. What do you do? I've got a recipe for quick-pickled avocado. You just need to pickle them for two hours and by the end of it, they are soft and they're quite aromatic because there's the cilantro seeds and garlic and dill. It's a really great little trick.
Whilst hospitality exists everywhere in the world, there are few places, I think, that so exuberantly welcome people into their homes. It's really hard to travel through the West Bank and not get invited to someone's house for dinner.
On working with Anthony Bourdain
He was incredible. For all of us that are working in this area, and people who are passionate about exploring the world and exploring food, Anthony Bourdain has been a huge influence. It was incredibly sad this year with his passing, and I just feel very lucky to have been able to work with him.
On a powerful moment from writing the book
I was interviewing a man named Omar in Gaza, and I couldn't visit Gaza because it's blockaded by land and sea with no movement of people in or out. So I conducted my interviews for that bit of research over Skype. It was a very emotional experience to interview Omar.
We bonded immediately over our love of Pakistani food because my father is Pakistani and he was kind of asking me lots of tips about different curries and what he likes to make. Then it became so apparent to me that there were so many challenges in his day-to-day life that affected his ability to access food, and to enjoy the food he ate.
We were discussing a carrot recipe that we both really liked and how carrots are an ingredient that can have so much versatility. And he was saying, well actually, you know, I grow carrots, but here, we're a bit worried that the soil is tainted with white phosphorous, so we don't know if the carrots are safe. And I just thought God, everywhere else in the world, the idea of growing a vegetable in your garden would only be something that gave you health and here it's something that's a cause of concern.
This interview has been edited for clarity.