How to host the perfect Palestinian dinner party
From tableware to fragrances, here’s how to entertain Palestinian style, courtesy of author Reem Kassis
Almost all cuisines are made for sharing, yet Palestine’s culinary culture is especially communal. “I find this generosity and hospitality to be one of the most appealing things about Palestinian culture,” writes the cook and author Reem Kassis in our new book, The Palestinian Table. “Our food, after all, is about sharing and enjoying different dishes together.”
How should one best experience this side of Palestinian culture? By hosting a dinner party. There are different ways of doing this, depending on the occasion, the number of guests, and their familiarity with one another. “Take this as just an example of the many more wonderful feasts you can create from the book,” says Reem.
If your guests are bringing dishes, let them take care of the tableware too “Stick with simple tableware; you want the food to shine. We tend to serve most main meals on very large platters for each person to help himself.”
Try a local tablecloth “Tatreez is a very unique Palestinian way of stitching tapestry and nowadays in most homes you will find either pillows, framed mirrors, table runners etc., that are stitched in this manner. Having even one such item on hand will automatically give a Palestinian touch to your dinner party.”
Put on the right music “One of my favourite things to have in the background is an instrumental piece by a famous Iraqi oud player – Naseer Shamma – called “Palestinian Heritage”. It’s a beautiful instrumental rendition of some of our most notable folk songs, so it makes the perfect background music to a dinner party.”
If the food is good, the room fragrance is probably right too “I think if you are cooking Palestinian food at home, fragrance will take care of itself! Our food is pleasantly pungent, so I would not add any fragrance to the room unless you really want to have flowers then maybe a bouquet of rose or jasmines somewhere on a table. But any other fragrances would be too much for the senses I think.”
Start with a non-alcoholic aperitif “For a large dinner party, I would probably greet guest with a glass of Rose or Orange Blossom Lemonade.”
Offer something to share “I would then lay the dining table with all these items and allow people to help themselves in any order they see fit as we chat and enjoy each other’s company: a few sharing plates like Deep Fried Cheese and Za’atar Parcels, a plate of Avocado, Preserved Lemon, and Labaneh Spread as well as a plate of Muhamarra.”
Move onto something more substantial, as well as some distinctive sides “I would also put two mains like Fish in Onion and Tahini Sauce and Kafta and Tomato Bake both of which go wonderfully with Vermicelli Rice and Palestinian Salad as sides. In general, I always have pickles and bread on the table as well.”
Round off with a light dessert “After a substantial meal like this, I may end with a simple dessert like Fenugreek Semolina Cake alongside a strong cup of Cardamom Coffee.”
Don’t worry about getting everything right “At the end of the day, if you are bringing people together, welcoming your guests and serving plenty of food, you are already hosting a “Palestinian-style” dinner party.”
For all the recipes, and much more, order a copy of The Palestinian Table here.