Recipes of the West Bank Olive Harvest The annual West Bank olive harvest holds special significance for Palestinians. Read recipes and stories about some of the traditional dishes enjoyed in conjunction with the olive oil season.

Recipes of the West Bank Olive Harvest

The annual West Bank olive harvest holds special significance for Palestinians. Read recipes and stories about some of the traditional dishes enjoyed in conjunction with the olive oil season.


Musakhan Jayyous Charity Society of Palestine hide caption

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Jayyous Charity Society of Palestine


Jayyous Charity Society of Palestine

"My mother cooked musakhan for us on festive occasions. The olive harvest was one of these occasions especially because we had fresh olive oil that she was eager to use in her cooking. Traditionally musakhan is made with thin flat bread called 'taboon,' which is baked in a traditional stone hearth. But now I make it with whole wheat pita bread." -- Ibtisam Barakat, author of Tasting the Sky, A Palestinian Childhood


1 chicken cut into 8 pieces

4 large pita bread loaves (pocketless is best)

3 tablespoons of ground sumac

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon of mixed spices (salt, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice)

2 large onions, sliced thin

1/2 cup roasted almonds

2 tablespoons of pine nuts

3/4 cup of olive oil

1/2 cup of water

To Prepare:

1) Preheat the oven to 350.

3) Mix the onion slices with 1/2 cup of olive oil, lemon juice, the sumac and the spices.

3) Spread a thin layer of the onion on the bottom of a large baking dish.

4) Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the onion layer.

5) Cover the chicken with the remaining onions.

6) Add water and bake for 45 minutes, until chicken is golden.

7) Grease a separate baking dish with the remaining olive oil

8) Place the pita loaves on the bottom of the new baking dish

9) Top the pita loaves with the baked chicken, onions, and 2 tablespoons of chicken juice

10) Bake for additional 20 minutes.

11) Garnish with roasted almonds and pine nuts.

12) Serve hot.

Serves 8.


Maqloobeh is shown here with an Arabic salad of finely diced tomatoes and diced green peppers, cucumber, olive oil, salt and lemon. Sandy Tolan for NPR hide caption

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Sandy Tolan for NPR

Maqloobeh is shown here with an Arabic salad of finely diced tomatoes and diced green peppers, cucumber, olive oil, salt and lemon.

Sandy Tolan for NPR

Mirriam and Suleiman Barakat, with their children Ibtisam (from left), Muhammad, and Basel, circa 1967. Courtesy Ibtisam Barakat hide caption

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Courtesy Ibtisam Barakat

"Hidden Kitchen listeners might think my book has a lot of food in it, and they will discover that it is true. But it also gives a larger taste of the Palestinian culture. Maqloobeh (the word in Arabic means upside down, because this meal is cooked in a deep pot then served upside down on a large serving plate).

"My mother cooked maqloobeh at least every other week throughout my childhood and adolescent years. We loved it. Because many people in the past ate it without spoons, just with their hands, the customary saying about Maqloobeh is that 'it's so tasty, one could eat his fingers after he's done eating the meal.'

"Mother varied the vegetables in maqloobeh to suit the tastes of her eight family members. My sister and I liked maqloobeh with roasted carrots and chickpeas or with cauliflowers; my brothers requested it with eggplants, and my dad preferred it with potatoes. But the basic recipe is the same. Since I came to America in 1986, I often bake the vegetables rather than saute them. I use the least amount of oil, and I also don't include meat if I want a vegetarian maqloobeh. In this case I top the meal with plenty of nuts for protein, and yogurt on the side instead of using a vegetable salad as the side dish." — Ibtisam Barakat


1 chicken cut into 8 pieces (best if a free-range chicken)

1 head cauliflower cut into medium-size spears (organic or locally grown will greatly enhance the taste and the nutritional value)

4 cups of basmati rice

2 cloves of garlic

1 sliced tomato

1 onion

3 tablespoons of mixed spices (cumin, garlic powder, ground cardamom, black peppers, cinnamon, curry powder). Feel free to add any other spices you like for different aromas.

1 cup of toasted pine nuts and almonds

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

8 cups of water

To Prepare:

1) Mince the garlic and chop up the onion

2) In a deep pan, heat the olive oil and sauté both the onion and garlic until golden

3) Add the chicken, then the spices, and add water to cover the chicken and bring to boil

4) Cover the pot and cook on medium heat until chicken is fully cooked (50 minutes).

5) While the chicken is cooking, brush the cauliflower with olive oil and bake them until slightly tender (you can deep fry the vegetable if you prefer).

6) Separate the cooked chicken from the spicy broth. You will use this tasty broth to cook the rice.

7) Layer the tomato slices in an empty pot first (these slices will prevent the rice from sticking to the pot, and when it is turned upside down, the tomato slices will be on top)

8) Now layer the cauliflower, chicken and the rice – alternating vegetables and chicken within the rice so that the final product will have a balanced mix of the ingredients.

9) Add the chicken broth; bring to a boil, then let all simmer until the rice is cooked.

10) Open the pot, letting out the steam for 2 to 3 minutes.

11) Cover the pot with a serving tray much larger than the size of the pot (a pizza pan might be best) and while holding the pan tightly in place with a thick glove, turn the pot upside down. Lift the pot up carefully and slowly. Now the maqloobeh will sit in one mound on the serving tray.

12) Top with roasted nuts

13) Serve with a vegetable salad or with plain yogurt on the side.

Serves 8.

Simsimeyeh (Sesame Treat)

Ibtisam Barakat is the author of Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood. hide caption

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"This is my favorite snack. I write about it in the second chapter of my book. Children and adults alike love it, and children consider it a treat. I sometimes make simsimeyeh and take it to my readings so that the readers might get a taste of childhood in Palestine. It takes only 20 minutes to make." -- Ibtisam Barakat


1 cup of raw, brown sesame (unhulled)

1 tablespoon honey

To Prepare:

1) Dry roast the sesame seeds by stirring them for 10 minutes on medium to high heat, in a non-stick pan until they become golden.

2) Add the honey, and stir it thoroughly to coat all the sesame seeds. (You will be surprised at how only one tablespoon of honey can cover that many seeds.) Using a wooden spoon is best.

3) Spread the honey-coated seeds on a large plate or a cookie sheet. They will be very sticky at this point.

4) Let the honey-coated seeds cool down for 3 minutes.

5) Shape the seeds into a flat square by pushing the edges together and smoothing the top.

6) Let the sesame square now sit for 5 minutes to harden.

7) Cut the large square into one-inch squares or triangles for bite-sized sesame treats.

Makes 24 one-inch sesame squares.


Mujadarah hide caption

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Rana Bishara is an Arab-Palestinian artist born in the Galilee and living in Jerusalem. She sends us her recipe for mujadarah. Known traditionally as "peasant food," this tasty lentils-and-rice dish is enjoyed by workers during the olive harvest, and by Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and throughout the diaspora.


5 cups of onions

1 1/2 cups of burgoul (cracked wheat) or (rice)

1 1/2 cups of olive oil

3 Cups of Lentils


1 teaspoon of cumin

To Prepare:

Wash the lentils good and boil them until they soften.

Chop the onions to medium cubes and put it in a pan with olive oil – (olive should cover half of the quantity) and let it cook until it becomes brown and crunchy. (Take away the extra olive oil and add some fresh after browning)

You can over cock the onions until they become brown if you want a red mujadarah but then you will want to replace the burned olive oil with new olive oil.

Add the burgoul to the mixture after the lentils have become soft. Let the mixture cook down on a low fire. (If there is too much water take away some before you add the burgoul).

When the burgoul softens add the onions and stir carefully with a wooden spoon.

Turn the fire off and cover the pan for 15 minutes.

You can add a pinch of cumin to the mujadarah if you like its taste.

Now the mujadarah is ready to be served.

You can add a little bit of fresh olive oil before you serve the dish.

You can enjoy your mujadarah with different appetizers like: yogurt, black or green olives, some pickled cucumbers and small pickled eggplants, some jalapenos, or spring onions and Arabic salad.

Serves 3-4 people.


Za'tar Gassan hide caption

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"Zayt u za'tar – olive oil and the treasured Palestinian spice, za'tar, mixed together and slathered on bread – is the staple of the Palestinian diet, especially at breakfast. A mixture of spices originating in the Middle East. The Arabic term za'tar refers to any of various local herbs of the mint family, including marjoram, oregano and thyme. Alternate spellings include za'atar, zaa'tar, zataar, zaatar, zatar, zattar or zahatar. Za'tar is used to spice meats and vegetables, and is mixed with olive oil to make a spread (za'atar-ul-zayt or zayt-tu-zaa'tar), which is used as a dip for sesame rings (ka'k). George Bisharat sends this recipe to us adapted from The Arab Table by Palestinian May Bsisu.

"May Bsisu says the addition of caraway seeds is a distinctively Palestinian variation. Palestinian cooking is highly individual and family-based, and each cook has his or her own ideas about the perfect recipe for this or that. So you could easily show this to another Palestinian and he would protest, and

offer yet another variation." – George Bisharat


1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 cup dried oregano leaves

1/2 cup dried thyme leaves

3 Tablespoons ground sumac (available in Middle Eastern stores)

2 1/2 Tablespoons coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

To Prepare:

Place sesame seeds in skillet over medium/high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until they start to crackle and pop. As seeds begin to brown lightly, remove skillet from heat and continue stirring. As soon as all of the seeds are uniformly light brown, transfer them to a plate to cool.

Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. Rub the oregano and thyme leaves through the sieve into the bowl. Mix in sumac, salt, allspice, and caraway seeds. Add the cooled sesame seeds. Taste, and adjust flavors by adding more sumac (to make it more tart) or allspice (to make it more aromatic).