Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Food Roots Interview - Joudie Kalla

After thoroughly enjoying reading and reviewing Joudie Kalla’s cookbook – Palestine On A Plate, I thought it would be interesting to interview Joudie via my Food Roots Interview series to find out about her and her heritage and how it fits in with her personal and professional life.

Joudie Kalla
Photo:  Ria Osbourne

Joudie has been working as a chef in London for 16 years focusing her cooking around Palestinian cuisine, promoting healthy, vibrant, moreish dishes that are packed full of goodness.

She trained at the prestigious Leith’s School of Food and Wine and has worked at restaurants such as Pengelley’s (a Gordon Ramsey restaurant), under Ian Pengelley, Daphne’s and Papillon under head chef David Duverger.   

Her book and her work has been applauded by Ottolenghi chef Sami Tamimi (who has also taken part in my Food Roots interview series).
Photo:  Ria Osbourne

Palestine On A Plate makes for a really fascinating read (click here for the review) and the Q&A below will offer insight into the nuances of this branch of Middle Eastern food with an appetite to find out more.


In the book, you talk a lot about re-connecting with your Palestinian roots in recent years, what do you feel was the catalyst for this and how do you incorporate honouring your roots into your daily life?
Reconnecting with my Palestinian roots came quite suddenly but in two stages. Once where I found myself lost in Beirut and realised I couldn't really communicate with anyone properly to get back to home, and secondly was when I lived in Paris on my own and really felt food sick. I missed the meals we were eating at home and things that were usually on the dinner table and it just sparked something in me to really think about who I am and where I am from. I started to learn how to read and write properly in Arabic and began a year long course at Leiths school of food and wine also. This was combined with my mother teaching me all her recipes. I went to Leiths because I wanted to become a chef and putting all those skills together with what I was learning at home just opened up a whole new world for me.


Do you feel the supper clubs that you host have brought you closer to your roots as well as introducing many to Palestinian cuisine?
My supper clubs are the most recent thing. I used to run my own deli serving Palestinian food and catering as well. It brought me closer to my roots and my background, learning all the secrets from my mother. The supper clubs just helped me reach out to more people as they were more public and very specific. So many lovely people attended these events, which continue each month, and it brings me so much pleasure to see them all enjoying the food, meeting new friends and learning about Palestine. I also get to meet them and chat about dishes that they have never heard of or had before. So it’s always a good thing.


What kind of dishes would you choose if catering for a vegetarian dinner party?
Well this is an easy subject as we generally eat vegetarian food. You know, we didn't have labels before. It was just food. And when I was writing the book I realised that about 90% of it was vegetarian by default. So I had to change it and add different things to balance it out for every reader. For a dinner party I would probably make a selection of things as this is traditionally how we eat.

I would have a delicious tangy Yalanji, which is a tabbouleh stuffed vine leaf,
Hindbeh salad - which is a dandelion sumac, paprika and caramelized onion dish served with pomegranate seeds, my charred cauliflower and tahini salad.

And to finalise the meal it would add my Burghul (cracked dark wheat) tomato and courgette stew.


On special feast days, festivals or holy days, what are the special things that you cook and do they have any symbolism?
Wow, on feast days it can be so many things. But it’s usually a Makloubeh which can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish and something we do often. This is a real showstopper of layered vegetables that have been previously cooked, layered with fragrant rice and then cooked slowly and flipped over in one piece like a cake.

We always have mamas Muttabal on every special occasion as it is so delicious and goes well with everything.
My feta wrapped vine leaves also come out to play as they are so beautiful and take such little effort that it’s always good to have something simple when things can get a bit messy and complicated in the kitchen.

I would also say that we have the feta and spinach pies as they remind me of my aunties as they love pastry making and this is something very reminiscent of them.
I think rather than symbolism, we have an emotional connection to them. The fact that they are traditions and that my grandmothers would make them and serve them is something that is important to us. We like to feel connected to our food not just in taste, but in history. So my mother does it and I do it too. It feels like home and all the family is around is when the food is down, even if it is just a few of us at the table. Every dish reminds us of someone.


What are the key items you’d suggest having if wishing to replicate a Palestinian pantry?
Ok so my pantry is INSANE. I learnt from my mother to always buy in bulk as you never know what you want to cook or eat on any given day. I literally have everything and then some.

To replicate a Palestinian Pantry I would suggest the basic ingredients:

Palestinian pearl cous cous
Dark Burghul
Vine leaves
Pomegranate molasses
Olive oil
Orange blossom
Lots of  tomato passata and tomato puree
Egyptian rice

The list can go on. But I think this is a great way to start with things that I use all the time to create many dishes and their bases.


Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my mother’s kitchen by Joudie Kalla, photography by Ria Osbourne, is published by Jacqui Small (£25).


Notes & My Thanks

I would like to thank Joudie Kalla for her time in participating in the interview.
For my review of Palestine On A Plate:   Click here.
Find @Palestinesplate to follow Joudie on Twitter



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