Words and Photos by Mai Khader Kakish
In the spring and summer we often enjoyed brunch outside under my grandmother’s lemon tree in Beit Safafa on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Lots of cousins, and lots of dishes to be enjoyed by the whole family.
Weekend Breakfast in Palestine is elaborate. It is a feast and is definitely not something you eat in a rush. It is a time to gather together with the whole family, sharing laughter and memories over food. Palestinian breakfast is mostly savory, loaded with a wide variety of foods with various textures, colors and flavors. It is a meal loaded with goodness and will truly set you up for the whole day.
Some dishes are strictly for breakfast, while others can be enjoyed at different times throughout the day like hummus, falafel and Labneh. Many of the items served are pantry staples, and others are served fresh from the local Makhabaz (bakery) or the local falafel nook down the street. We gather over crispygreen falafel dipped in creamy hummus. The hot and crunchy falafel comes from the small shop down the street. Every neighborhood has its own favorite local falafel spot. In fact, falafel is rarely made at home. We also enjoy foul, fava bean dip. It’s flavored with garlic and lemon juice, which is one of my absolute favorites.
An assortment of homemade pickles, olives, seasonal jams, served with baladi butter (fresh butter), are served along plates of hummus and Labaneh. Two little ceramic bowls, one for local Zeit (olive oil) and one for homemade Za’atar by my grandmother, are always within reach and are a breakfast table must. Freshly baked warm bread dipped in olive oil and Za’atar is almost like communion and the best way to break into the breakfast spread.
Sometimes, Za’atar is made into a paste with a generous amount of olive oil and is slathered on fresh bread. It is then baked until slightly crispy and is served as mana’eesh, often with a side of thinly sliced tomatoes and fresh mint. A plate of fresh vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and herbs are always served with breakfast. An egg dish is present at the breakfast table in the form of an herb ijeh (a palestinian frittata), hard boiled eggs drizzled with olive oil, or my dads favorite: fried eggs with sujuk (local Armenian sausage), crisped in golden olive oil and sprinkled with sumac.
My grandmother always served little plates with cut up halaweh – a tahini sesame paste confectionery. She also always served a bowl of grape molasses that she made swirled with tahini. The sweet and nutty mixture is so divine. My grandmother has a sweet tooth for breakfast and often ate Nabulsi cheese that is boiled slightly to soften, along side of tomatoes, jam, or avocados. Taghmees is the way Palestinians love to eat breakfast. It translates to “dipping.” Using a piece of bread as a utensil is the essential way to scoop anything and everything. This ranges from hummus, to Labneh, to eggs. Bread is an important element to any meal in Palestine.
The Palestinian brunch table is meant to be savored and enjoyed slowly, very much like a Mezze spread. The family comes together around this long table full of little plates of deliciousness. Coffee is never part of the picture. Mint tea is served in the summer and sage tea is served in the winter.
Although I am far from Palestine in distance, I still try to recreate these dishes. Nostalgia runs deep as I make and enjoy Palestinian breakfast on the weekend with my family. I hope you enjoy this collection of brunch and breakfast recipes that you too can enjoy. I hope that it transports you and lets you experience a glimpse and a taste of Palestine.
Mai Khader Kakish is a Palestinian chef, storyteller and food stylist. She grew up in Palestine and later pursued a master’s degree in marketing and public relations in Chicago where she currently resides with her 3 daughters. Living far away from home inspired Mai to create a blog called Almond and Fig. A family memoir told through food. To remember where she came from Palestine and to continue the connection with her own children and others. The stories and recipes on @almondandfig are a love letter to the people that she shares them with, in hopes to inspire people to cook food from an often misunderstood part of the world. Food with a side of stories that help create memories and conversations.