In the food world, a background in activism is powerful, Assil explains, because it provides an awareness of the power dynamic involved in entering a new community and an ability to find the right audience for your message. “Yasmin didn’t write this book to make herself feel good,” she says. “She knew there was an audience that needed to hear these stories. She’s leading from behind, allowing an avenue for other voices.”
In that regard, Zaitoun is a natural continuation of the mission Khan first laid out in her 2016 book The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen: to create books that go beyond sharing recipes in order to offer insight into the everyday lives of people in a given place. Food is a compassionate way to start the difficult conversations that Khan isn’t afraid to have. But while Saffron Tales was informed by her own identity as the daughter of an Iranian mother and a Pakistani father, Zaitoun takes a more anthropological approach.
From the start, Khan was incredibly sensitive about being an outsider writing about Palestine. “A lot of my internal struggles with this book were very much about accurately portraying what I saw while also creating a joyous book that people would want to cook from,” she says. As a result, she wrote for a very specific reader: not only a Palestinian, not only an Israeli, but someone who “in the simplest and most human of terms” wants to understand—and to cook incredibly delicious food. She checked every sentence against that lens.
To Assil, it’s actually Khan’s perspective as an informed outsider that allowed her to capture nuance and present a clear chorus of voices. “Obviously, the Palestinian community is one of many that has experienced war and genocide and imperialism. Khan is in a unique position to understand how all those struggles are connected,” she says. “It’s important to evaluate those intersections and see that it’s not just one microcosm or one group of people. She comes from that history. She understands the root causes.”