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Interview with Joudie Kalla of Palestine on a Plate

posted on: Nov 16, 2016

Palestine on a Plate by Joudie Kalla. Image Credit: Reinventing Nadine Instagram

BY: Nadine Ismail/Ambassador Blogger

Joudie Kalla of Palestine on a Plate shares her new book and sources of inspiration with Nadine Ismail of Reinventing Nadine in a special interview for Arab America.

Joudie Kalla is the author of the new cookbook “Palestine on a Plate”, which has just been released for sale on her website. Kalla has been working as a chef for 20 years and runs her own blog, app and supper club. If you are a lucky, you can try Joudie’s food when you can snag a ticket to her “Supperclub”. The Supperclub is a repeated event that Joudie hosts, where she cooks food according to an announced menu. Tickets are sold out within 48 hours.

She is British of Palestinian heritage and her book ranks #1 in “Middle Eastern cooking and food” section on Amazon. I recently made her M’sabaha recipe (warm chickpeas with cumin, garlic and yoghurt) from page 75 of her book, and it turned to be very easy and delicious.

Maftoul. Image courtesy of Palestine on a Plate

Nadine Ismail: I am a big fan of your work and I follow you closely on social media. Your Instagram feed is a delight to the eyes! You are very approachable and your personality shines through your recipes. You started with a blog and an app, which lead to a book. Tell us about how it all started.

Joudie Kalla: I was running my deli Baity Kitchen in London and wanted to document all the Palestinian recipes that I was cooking, and slowly began to build up a pile of recipes all of which were from my mother, aunties and grandmothers. After closing my deli, my friend encouraged me to start getting my recipes out there and we created a small app together, which in itself became quite popular and the Instagram page grew quite quickly. From there my publisher saw all the images I was posting and the events I was having and we signed a book deal to put Palestine on a culinary map, and I could not be more proud of this.

Sayyadiyeh. Image courtesy of Palestine on a Plate

NI: “Palestine on a Plate” is beautiful inside and out. From the recipes, the photographs, the props down to the quality of the paper. How did this book happen? How do you describe your experience finding a publisher that is interested in a book about Palestinian food?

JK: This book happened with a lot of love and attention to detail from all sides. My publishers and I didn’t want to lose the vibrancy of my Instagram account and really wanted to keep it as authentic as possible. They used such high quality paper to really showcase the beauty of the food. So much attention to the props and many of my own platters were used, which really made it my own. My publisher is wonderful. Both of them, in fact. I have a U.K. and a U.S. publisher and both have the same vision: To capture and tell a tale of Palestine and its history through the beauty of food. Jacqui Small in the U.K. really publishes beautiful books that have an identity. They are not generic, which is perfect for someone like me, as the whole point of the book is to have an identity for Palestinians. Michel From Interlink Books in the U.S., who is also Palestinian, wanted to do the same. To have everyone with the same mindset from the beginning makes it possible for a great book. The book has been received so well.

Joudie Kalla. Image courtesy of Palestine on a Plate

NI: How did the non-Arab readers react to your book?

JK: So far, they seem to be loving it. I think people have a misconception that Middle Eastern food is complicated and that we use ingredients and spices that they have not heard of, when in fact we don’t at all and most, if not all, are easily found in local shops these days. The book will show people who are not familiar with Palestinian food how to use their ingredients that they have at home in a different and delicious way. I think the majority of buyers have been non-Arabs, which is fantastic as it shows that there is so much interest in this book and cuisine.

Chicken Freekeh. Image courtesy of Palestine on a Plate

NI: You have been hosting supper clubs, where guests can purchase seats to enjoy a homemade meal with strangers. Tickets are sold out within 24 hours. It must be so exciting to see real people eat your food at the “supperclub”. That is your chance to get instant feedback and to see how your guests reacted to your food. Tell us about your “supperclub” and how do you pick the dishes to be featured on the menus.

JK: My supperclubs are really my favorite thing to do. I get to meet all these amazing people, share food with them, they get to meet new friends and food is enjoyed in a great atmosphere with good music. What could be better? Sometimes I wish I could attend my own supperclub and sit with everyone to really get to know them all better. They do sell out very fast and that is such a fulfilling feeling seeing so many people wanting to come to the event and share this evening with me. The feedback is great and there is always so much to choose from, as I serve many dishes during the course of the evening. I change the menu for each and every supperclub, as there are a few regulars who like to come and I don’t want to feed them the same thing. So it’s always a new menu of whatever I feel like cooking, whatever mood I am in that particular week, but the guests always know what is on the menu before they come. There are lots of vegetarian dishes and they are accompanied by meats, fish or chicken and some wonderful desserts. It has been my greatest joy this year doing them every month.

Freekeh Fig Cake. Image courtesy of Palestine on a Plate

NI: As humans, we react to smells, flavors, sounds and sights. If you close your eyes now. describe to us what would you hear, smell, see, taste and feel when you arrive to Palestine.

JK: I have not been to Palestine yet. It’s complicated. But if I were to close my eyes, which I have done many times imagining I am there, I would smell in the wind the za’atar and orange blossom wafting through. I would see the views of people rushing around the markets, people making bread and manaeesh, drinking coffee and eating dates, and selling vine leaves and vegetables in the stalls with Arabic music playing in the background. It is all in my mind, but this would be the image in my head, perhaps a very romantic image of it.

NI: What is your favorite Palestinian comfort food?

JK: My favorite Palestinian comfort food is hard to say. I would have one for every day of the week and today it would be Djaj Mahshi. I love the stickiness of the spiced rice in the chicken and the flavor of it all together with a lovely dollop of thick yogurt on the side. It reminds me of home, and of my teta and mama.

NI: Any specific dish from your book that can be prepared in advance and is perfect for entertaining?

JK: My favorite to prepare in advance would be Yalanji, as its best eaten at room temperature. It is for me all the flavors that I love. Sour, sticky, full of vegetables and rice in my favorite wrapping of the vine leaf. It’s a real showstopper.

Warak Enab and Mahshi. Image courtesy of Palestine on a Plate

You can purchase Palestine of a Plate from Joudie’s website. 50% will be donated to The House of Friendship for children in Palestine. You can also purchase it from Amazon.

Nadine Ismail of Reinventing Nadine is a blogger living in the Bay Area in California. Nadine shares on her blog and Instagram account her recipes, crafts and embroidery tutorials, and parental advice, especially raising a bilingual child.

Find more articles on learning and teaching Arabic by Nadine Ismail here.