Falastin – A Cookbook


Have you heard of Sami Tamimi? His name may not be all that familiar to you but he is the business partner of Yotam Ottolenghi. The pair are credited with introducing us all to Middle Eastern food and many ingredients that we were hitherto totally unfamiliar with – sumac, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, baharat, sumac, pomegranate molasses, tahini……

The story of how this Palestinian and Israeli met and became firm friends is intriguing, an inspiration to many. Food unites us all and despite the heart breaking political situation, their friendship has endured for over 20 years. They met in 1999 when Sami worked at Baker and Spice in London.

Sami and Yotam run three Ottolenghi branches in Notting Hill, Islington and Belgravia as well as Nopi and Rovi and have co-authored 2 books together, Ottolenghi in 2008 and Jerusalem in 2012.

Sami’s latest book is called Falastin which means Palestine in Arabic. The name is deeply symbolic and for Sami has many interwoven emotions.

Palestinian home cooks and cookbook writers tend to be women who pass the skills and recipes from on generation to another. Sami however lost his mother when he was seven – he spent much of his childhood being shooed out of the kitchen by his aunties and sisters.

For me it’s a fantastic book, it has instant appeal, packed with recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to cook and share with friends.

Falastin is co-authored with Ballymaloe alumni Tara Wigley who also collaborated with Yotam on his book, Simple.

For Sami, Falastin is a deeply important book full of haunting memories of his mother’s delicious food and Palestine – as Tara wrote – ‘It’s a love letter to his country’. She has been part of the Ottolenghi family since 2010, she turned up on her bike, fresh from a 12 Week Certificate Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  She had arrived to us in April 2010 with her 18 month old twins and a great big Bosnian dog named Andy. Tara was leaving a decade in publishing, her dream was to combine her love of cooking and writing and it quickly became clear that at Ottolenghi she could have her cake and eat it!

After a few years collaborating with Yotam and Sami on recipe testing, writing and cooking, Tara focused exclusively on writing. She remains a passionate home cook and knows very well how to fill a table with a feast.

It was really hard to pick recipes but here is some to whet your appetite, for me this book comes highly recommended.

Sweet and Spicy Seeds and Nuts

Serves 4 as a snack

2 tbsp light soft brown sugar (20g)

2 tsp flaked sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp mild curry powder

¼ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¼ tsp regular chilli flakes)

180g raw unsalted cashews

2 tbsp sunflower seeds (20g)

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds (20g)

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius fan.

Put everything apart from the cashews and seeds into a small saucepan, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil on a medium heat. Stirring often, then add the nuts and seeds. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, stirring constantly until the nuts and seeds are coated in a sticky glaze.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray, then, using a spatula, spread the nuts out so that they’re not stuck together. Bake for 14 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely, then transfer to a bowl to serve or to a sealed container if making in advance.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)


I’m just sharing one way but in Falastin Sami and Tara give two ways and lots of toppings.

Serves 6

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in double their volume of water

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

270g tahini

60ml lemon juice

4 garlic cloves, crushed

100ml ice-cold water


To make the hummus, drain the chickpeas and place them in a medium saucepan on a high heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1½ litres of water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 30 minutes – timing can vary from 20-40 minutes depending on the freshness of the chickpeas – skimming off any foam that appears. The chickpeas are ready when they collapse easily when pressed between thumb and finger: almost but not quite mushy.

Drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor. Process to form a stiff paste and then, with the machine still running, add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and 1½ teaspoon of salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the iced water and continue to process for another 5 minutes: this will feel like a long time but it is what is needed to get a very smooth and creamy paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside at room temperature, until needed. If you are making it in advance then transfer to a sealed container and keep in the fridge. Remove it half an hour before serving, to bring it back to room temperature, and give it a good stir if a ‘skin’ has formed.

When ready to serve, spoon the hummus into individual shallow bowls, creating a slight hollow in the centre of each. Sprinkle with parsley, chilli and mint, if using and serve with a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Labneh Balls (Labneh Tabat)

Makes about 50og / 20 balls, to serve 10 as part of a larger spread

900g Greek-style yoghurt (or a combination of 450g goat’s yoghurt and 450g Greek-style yoghurt)

About 500ml olive oil

3 sprigs of thyme or oregano, or a mixture of both

1 ½ tbsp. chilli flakes (enough to coat 10 balls)

2 ½ tbsp. za’atar (enough to coat 10 balls)

Line a deep bowl with a piece of cheese cloth or muslin (a clean J-cloth is also fine, as an alternative) and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt(s) with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour into the cloth-lined bowl, then bring the edges of the cloth together and wrap tightly to form a bundle. Tie firmly with a piece of string. Hang the bundle over a bowl (or attached to the handle of a tall jug so that the bundle can hang free – and drip – inside the jug) and leave in the fridge for 24-36 hours, until much of the liquid is lost and the yoghurt is thick and fairly dry.

Another method is to put the bundle into a sieve placed over a bowl, with the weight of a plate, for example, or a couple of tins, sitting on top: this weight speeds up the draining process.

With lightly oiled hands, spoon a small amount – about 20g – of the labneh into the palm of one hand. Roll it around to shape it into a 3cm-wide ball, and transfer  it to a tray lined with a damp (but clean) J-cloth. Continue with the remaining labneh until all the balls are rolled. Transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours (or overnight) to firm up.

Half fill a jar (enough to fit all the rolled labneh: about 10cm wide and 12cm high) or airtight container with olive oil and drop in the balls. Top with more oil, if necessary – you want the balls to be completely covered with oil – and add the thyme or oregano. Seal the jar and store in the fridge.

When ready to coat – you can do this up to a day before serving – remove the jar from the fridge and bring to room temperature, so that the oil becomes unset. Life the balls out of the oil and roll them in the chilli flakes or za’atar: an easy way to do this is to spread your chosen coating on a plate, place a few balls at a time on top and shake the plate: the balls will be coated in seconds. If not eating at once, return them to the fridge on a plate (but not in the oil). Bring back to room temperature before serving: you don’t want them to be fridge-cold.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chilled cucumber and tahini soup with spicy pumpkin seeds

Serves four

3 large cucumbers (1kg), peeled

65g tahini

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve

2 lemons: finely grate the zest to get 2 tsp, then juice to get 60ml

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

10g dill, roughly chopped, plus a few extra fronds to serve

¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or 1/3 tsp regular chilli flakes)

100g ice cubes

20g mint leaves

20g parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

1 tomato, cut into ½ cm dice (80g), to serve

Spicy pumpkin seeds

3 tbsp olive oil

40g pumpkin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp chilli flakes

Put all the ingredients for the spicy pumpkin seeds into a small sauté pan, along with 1/8 tsp of salt, and place on a medium heat. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the seeds begin to colour lightly and pop. Transfer to a bowl (or to an airtight container if making a batch) and set aside to cool.

Cut off a roughly 80g chunk of cucumber and slice in half. Scoop out the seedy core (add this to the pile of cucumber to be blended), then finely chop the remainder into 1cm dice. Set this aside, to serve. Roughly chop the remaining cucumber into 2cm chunks and transfer to a free-standing blender (or a deep bowl if you are using a hand-held blender), along with the tahini, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, dill, chilli flakes, ice cubes, half the mint, half the parsley, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Blitz for about 2 minutes, until completely smooth, then keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Divide the soup between four deep bowls and spoon the reserved cucumber and diced tomato on top. Shred the remaining mint and sprinkle this over each portion, along with the remaining parsley, any spare dill fronds, the spicy pumpkin seeds and a final drizzle of oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chicken Musakhan

Serves four

1 chicken (about 1.7kg), divided into 4 pieces (1.4kg) or 1kg chicken supremes (between 4 and 6, depending on size), skin on, if you prefer

120ml olive oil, plus 2-3 tbsp extra, to finish

1 tbsp ground cumin

3 tbsp sumac

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground allspice

30g pine nuts

3 large red onions, thinly sliced 2-3mm thick (500g)

4 taboon breads or any flatbread (such as Arabic flatbread or naan bread) (330g)

5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

To serve

300g Greek-style yoghurt

1 lemon, quartered

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan oven.

Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac, the cinnamon, allspice, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take about 30 minutes if starting with supremes and up to 45 minutes if starting with the whole chicken, quartered. Remove from the oven and set aside. Don’t discard any juices which have collected in the tray.

Meanwhile, put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large sauté pan, about 24cm, and place on a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with kitchen paper (leaving the oil behind in the pan) and set aside. Add the remaining 60ml of oil to the pan, along with the onions and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Return to a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are completely soft and pale golden but not caramelised. Add 2 tablespoons of sumac, the remaining 2 teaspoons of cumin and a grind of black pepper and mix through, until the onions are completely coated. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When ready to assemble the dish, set the oven to a grill setting and slice or tear the bread into quarters or sixths. Place them under the grill for about 2-3 minutes to crisp up, then arrange them on a large platter. Top the bread with half the onions, followed by all the chicken and any chicken juices left in the tray. Either keep each piece of chicken as it is or else roughly shred it as you plate up, into two or three large chunks. Spoon the remaining onions over the top and sprinkle with the pine nuts, parsley, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac and a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve at once, with the yoghurt and a wedge of lemon alongside.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Pulled lamb Shawarma sandwich

Serves eight

3 onions, 1 roughly chopped and the other 2 quartered (and peeled as always) into wedges

2 heads of garlic, 1 cut in half, horizontally, and 8 cloves from the second head roughly chopped

2 ½ cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

20g parsley, roughly chopped

1 ½ tbsp ground cumin

1 ½ tbsp ground coriander

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

3 tbsp cider vinegar

60ml olive oil

2-2.5kg lamb shoulder, bone in

700ml chicken stock

½ a lemon

Salt and black pepper

Sumac yoghurt

200g Greek-style yoghurt

60g tahini

1 ½ tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp sumac

To serve (any or all of the following)

2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced (200g)

1 red onion, thinly sliced into rounds (120g)

10g picked parsley leaves

5g picked mint leaves

100g shatta

8 pita breads

First make the spice paste. Put the chopped onion into a food processor along with the chopped garlic and ginger. Pulse until finely minced, then add the parsley and spices. Pulse for about 10 seconds, until just combined. Scrape down the sides, then add the vinegar, oil, 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Pulse to form a coarse paste, then transfer to a non-metallic food container large enough to hold the lamb

Pat the lamb dry and pierce liberally all over with a small, sharp knife. Add it to the spice paste and coat generously, so that all sides are covered. Cover with foil and leave to marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Take the lamb out of the fridge about an hour before going into the oven: you want it to be more like room temperature rather than fridge-cold.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius fan.

Put the remaining onions and head of garlic into the centre of a large roasting tray and pour over the chicken stock. Sit the lamb on top of the vegetables, cover tightly with foil and bake for 4 hours. Remove from the oven, discard the foil and bake for 90 minutes more, increasing the oven temperature to 160 degrees Celsius fan towards the last 30 minutes of cooking time. The lamb is ready when it is fork-tender and easily pulls away from the bone. Set aside to cool slightly, about 15 minutes, before using two forks to roughly shred the lamb directly in the pan, gathering as much of its juices as possible. Transfer the shredded lamb, onions, garlic cloves and any of the pan juices to a serving bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice and set aside.

While the lamb is in the oven, prepare the sumac yoghurt. Put the yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of water, the sumac and ¼ teaspoon of salt into a bowl and whisk well to combine.

When ready to serve, lay out all the various condiments, along with the pita, to let everyone make up their own shawarma sandwich.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 35 cookies

200g ghee or clarified butter, at room temperature

80g icing sugar, sifted

370g plain flour, sifted

¾ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp orange blossom water

1 tsp rose water

12g unsalted pistachio kernels (enough for one to go on each cookie)

Put the ghee and icing sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Mix on a medium-high speed for about 4 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Replace the whisk with the paddle attachment. Add the flour, salt, orange blossom water and rose water and mix for another 3 minutes, until the dough is uniform and smooth. Using your hands, bring the dough together and shape into a ball. Place the dough in an airtight container and leave in the fridge for about an hour, to rest. You’ll need to remove it from the fridge 10 minutes before you want to roll it out so that it has some malleability.

Preheat the oven to 160 degree Celsius fan.

Pinch off a bit of the dough, about 20g, and roll it into a sausage: it should be about 10cm long and ½ inch thick. Bring both ends together, slightly overlapping them and pressing down where the two ends meet. Press a single pistachio into the dough where the ends join and place on a tray lined with baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the rings 1cm apart on the tray. You’ll need two trays to fit them all. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are cooked through but have not taken on too much colour. Remove from the oven and set aside until completely cool before serving.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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