I’m a Palestinian from Jordan, married to a Palestinian from Syria and living in Australia – so my cuisine is a combination of so many different cultures and traditions.
My mother’s family fled Palestine during the Palestinian Nakba in 1948. My grandparents could only take the key to their house and what they could carry on their back. 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes during the 1948 war, the start of the Palestinian diaspora. My mother, her five brothers and three sisters were all born in Jordan, where our extended family still lives.
My father was born in Palestine and fled to Jordan with his family during the 1967 Six Day War. Neither of my parents were in Palestine anymore, and unfortunately I never visited either.
My parents met and married in Jordan and then moved to Saudi Arabia for my father’s work. I spent my childhood in Saudi Arabia and went to school there. We lived in a complex with people from all over the Arab world. Every week one family prepared food on the premises and invited the other families, so I remember eating really exquisite dishes from Egyptian, Lebanese and Syrian cuisine.
My parents moved to Australia when I was eight years old and I have lived in Sydney ever since. I met my husband Khalil in Australia. He was born in Syria and has lived most of his life there, but was here to complete his PhD.
We had our wedding in Jordan where my extended family was able to attend. His family, who lived in Syria at the time, also traveled there. When Khalil first visited Jordan, he faced so many cultural challenges around food. In Jordan, men eat them mansaf with your hands instead of with a spoon. You form the rice and yoghurt mixture into a ball and bite into it – without spilling a drop. Khalil wasn’t used to it, but he tried to eat this way to get the full experience and to honor my family’s culture.
Our first meal as a couple was actually prepared by Khalil: his signature spaghetti bolognese. Khalil lived with a group of his friends before we got married, so he had more cooking experience. I didn’t cook at all as a kid. When I was a teenager, my mom asked me to help her chop the lettuce, and for years that was the only thing I could make.
But I grew up watching my mother and grandmother cook together, and after I got married, when there was nobody to cook for me, I started experimenting with food. Whenever I wanted to cook, I kept on the phone with Mama and got her instructions. She provided the best recipes for Palestinian and Jordanian dishes while my mother-in-law shared her amazing Syrian recipes via phone and WhatsApp. The internet helped with all the non-traditional meals, and I learned that I loved using food to get in and out of many different cultures.
Eight years later, my cooking skills have improved so much that I now show the world the dishes I make while teaching others how to make them on Instagram.
I love how culture shapes a person’s dining experience and I’m so glad my kitchen is now infused with a whole host of different cultures from around the world.
Walla’s Palestinian Msakhan
1 whole chicken, to cut in pieces
500 grams of onions
3 pieces of Afghan bread
1 cup sumac
½ cup olive oil plus extra for toasting almonds
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp mixed spices
Handful of cardamom pods
A few bay leaves
Almonds for sprinkling
Place the chicken pieces in a saucepan, cover with water and add a diced onion, the mixed spices, cardamom pods and bay leaves. Cook on stovetop (or in a pressure cooker) until chicken pieces are fully cooked. This takes about 20 minutes in the pressure cooker; or about 45 minutes in a regular saucepan, keeping the heat low to medium, it says, at a gentle simmer.
Dice the remaining onions, then sauté in a separate saucepan over medium-high heat with 1/2 cup oil until onions wilt – this should take about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, then add the sumac to the onions and mix.
In a separate pan, fry the almonds in a little oil for a few minutes until golden brown.
Set your oven to broil to preheat, then spread the onion mixture on a piece of bread.
Place the bread and onion under the grill for a few minutes, until the onions begin to caramelize and turn light golden. Be careful not to burn the bread and onions. Scatter roasted almonds on top. Add another layer of bread and onion and repeat the grilling process, layering the pieces of bread on top of each other. Once each layer is toasted, remove the bread from the oven.
Place the cooked chicken pieces on a baking sheet, spray with oil and sprinkle with sumac. Place the chicken under the grill until the skin turns golden.
Place the chicken pieces on the bread and garnish with the remaining nuts. Enjoy!
Married and mother of three little girls, Walla is an elementary school teacherself-taught cake artistDessert Maker (@bakemycakeby_walla) and an Instagram food blogger (@walla_abueid).
You can find this recipe and other Australian Muslim recipes and stories on the Recipes for Ramadan Website; and follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.