Joudie Kalla’s love of food started in her mother’s kitchen, learning to cook traditional Palestinian recipes which she grew into a booming supper club. She published her debut cookbook, Palestine on a Plate, in 2016 and is currently working on the next one.
We caught up with Joudie to talk about her favourite recipes, Nigella Lawson and Palestinian comfort food….
What inspired your love of cooking?
My mum. I am the fourth girl out of five kids and when my brother was born, I just wanted to be around her all the time. She was always in the kitchen making the most amazing things so from the age of four, that’s where I was too. I was always getting in the way and she’d get me to do stuff on the side like making cakes and bread to keep me busy. Everything I’ve learnt is from her, even though I have chef training, my books and my supper clubs, it's all from her.
How would you describe Palestinian food?
I think Palestinian food is very healthy, it’s varied, colourful and bright, with lots of accidental, vegan things because we don’t really use butter in our food at all. It’s the land of olive trees so everything’s cooked with olive oil.
What's your favourite Palestinian comfort food?
There’s too many but it would have to be traditional Palestinian, Musakhan. It’s like a chicken and onion pizza but on another level. It’s made with taboon bread, which is very similar to naan bread, slathered with onions that have been cooking in olive oil for hours, and then topped with sumac, which is a tart and sour crushed berry and then chicken and nuts. It’s delicious!
What's your favourite sweet dish?
Halawet il jibn, which means ‘the sweetness of the cheese’, or something like that! It’s made with semolina and grated mozzarella which are cooked in sugar syrup until they become elastic. Then you stuff the mix with ricotta and coat them with crushed pistachios. They're so sweet and delicious, you can’t stop eating them.
What does food mean to you?
For me, it’s just lots of memories. My sisters don’t live here, my brother lives abroad, my parents are always all over the place, so when I’m alone I cook stuff and feel like they’re there. When I was in my 20’s, I suffered from a bit of depression and cooking was my medicine, it was my therapy and it helped me feel better. Each recipe in my first book has a connection to a relative – an aunty or a cousin or my grandma.
How does it make you feel that you’re playing a big part in spreading the love for Palestinian food?
I really love it, I think it’s really important. To be honest with you, I got rejected by every publisher because of the title of my book, because it was controversial. It’s not, it’s a cookbook about my mother and my grandmother and their memories from a land and a country that they can’t go back to. Four years ago, there were no books about Palestinian food, but now there are about eight or nine books about it, which is really exciting.
If you could only have three spices in your spice rack, what would they be?
Who would be your ultimate supper club guest?
Nigella Lawson! She’s the reason my dad let me be a chef because her show had just come out. The first ever Nigella show and we’d stay at home to watch her. She was the first woman we’d ever seen cooking on TV. I feel like we’re friends already but I don’t know her.
Feeling inspired to cook up a Palestinian feast? Check out Joudie's Ramadan recipes here.