I am a Palestinian from Jordan, married to a Palestinian from Syria, 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 of 1948. My grandparents could only take their house key and what they could carry on their backs. 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes during the 1948 war, which marked the beginning 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 Six Day War in 1967. None of my relatives returned to Palestine, and unfortunately I never went there either.
My parents met and married in Jordan then moved to Saudi Arabia for my father’s job. I spent my childhood in Saudi Arabia and started school there. We lived in a complex with people from all over the Arab world. Each week, a family in the compound prepared food and invited other families. So I remember having eaten really exquisite dishes from Egyptian, Lebanese and Syrian cuisine.
When I was eight my parents moved to Australia and I have lived in Sydney ever since. I met my husband, Khalil, in Australia. He was born in Syria and lived there most of his life, but was here to complete his doctorate.
We celebrated our wedding in Jordan, which my extended family was able to attend. His family, who were living in Syria at the time, also traveled there. When Khalil first visited Jordan, he faced many cultural challenges related to food. In Jordan, men eat the mansaf with their hands rather than a spoon. They form a ball with the mixture of rice and yogurt and bite into it, all without spilling a drop. Khalil wasn’t used to it, but he tried eating this way to fully experience it and honor my family’s culture.
Our first meal as a married couple was actually cooked by Khalil: his signature spaghetti Bolognese. Khalil lived with a group of friends before we got married, so he had more cooking experience. As a child, I didn’t cook at all. When I was a teenager, my mother asked me to help her cut the salad and for years it was pretty much the only thing I knew how to do.
But I grew up watching my mother and grandmother bond over the kitchen and after I got married, when there was no one to cook for me, I started experimenting with food. When I wanted to cook, I was constantly on the phone with mom asking for her advice. She provided the best recipes for Palestinian and Jordanian dishes, while my mother-in-law shared her amazing Syrian recipes over the phone and WhatsApp. The internet has helped me with all non-traditional meals and I have learned that I love using food to immerse myself in many different cultures.
Eight years later, my cooking skills have improved so much that I now showcase the dishes I make to the world, while teaching others how to make them, on Instagram.
I love how much culture shapes a person’s dining experience, and I’m so happy that my cooking is now steeped in a whole variety of different cultures from around the world.
The Palestinian msakhan of Walla
1 whole chicken, cut in pieces
3 pieces of Afghan bread
1 cup sumac
½ cup olive oil, plus extra for toasting the almonds
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tbsp mixed spices
A handful of cardamom pods
A few bay leaves
Almonds for garnish
Place the chicken pieces in a saucepan, cover with water and add a diced onion, the spice mix, cardamom pods and bay leaves. Cook on the stove (or in a pressure cooker) until the chicken pieces are cooked through. It takes about 20 minutes in the pressure cooker; or about 45 minutes in a regular saucepan, keeping the heat low to medium, ie low heat.
Dice the remaining onions, then fry in a separate pan over medium heat, using half a cup of oil, until the onions wilt – this should take about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove from the heat then add the sumac to the onions and mix.
In a separate skillet, fry the almonds in a little oil for a few minutes, until golden.
Turn your oven to broil to preheat, then spread the onion mixture on a piece of bread.
Place the bread and onion under the broiler for a few minutes, until the onions begin to caramelize and turn lightly browned. Be very careful so that the bread and onions do not burn. Sprinkle fried almonds on top. Add another layer of bread and onion and repeat the baking process, layering the bread pieces on top of each other. Once each layer is toasted, remove the bread from the oven.
Place cooked chicken pieces on a baking sheet, spray with oil and sprinkle with sumac. Broil the chicken until the skin is golden brown.
Place the chicken pieces on the bread and garnish with the remaining walnuts. Enjoy!
Married and mother of three little girls, Walla is a teacherself-taught pastry chefdessert 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.