I’m cooking my way through Joudie Kalla’s Baladi cookbook. The latest recipe: meat-stuffed vine leaves with tomatoes and potatoes, or “Auntie Dunia’s kufta bil warak ma’batata.”
The fragrance—cumin, onion, tomato, grape leaves, parsley—immediately transported me to the land from which it comes—what Palestinians call Palestine and Israelis call Israel. How is it possible, you wonder, to write about that over-promised land and its people and not get lost in anger and argument? How do you celebrate your culture without negating another culture? How do you get people to see you have a culture beyond what they read in the most violent or depressing headlines? Kalla has figured out the answer: write a cookbook.
Baladi, like Kalla’s earlier book, Palestine On a Plate, shows the beauty of the land, the culture, the food and the people. She looks at the land not as a battleground, but as a blessing.
For this dish, instead of lamb, I used a combination of ground turkey and chicken. (You could easily make a vegan version, using chopped sauteed mushrooms instead of meat.) The meat is flavored with onion, parsley and cumin, then wrapped inside grape leaves that you first boil. When it cooks, the potatoes gets crisp and chip-like, the onions and tomatoes melt and form a cumin-scented sauce with the fat and olive oil. On the side I served a thin tahini sauce. It was delicious, and beyond that it looked delicious, something most people haven’t seen or knew little about– like, you know, Palestinian culture.
Next up: Cabbage Salad with Cumin and Mint.