Thursday, November 16, 2023

Gazan Dagga

"We are so proud that we can feed our families fresh, natural food and that we can finally see our business bloom like our vegetables. -- Abu Riyad

As the Hamas-Israeli war wages on, I cannot help but think about the people caught in the middle. I think about the Israeli hostages who are being held by Hamas within the Gaza Strip. I think about the people who were visiting the strip when the hostilities broke out. And, I think about the Palestinian people who call the Gaza Strip their home. 

These Palestinians (who I will sometimes refer to as Gazans) are caught between two warring sides, both of which have dehumanized them. On the one hand, Hamas uses the Gazans as human shields, placing them between Hamas soldiers and Israeli missiles. On the other hand, the Israeli government knows that the Gazans are being used as human shields and the Israeli government fires the rockets anyways. 

While Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas's barbaric attacks, I believe that a self-defense that disproportionately affects innocent the Palestinian civilian population, or that imposes a collective punishment on the Gaza population, is ethically and morally wrong. As I have watched the armchair commentariat on social media, I also find myself repulsed by people who conflate the Palestinian population of Gaza with Hamas. This conflation has inspired me to learn more about the everyday Palestinians who live in Gaza, as well as their culture and  cuisine. As with my earlier post about Zibdiyet Gambari, and my Beyond Borders project generally, my goal is to restore some of the humanity that has been taken away from these people. 

Once again, I go back in time, to a period when Gaza was a thriving region. Agriculture played an important role. Back in the 1960s, farmers in Gaza were able to grow and export produce such clementines, grapefruit, lemons and oranges. The cultivation and production of citrus constituted nearly thirty-five percent (35%) of the Gazan workforce in the 1960s. If someone took the time to listen, they would hear Palestinians fondly remember those times. Not only was citrus critical to the economy, but also to the culture. There are over sixty-seven (67) references to oranges in the works of Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish.

Picking oranges in Gaza. Source: Middle East Monitor

Everything changed with the Israeli occupation of Gaza after the 1967 war. The Israeli government coerced Gazan farmers to shift production from citrus to other crops, such as strawberries and flowers, for international markets. Over time, the Israeli government took more direct acts of interference.  For example, in the 1990s, the Israeli government began to bulldoze orange groves, claiming that they were being used as shelters for terrorists. These actions contributed to the end of the citrus industry in Gaza.

However, things got worse for Gazan agriculture. As the Israeli Defense Forces left Gaza in 2005, Israel created "Access Restricted Areas." Those areas were not created on Israeli land, but using some of the 140 square miles of the Gaza strip.  The ARA extended 300 meters from a perimeter fence built by Israel, which deprived Gazans from approximately 35% of their farming land (and 17% of the entire Gaza Strip). Palestinians who maintained farms just beyond the ARA were also affected. It has been well documented that the Israeli government has sprayed herbicides in the ARA that have been lethal to the crops of Palestinian farmers. The loss of crops has been significant for Palestinians. They estimate that, between 2014 to 2019, the loss was between $140,000 to $280,000.

Notwithstanding all of these obstacles, there are stories that illustrate the resilience of the Palestinians who live in Gaza. Take, for example, farmer Abu Riyad, who lost all of his crops in 2014 due to the violence. The not-for-profit, Anera, worked with farmers like Riyad to restore farmland that was either damaged by war or left fallow because of a lack of resources to farm it.  Riyad is able to not only grow vegetables and other produce to feed his family, but to also sell it at a farmers' market in Khan Yunis.

Abu Riyad with his new farm. Source: Anera.

There are more stories like the one involving Riyad. Back in May 2021, the Israeli government engaged in sustained bombing of the Gaza strip. That bombing damaged over fifty percent (50%) of the farms owned by Palestinian women.  With outside assistance, these farmers were able to rebuild with new machinery, new livestock and other resources. These farmers have also given back, creating a program to provide food to families in need. Even as they make recoveries, they still have to deal with adversity, including another sustained bombing campaign by Israel in May 2023. 

Now, with Israel's sustained campaign after Hamas' October 7 attack, farmers must again deal with the inability to maintain their farms. Only this time it is worse: the farmers are suffering from the collective punishment imposed by Israel, which includes a complete blockade, the civilian infrastructure (including the water infrastructure), and large numbers of deaths, injuries and displacement. The resilience that defines the Palestinian spirit, as demonstrated by their ability to not only rebuild their farms but to also help their communities, will truly be tested in the coming days and months.


Recipe from Chef in Disguise

Serves 4


  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 hot chile peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup fresh dill, minced, or 1 teaspoon of dill seeds
  • 2 very rip tomatoes, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


1. Prepare a paste. In a Gazan clay bowl or zibdiya (or a mortar), mash the onion and salt into a paste using a pestle. Add the chiles and continue to crush. Add half the dill (if using fresh dill) or all of the dill seeds and crush them to release their oils. 

2. Add the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes, and mash. You can make the salsa as sooth or as chunky as you would like. If using fresh dill, add the other half along with the lemon juice and toss. 

3. Finish the dish. Toss generously with olive oil. Serve with flat bread on the side for dipping. 


Monday, November 6, 2023

Zibdiyit Gambari (Spicy Shrimp and Tomato Stew)

"If cooking is in part an act of preservation, a way to sustain cultural identity, it is also an art of resilience, demanding the ability to adapt."  --  Ligaya Mishan

The New York Times columnist, Ligaya Mishan, wrote those words about the Palestinian people and their cuisine in February 2020. However, as I write this post, these words take on more meaning and, in a very real sense, more urgency. 

On October 7, 2023, Hamas perpetrated barbaric acts of murder, rape and inhumanity upon Israeli and other civilians. The scale of the terror attacks shocked the world, which quickly and rightfully rallied around the Israeli people. The Israeli government responded with a "self defense" campaign, vowing to end Hamas. The campaign included a complete blockade of the Gaza strip, where Hamas has wielded control since 2006, as well as a relentless military assault upon that territory with the objective of eliminating the terrorist organization. 

A view of the Gaza strip in 2020.

While Hamas deserves to be eliminated, there are over two million Palestinians who live in Gaza (who I sometimes refer to as "Gazans"). These Palestinians live in cities such as Khan Yunis, Beit Hanoun, Rafah and, of course, Gaza City. Many live in neighborhoods such as Jabalia and Al-Shati, which originated as refugee camps. All of these cities, with their neighborhoods, occupy an area of 140.9 square miles. By comparison, the city of Las Vegas, Nevada occupies 135.9 square miles. In addition, Gaza City, which is the largest city on the strip, has a higher population density (with 36,296 people per square mile) than New York City (which has only 29,303 people per square mile). The overwhelming majority of the more than two million Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas's October 7 terrorist attack.  

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in October 2023
Despite that fact, Gazans have found themselves caught between two warring parties -- Hamas and Israel -- and dehumanized by both sides. Hamas uses the Palestinians living in the Gaza strip as human shields against Israeli attacks. Much of the terrorist organization's command and control structure exists in tunnels beneath schools, hospitals and apartment buildings of Gaza. If Israel were to strike at Hamas, then it would have to go through the Palestinian people. And, as the events after October 7 have shown, Israel has engaged in an aerial bombardment that has resulted in significant deaths, injuries and displacement of Gazans. As of this post, nearly 10,000 Palestinians have been killed (many of whom were children), with thousands more injured and over 1 million (or half of Gaza's population) displaced. The numbers that are being reported as of the time of this post include nearly 10,000 Palestinians dead, countless thousands more injured, and over 1 million (or half the population of Gaza) being displaced. Put bluntly, while Hamas may be using the Palestinian people as human shields, the Israeli Defense Forces nonetheless continued their relentless assault and their complete blockade. Everyday Gazans are struggling to find food, clean water, and fuel, against a backdrop of Israeli bombardment in which the only numbers rising are the dead and injured, as hospitals deal with dwindling medical supplies and resources. 

While bombs drop across Gaza, as the armchair experts exchange salvos and blame on social media, one basic fact seems to have been forgotten: Palestinians living in Gaza are humans just like everyone else. Together, they have their own culture, cuisine, and history that is also part of a larger Palestinian one. I want to take this moment to restore, in whatever small way that I can, the humanity of these people whose were already struggling -- but surviving -- before the recent events. This post will delve into the history, culture, and cuisine of the Palestinians who live in Gaza, with a particular focus to their ties to the Mediterranean Sea.

If we go back in time, Gaza was definitely a different place. Long before the first blockade, which Israel imposed after Hamas took control of the strip in 2006. Even before the Yom Kippur war of 1973.

Source: Research Gate

The Gaza strip is located on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. There are forty (40) kilometers of coastline, which has a long historical connection with the sea. From 800 B.C.E. to 1,000 A.D., a thriving port known as Anthedon provided sea access to a succession of peoples, including Neo-Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Byzantine and eventually, Islamic empires (such as the Umayyad and Abbasid). During this time, the port played an important role in the incense trade and the silk route.  Goods such as spices, frankincense, myrrh, rare woods and precious stones made their way through the port.  The Anthedon Harbor is on a tentative list for designation as a UNESCO Heritage Site. 

While the Anthedon port continued into history under names, such as El-Blakiyeh, the strip continued to play an important role in connecting people with the sea, as well as promoting trade. Indeed, Gaza continued to serve as an important point in the spice trade until the 19th century. It served as the main port for goods being imported into southern Palestine, as well as Jordan and Iraq.

The Gazan coastline was not only important to international trade in the region, but also the local economy. Gazans have a long history and tradition of shipbuilding and fishing.  Workers would take their boats out to sea, drop their nets, wait patiently a few hours, and then pull up the nets to reveal the catch. At one point in time, that catch included  sardines, sea bass, mullet and various types of bream. The vessels would return with the catch, which would then make its way into the local market and on to the plates of Palestinian families.

Things changed after the Israeli government occupied Gaza in 1967. While a small port continued to exist in Gaza City, its role began to diminish and eventually end when Israel closed the port to international shipping. 

The Israeli government began to impose increasingly greater restrictions upon Gazan fishing boats. For comparison purposes, international law provides that the first twelve (12) nautical miles are territorial waters, with an additional twelve miles constituting a "contiguous zone" over which a country can exert certain authorities, which include fishing. Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, the area of territorial waters (and the contiguous zone) open to Gazans was limited to twenty (20) nautical miles. That area shrank to approximately twelve (12) nautical miles with the Bertini Commitment in 2005. Israel reduced the area open to Gazan vessels to six (6) nautical miles one year later. By 2009, the area open to Gazan fishing boats had been reduced to three (3) nautical miles, which is well short of where much of the fish swim. Israeli's navy enforced the restrictions, not only arresting workers on vessels that ventured too far out, but also shooting at them when at them for crossing the arbitrary lines that Israel drew in the sea. 

The lines changed again, with Israel widening them to fifteen (15) nautical miles in 2019, only to reduce it again one year later to eight (8) nautical miles a year later. The lines would change again and again at the whim of the Israeli government, usually in response to violence by terrorists, leaving Gazan fisheries uncertain about what their future held. Those uncertainties increased with Israel's initial blockade in 2006, which made fishing equipment and boat fuel harder to come by and more costly when found. The restrictions made it extremely difficult for Gazans to make a living off the seas, with an overwhelming number of fishermen living in poverty. 

Yet, there are still stories of how the Palestinians have persevered in the face of adversity. The Fishermen's Wives Seafood Kitchen provides one such example. Twenty wives of Gazan fisherman -- who call themselves Zawajat al-Sayyadin or "Fishermen's Wives" -- opened the kitchen to help their spouses. When the fishermen returned to port with their catch, the wives would prepare the seafood according to customers' orders. These orders include crispy fried fish, grilled fish, fish soups and fish pies. The prepared dishes could be sold for more than the fish. This effort followed a previous one that failed. But, the wives learned from the prior attempt, made changes, and found success, as well as support from a non-profit organization.

Some of the Fishermen's Wives preparing the catch. Source: Middle East Eye

For those Gazans who did not venture out into the dwindling areas where they could fish, they looked for other opportunities to continue their connection with the sea. One such opportunity involves a fish farm that is expected to raise sixty to eighty tons of sea bream each year. The farm was established with the assistance of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and Italy. Palestinians have also established inland fish farms to raise tilapia. Both the sea bream and tilapia present opportunities to address needs within the Gaza strip, as well as potential "exports" to at least the West Bank, if not beyond (when allowed by the Israeli government). 

More importantly, these stories, and many others, provide insights into the Gazan people. Although told over the years, these voices are now silenced by the thunderous tones of war and weakened by the sharp propagandist attacks by each side's supporters.  The ultimate casualty are the innocent civilians who are caught in the cross-fire. They are first deprived of their humanity by outside forces, with the truly unfortunate being deprived of their lives. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "[o]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." I have used this blog to protest the inhumanity of how people have been treated, such as Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya or China's treatment of the Uyghurs. For me, this blog has evolved beyond just cooking food, but to learn about cultures and to gain a better understanding of other people and, most importantly, have a greater empathy for their lived experiences. 

So, I refuse to be silent in the face of so many people who appear to accept or ignore the dehumanization of everyday Palestinians. I will use my voice, through this blog, to recognize their lived experience (as briefly outlined in part, above) and to respect their culture and cuisine by preparing one of their traditional dishes (as set forth below).  

I have selected a dish that dish that represents the Palestinians' ties to the sea, namely, Zibdiyit Gambari (Spicy Shrimp and Tomato Stew). The dish calls for ingredients that are common in Gazan recipes, such as the use of dill, which has been referred to as part of the "Trinity of Gazan Cuisine," with the other parts of the trinity being seafood and resilience.  I also learned that Gazans have a love of spicy food, using chiles to bring a kick to many of their dishes. That is something that, as the more than a dozen dried and ground chiles in my pantry will attest, is something that I have in common with them. This particular dish was not too spicy, as I left out the seeds from the chiles. The end result was still a very delicious stew, that I served with some white rice and flat bread. 


Recipe from New York Times

Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole, peeled plum tomatoes, juices reserved
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 jalapenos, finely chopped, plus more to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
  • Coarsely chopped parsley leaves, for serving


1. Sauté the onion and garlic. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices; 1 teaspoon sugar, the cumin, caraway seeds, allspice, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and 1 cup of water to bring to a boil. 

2. Prepare the jalapeno, garlic and dill paste. Mash the jalapeno, garlic, dill and 1/2 teaspoon together using a mortar and pestle for a few minutes. Alternately, finely chop them together on a cutting board, then  mash them by pressing back and forth using the flat side of your knife until a paste forms. (Both approaches release the oil from the jalapeno and dill and make them more fragrant.) Add to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally to break down the tomatoes, until the sauce is thickened and flavors meld, about 20 minutes. 

3. Toast the sesame seeds. in a small skillet, stir the sesame seeds over medium heat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

4. Cook the shrimp. When the tomato sauce is ready, taste and adjust the seasoning (you may want to add some more sugar or jalapeno). Finally stir in the shrimp, making sure that they are submerged, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they have all just turned pink and are cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

5. Finish the dish. To serve, drizzle with a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and scatter with the sesame seeds and chopped parsley.

*    *    *

I will have more to say in my efforts to protest against the dehumanization of the Palestinians who live in Gaza, as well as about the experiences of people around the world. Until then, lets pray for ...


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Vindaloo Wings

If one was to look for a dry rub recipe for buffalo wings, they would most likely find a lot of commonality in the recipes. That commonality draws inspiration from Mexico (such as the use of ancho chile powder) or barbecue (with the use of smoked paprika, brown sugar and other ingredients). Those recipes may produce some very tasty wings,  but I want to go down a different path with dry rub wings. 

That is when I got to thinking of creating a dry rub that draws its inspiration from curries. More specifically, curries from India. Even more particularly, a particular curry that is symbolic of Goa. That curry is the fiery vindaloo. 

Typically, vindaloo is a sauce-based curry, with strong vinegar notes and a very spicy kick. There are a lot of recipes for a vindaloo paste, which could work well with buffalo wings. (I have used the paste in the past.) But, I wanted an even simpler preparation: just a spice mix.  

I found a basic spice mix that incorporates many of the spices that find their way into a vindaloo. These spices include chiles (of course), along with cardamom, cumin, coriander, cloves, and cardamom. The one spice that was missing, but which could usually be found in a vindaloo recipe, is turmeric. I could live without the use of the golden spice on this one occasion. 

One last note about this recipe, the chiles used in the spice mix are Kashmiri chiles. Those chiles are not as piquant as the chiles that would typically be used in a vindaloo. Goan dishes are well known for their use of the peri-peri chile, a very spicy chile introduced by Portuguese explorers and colonialists to the subcontinent. Kashmiri chiles have their own kick, which will probably be more appealing to people who do not ordinarily eat very spicy wings. 


Spice mix recipe from Ministry of Curry

Serves 3-4


  • 1 pound chicken wings, drumettes and flats
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 20 black peppercorns
  • 4 green cardamom seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 8 dried Kashmiri chiles


1.    Prepare the dry rub. Add all the spices to a dry frying pan and lightly toast until aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the spices to a plate to cool completely. Grind the spices in a spice grinder to make a fine powder.

2.    Prepare the wings. Add the wings to a bowl and add the apple cider vinegar. Toss the wings in the vinegar until they are coated. Then add the dry rub and toss until all the wings are well coated with the spice mixgture. 

3.    Cook the wings. Heat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay out the wings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the wings in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until the wings reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from the oven, allow the wings to cool for about 5 minutes and then serve immediately.