The ritual of making, eating, and distributing ka'ak and ma'amoul are symbols of continuity and community across a wide swath of the Middle East. In my mixed Christian and Muslim family, it's an oasis of comfort, no matter what else is happening.
Mhalabiyeh—the Palestinian version of panna cotta—is commonly flavored with mastic, which has a pleasant flavor reminiscent of licorice or pine. Purchase mastic at amazon.com. Alternatively, Reem Kassis suggests substituting 1 teaspoon of rose water or orange blossom water.
Inspired by her mother’s (much richer) fried eggplant salad, Reem Kassis tops fried cauliflower with toasted nuts, pomegranate arils, and lemon-and-garlic-laced yogurt.
Michael Solomonov, chef at Zahav in Philadelphia, and Reem Kassis, author of The Palestinian Table, formed an unlikely friendship around their shared, though much disputed, food heritage. They both love this knafeh, a sweet, cheese-filled dessert, encased in shredded phyllo pastry (kataifi) and soaked in a fragrant syrup laced with rose and orange blossom.
Reem Kassis’ mother, Nisreen, would serve leg of lamb to guests because it was “a sign of utmost respect.” Large cuts of meat were expensive and often reserved for special occasions and celebratory gatherings. Kassis’ secret to making this next-level lamb is to roast it low and slow for several hours until the meat is nearly falling apart and then finish it at a higher temperature until the fat on the outside is candy-crisp.
Hashweh, which literally means “stuffing,” is often used to fill proteins like chicken and lamb. Studded with spiced lamb and crisp nuts, the fragrant pilaf is a meal in itself. For special occasions, Reem Kassis tops it with slow-roasted, melt-in-your-mouth leg of lamb.
As a child, Reem would walk through Jerusalem’ old city with her mother, where they’d buy whole spices to make this fragrant, all-purpose blend. Toasting the spices before grinding brings out their fruity notes, resulting in an intensly aromatic mixture.