This is an excerpt from Just World Books- “The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey” By Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt
In Gaza, large batches of ka’ik are frequently made for holidays—Muslim or Christian—and distributed to friends, family, and neighbors. In light of the holiday character of these cookies, the recipe we provide is for about 5 dozen ka’ik. Feel free to divide the recipe proportionally for a smaller batch.
Exceptionally sweet red dates grow in Gaza, particularly in the Deir el Belah (“monastery of dates”) district and, when not consumed fresh in their khalal stage, they are processed into date paste for local consumption. Check your local Middle Eastern grocer for date paste. It is much more laborious and expensive to make the paste yourself, so only do this as a last resort.
Date-Stuffed Holiday Rings
Makes 5 dozen
11⁄2 cups (270 grams) fine semolina
2 cups (480 milliliters) olive oil, warmed
1⁄2 cup (120 milliliters) orange-blossom water or rosewater
21⁄2 cups (320 grams) all-purpose flour
21⁄2 cups (325 grams) whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons ground anise seeds
1 teaspoon ground mahlab (available at Middle Eastern groceries)
1 tablespoon nigella seeds
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
2 pounds (approximately 1 kilogram) date paste (available in Middle Eastern grocers) or
2 pounds (1 kilogram) pitted medjool dates kneaded to a paste
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
11⁄2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons softened butter
Mix the warmed olive oil with the semolina and rosewater or orange-blossom water and rub them together by hand until well combined. Set aside for 20 minutes so the semolina grains can absorb the liquid.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the ours, yeast, anise seeds, nigella seeds, and mahlab. Combine this mixture with the semolina.
Add approximately 1 cup (240 milliliters) of water, a little at a time, to the dough, and knead it in an electric mixer (if available) until it is moist and pliable. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more water, a bit at a time. Fold in the sesame seeds. Cover the dough and set it aside in a warm place for approximately 11⁄2 hours or until it doubles in size.
Meanwhile, prepare the date paste: Pull the paste apart from the package and warm it slightly in a microwave or over a stove. Knead the warmed paste together with the butter and spices until they are well combined.
Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C) and set the rack in the middle of the oven. Divide the dough into golf-ball-sized balls, setting them aside on a greased cookie sheet. Divide the date paste into an equal number of balls, approximately half the size of the balls of dough. Take each ball of dough and roll it under the palm of your hand into a log approximately 1 inch (2 1/2 centimeters) thick and 5 inches (13 centimeters) long.
Using your thumb or pinky finger, make an indentation from one end of the dough to the other. Roll a date-paste ball into a little log slightly shorter than the diameter of the dough, and place it in the indentation. Wrap the dough up over the paste, using a damp finger if necessary to seal it closed. Seal the ends closed and roll the stuffed log out back and forth a few times to even it out, then loop one end over the other to form a ring. Pinch it closed with the tip of your pinky. Arrange the rings on greased cookie sheets, 1 inch apart, and bake for approximately 20 minutes. If you prefer crisper cookies, set the oven to broil for the last 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve with sage tea (page X) and distribute to friends and family…if you don’t eat them all yourself!
Slow Food in the Gaza Strip
The new wave of American artisan-cheese aficionados and rooftop farmers may be surprised to discover their inadvertent kinship with the people of Gaza.
All over Gaza, families are reviving old methods of farming, cooking, and conserving foods to survive the restrictions imposed by the siege and the persistent electricity cuts. Faced with massive unemployment due to the closure of the borders and the annihilation of the productive sector, Gazans have turned en masse toward small-scale agriculture: on plots of land if they have access to them, on rooftops and balconies if they don’t.
Dovecotes and rabbit hutches flourish above the city. Electricity cuts make refrigeration unreliable, leading to a rediscovery of old conservation techniques: Pickles and jams proliferate, and drying racks can be found in many backyards. Without access to gas for ovens and stoves, many cooks are consulting their grandmothers about how to fire up the clay ovens that have lain abandoned for a generation.
This forced self-reliance is felt not only among ordinary people trying to get by, but also at a government level: recognizing Gaza’s desperate water crisis, the government has announced strategic plans for large-scale wastewater recycling and the promotion of indigenous rain-fed agriculture.
The idea is not new. In the First Intifada, during the 1980s, the key word in Palestinian politics and daily life was sumud, or steadfastness. Rather like the Gandhian swadeshi, this was a coordinated political push, eagerly taken up by the grassroots, to achieve self-reliance and move toward economic, social, and psychological independence from Israel.
Israel retaliated, at that time, by providing incentives for growing cash crops for export and by massively recruiting workers for Israeli agriculture, causing many to abandon their small farms in Gaza for more lucrative wage labor.
A generation later, with the borders now closed, young people are returning to the land as a last recourse, tapping the agricultural knowledge of their elders to do so.