Mai Kakish on Palestinian cooking

Mai KakishI've been following Mai Kakish's Instagram account: @almondandfig  for awhile now and drooling over her food photos. They're unlike anything I've ever seen; her food and her photography of her food is art in and of itself. I also tried a few of her recipes and decided to interview her for my blog where she shares her thoughts on Palestinian cooking and shares some favorite recipes. 

Mai, is the editor, writer, cook, and grocery shopper behind the blog Almond & Fig. She grew up in Palestine, and now lives in Chicago with her husband and kids. 

Almond & Fig, is a memoir told through food. Mai cooks to remember the place she came from (Palestine) and to pass that connection on to her children. 

Through Almond & Fig she likes to share meals and her family table with you, the kind of food that makes memories.

Through her cooking and stories, she hopes to inspire people to cook food from an often misunderstood part of the world and to tell their own story, preserve their traditions and make new ones.

Where are you originally from in Palestine and how did Palestinian food become your passion ? I grew up in the Jerusalem area went to school in the old city and graduated Highschool in Ramallah. When I came to the states to go to college and later on I had my own family I often cooked to remember my home in Palestine, my mom’s and my grandmothers food and to pass that connection on to my children.

Besides being a recipe developer, you're also a prop/food stylist. Can you tell us more about what this means and how you got into this work ? I have always loved to play with my food and make it look nice and appealing to eat. As we eat with our eyes first. But it wasn’t until I had my children that I wanted to document our family dinners for them and also the food I grew up eating. With time and practice my food styling and even recipes got better. I found that in food styling, story telling and developing and recreating my families recipes a creative space that not only inspired me but allowed me to cross paths with so many people.

How to you plan shopping/cooking for the week so you don't have to make multiple runs to the grocery store ? Although I enjoy grocery shopping the most nothing excites more than the change of produce with a new season and I definitely love farmers markets and shopping local. But multiple trips to the grocery store not only is time consuming but also can get heavy on your budget. I go to the market with a general idea of what I want to make for that week. But I go with an open mind that if I don’t find what I need or find better deals on other things to adapt my weekly food plan. And I always always get a new item it could be from the produce isle or spices or a new snack for my family to try and explore. Food is capable of teaching us many things.

Food fads come and go, we had the Atkins diet, now we have keto, we have raw, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, and Mediterranean, does Palestinian cooking fit in with any of these ? And what do you think of these diet trends ? I honestly don’t follow any diet trends. And if I do it fails pretty quickly I am not very disciplined ;) I cook everything in moderation and I also have grains, and a salad or a vegetables served with every meal. Treats and homemade desserts are my weakness but I often save those to make with the kids for the weekend. Palestinian food is rich in vegetables, meat, fish, grains and legumes making it suitable and easy to substitute ingredients for a particular diet. Palestinian food has a lot of meat, and or vegetable stews that makes both hearty and versatile meals.

What are some staples of Palestinian cooking, what do you always have in your kitchen ? Some of the staples are definitely zaatar always handmade by my grandmother and always on my kitchen counter where I can eat it and think of my Tita (grandmother) everyday. Ruby local Sumac that my mom sends from Palestine, and a cabinet full of spices that are capable to transform and dish. Olive oil, Lemons, olives, Tahini, Nablusi cheese, Labaneh and honey. And assortment of legumes like lentils, and chickpeas and grains like rice, freekeh and burghul. A stack of good quality Arab pita bread or taboon is always in my freezer. With these ingredients at hand I can pretty much whip up easy healthy meals.

Do you plan to have a book of Palestinian cooking someday ? Would be honored to write a cookbook on Palestinian cuisine one day.

These are some of Mai's Favorite recipe's from her blog:

Kousa Mahshi (Stuffed Squash in Tomatoes Broth)

Fire Roasted Baba Ghanouj with Tomatoes

 Hummus Bowl with Kiftah Meatballs


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