There’s no doubt that food is an important way to strengthen traditions and culture. Celebrations, holidays and gatherings bring people together with food often playing the central role. Favourite family meals become warm childhood memories. Well-loved recipes are handed down from one generation to the next. With the majority of residents in Qatar far from their home countries, food is an invaluable reminder of culture, identity and family.
Maysa Taleb, her husband Wesam and their children, 12-year-old Omar, nine-year-old Khaled, and six-year-old Nada have called Qatar home for the past two years. Though her family originates from Palestine, Maysa was born in Jordan and grew up in Australia—a country famous for its vibrant food scene. From a young age, Maysa was exposed to a variety of cuisines from around the globe. Maysa says, Australia is a very multicultural country and always has been so the food is the most amazing mix of cuisine types. You’ll find any restaurant you can imagine from Arabic, Italian, Asian, Afghani and French.
There’s also a growing fusion scene where two different cuisines are combined to create exciting new dishes and flavours. Maysa’s mother cooked a variety of cuisines. However, her Palestinian roots always shone through and as a child Maysa was taught how to prepare traditional recipes, in particular classic Arabic sweets.
“My favourite food memories are when we used to help my mum make maamool for Eid. It takes a lot of effort to make. My mum would usually make three or four different types of sweets in large quantities and recruit me, my siblings and my cousins to help. Each person would be given a task, such as rolling dates, pressing the maamool into molds or baking. We would all be exhausted by the end of the day but we had the best time together!” she recalls.
As traditions often get passed on from generation to generation, Maysa’s daughter, Nada, has also shown a keen interest in preparing traditional delicacies and often helps her mum in the kitchen. Palestinian food is traditional Arabic food. According to Maysa, a lot of Palestinian dishes are a hybrid of Syrian, Jordanian and Lebanese cuisines. It requires a lot of preparation and usually is accompanied with rice. Meat, chicken and vegetables are a staple of most dishes, along with a variety of spices, such as cumin, coriander and sumac.
Some of the most well-known dishes are stuffed zucchini, kibbeh, mesakhan, hummus and falafel, she says. Palestinian cuisine continues to feature in Maysa’s daily life alongside other international family-friendly favourites. Her children love a variety of global dishes including the food from their Palestinian roots. Like many families, she says her kids usually dictate what they eat. They love spaghetti and lasagna, soups, curry and meat pies. They also like traditional Arabic and Palestinian dishes such as oozi (rice with chicken and vegetables), and mansaf (the traditional food of Jordan, which is lamb cooked in a yoghurt sauce and served with rice).
Maysa has a backup of cupboard staples. Her spice cabinet is always fully stocked. “I also have spaghetti or lasagna packets available all the time—it’s my go-to dish when I have run out of time. Frozen puff pastry is usually always in my freezer as well as frozen corn and peas—two things I use quite a lot.” As a busy, full-time mum to three young kids and with a husband often travelling overseas for work, Maysa plans meals the day before. ”I don’t really make a plan although that would be much easier. I usually just ask my family the night before what they feel like eating the next day. I try to vary meals and not cook the same thing too often but that isn’t always possible. I don’t really use frozen meals but when I make something that takes a lot of effort, such as kibbeh, I’ll make a large quantity and freeze some of it and I use leftovers. The great thing about Palestinian and Arabic food is that it’s easy to reheat and usually tastes just as good the next day.”
Maysa Taleb’s top tips:
- Don’t be afraid to try new recipes or try new spices that you’ve never used before
- Don’t stick to a recipe religiously. You can change it to suit your tastes and needs
- Try to get the prep work done early. That way it won’t take too long to put together when it’s dinner time
- Precook or prepare dishes that can be frozen (such as meat pies and lasagna). They are a lifesaver when time is tight
- Get the kids involved. They appreciate the food more when they know how much effort goes into making it.
Karkadeh (Hisbiscus drink)
This floral, crimson-hued drink is made by steeping petals of the hibiscus flower in boiling water. Can be served hot or cold.
- Approximately 35g of dried hibiscus flowers
- 3 litres water
- Up to 1.5 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
- Place the dried hibiscus flowers in a pot with half the water and bring to a boil
- Remove from heat, and strain the petals out, allowing the water to drain into a clean bowl
- Add the remaining water, sugar to taste and orange blossom water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Transfer to a jug or juice bottle and store in the refrigerator.
A classic dessert, basboosa is a baked semolina cake soaked with a deliciously sweet syrup. Perfect with coffee or tea.
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- 3 cups semolina
- 1 cup sugar
- 50g desiccated coconut
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 100g butter or ghee
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 to 1.5 cups milk
- Whole almonds to decorate
For the syrup
- 2.5 cups sugar
- 2.5 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
- Grease a cake tray (approx. 25cm x 30cm) with tahini
- Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter/ghee and rub through to incorporate
- Add the milk and vanilla and mix quickly with a metal spoon
- Pour the mixture into the greased tray and flatten to make it even
- Cut diagonal crosshatch lines into the mixture to create a diamond pattern. Place an almond in the centre of each diamond slice
- Bake at 180-200°C for 40-50 litres, or until golden brown
- While the cake bakes, prepare the syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and simmer on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes
- Once the basboosa is ready, remove from the oven and immediately pour on the syrup. Cover with another tray and allow the syrup to soak in
- Cut along the original lines into diamond shapes and serve
This recipe is a simpler version of the classic meskhan. A hearty and comforting meal, the dish features chicken, fragrant spices and a layer of traditional bread at the base.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2–3 onions sliced
- 3 chicken breasts diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon meat spice mix (Look for something with cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, coriander, all spice, cloves, ground ginger, chili powder and nutmeg)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons sumac (plus a little extra for decorating)
- 2–3 large loaves of pita bread, toasted and broken into small pieces
- 1kg plain yoghurt
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt to taste
- Blanched almonds, baked or fried
- Chopped parsley
- Heat the olive oil in a frypan. Add the onions and cook, stirring until transparent
- Add the chicken breast and stir together. Add the salt, pepper, cumin and spice mix and saute until the chicken is cooked through, seven to ten minutes
- Remove from heat and stir in the sumac. Allow to cool
- Mix all the ingredients for the yoghurt sauce together
- Place the toasted bread pieces at the bottom of a serving bowl
- Add the chicken mixture, then cover with yoghurt sauce
- Garnish with parsley, almonds and sumac and serve