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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

Deconstructed Sayadieh, the Power of Food, and Other Palestinian-Inspired Bites #EattheWorld

This month the Eat the World bloggers are traveling - by tabletop - to the State of Palestine. When Evelyne allowed me to select the country for July, I landed on Palestine. I generally stay politically neutral on my blog and on social media. But, whatever your leanings, the on-going assaults in Gaza are indefensible. Period. Assaults on civilians - schools! - is unconscionable. Period.

As I told a culinary class at a local high school recently: food has power. I selected this month's #EattheWorld focus to harness that power to explore and educate myself on a country about which I know embarrassingly little.

Read more about the Eat the World project, being spearheaded by Evelyne of CulturEatz; here's her challenge.

The Power of Food

Food has power in several different ways. Obviously, it has the power to nourish and sustain you. But how you choose to spend money on food is also powerful. If you buy from local farmers or producers, you are supporting your local community. That is power. Next, food has the power to transport you. If you have ever taken a bite of something and been overcome by a memory of a meal during your travels, you know what I mean. Food contains the power of memory. And this is the power that is most important for this post: food has the power to inspire and educate.

On the way to one of our hikes, during the four weeks that D was home between his Spring semester ending and his Summer session starting, we listened to an interview with a Palestinian chef on NPR. We knew about the airstrikes and other atrocities being committed against the Palestinians, but we knew next to nothing about their culinary histories and traditions. I went home and immediately ordered the cookbook which I will review in a separate post.

Throughout the rest of his stay, we cooked from the book, read news articles, learned about and discussed what is happening in Palestine right now. That was simultaneously heart-wrenching and illuminating. But that is one of the main reasons I like to cook food from other countries: it affords us the opportunity to focus on somewhere other than our little bubble here on California's central coast; it provides a starting point for learning and conversations.

Though participants are few this month, I hope you will also explore...

The #EattheWorld Palestinian Dishes

When I chose this month's #EattheWorld country, Palestine and the protests were also forefront in my mind for personal reasons as the graduate student teachers on the University of California campuses went on strike before finals. Their union approved the strike in response to the UC Regents' disbanding of the protestors' encampments; the instructors were also calling for the Regents to divest from any Israeli companies. I am unsure how pervasive these demands are throughout the rest of the country's colleges and universities, but in California this was top of the news here for weeks and weeks when the strike began on May 20th.

Three weeks before finals, the University of California Santa Cruz campus closed (they were the first and were followed quickly by UC San Diego and UC Irvine); I went into panic mode that if the students couldn't go to class, they wouldn't be able to finish their courses, they wouldn't graduate...and these were the same kids whose high school graduation - in 2020 - was canceled due to the COVID pandemic. Ugh. And, yes, my kid was one of those, so I was doubly concerned.

I acknowledge that given the on-going violence and climbing death toll in the besieged Palestinian city of Gaza, a canceled graduation is not really a tragedy. But it would still have been sad.

However, commencements did proceed as planned even though the instructors' strike wasn't resolved until June 27th, which was well after the ceremonies on Fathers' Day weekend. Here are just a few shots from graduation, Humor this proud mamma, okay?

The Palestinian protests were top of mind in all of the speeches for Merrill College (R's residential college), but that was to be expected as their ethos is exploring cultural identities and raising global consciousness.

Let me get to the Palestinian food we have been cooking...

Deconstructed Sayadieh

The recipe I am sharing today was inspired to a visit to a local fish market. While D was home, we ran over to the market in Moss Landing after a hike in Elkhorn Slough. I ended up with a whole vermillion rockfish. And I don't know who was more excited when we were asked, "Would you like us to clean that for you?" Under his breath, D asked, "You were going to make me clean that fish, weren't you?" Yep.

I am calling this 'deconstructed' because all of the Sayadieh recipes I found used fish filets over the spiced rice. I wanted to keep the fish whole and opted to serve the rice on a different platter.

From page 47, Bethlehem: A Celebration of Palestinian Food by Fadi Kattan...

"Sayahieh evokes memories of the beaches of Gaza and lunches at the home of my relatives. ...I like to think of sayadieh as the coastal Palestinian equivalent of makloubeh, a layered dish of lamb and rice. Despite the differences, between the two, both are such staples."

The Fish

  • 1 whole vermillion rockfish, approximately 2 pounds, scaled and gutted

  • 2 to 3 organic lemons, sliced

  • juice from 1 lemon

  • 2 Tablespoons baharat*

  • freshly ground salt and pepper

  • olive oil

  • Optional garnish: pomegranate arils and lemon blossoms

*Baharat is a ubiquitous Middle Eastern spice that is a chef's mixture of ground black pepper, cunin, coriander seeds, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika. Buy it ready made, or make your own.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit Lay out the whole fish on silicone mat or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the inside of the cavity with salt, pepper, and baharat. Stuff the cavity with the lemon slices.

Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the top. Sprinkle with more salt, pepper, and baharat.

Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. The fish is done with the flesh in the thickest part has turned opaque.

To serve, move whole fish to a platter. Add more lemon slices to the side and top with pomegranate arils and lemon blossoms, if using. Serve immediately.

The Rice

The zucchini and pomegranate topping is my own twist. I just loved the contrast on the plate as well as the palate.

Seasoned Rice

  • 1 Tablespoon butter

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive oil

  • 1 Onion, peeled and chopped, approximately 1 cup

  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

  • 2 teaspoons baharat

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1-1/2 cups rice

  • 1 pinch saffron

  • 3 cups stock (I used fish stock) or water

In a heavy lidded pot, melt butter in olive oil. Stir in the onions, garlic, baharat, turmeric, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions are softened and beginning to caramelize. Stir in the rice and saffron, if using. Pour in the broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Steam rice for approximately 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. When ready to serve, invert onto serving platter.


  • 2 zucchini, thinly sliced

  • olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon baharat

  • pinch of sumac

  • pomegranate arils

Heat a couple glugs of olive oil in a skillet. Stir in the baharat and sumac. Add in the zucchini and cook until just beginning to soften.. Spoon on top of the rice and dot with pomegranate arils. Serve immediately.

Other Palestinian-Inspired Bites

I dove into Bethlehem: A Celebration of Palestinian Food by Fadi Kattan, attempting, adapting, and thoroughly enjoying the inspiration. I will be reviewing the book in a separate post. Stay tuned for that.

click recipe name above to go to the post

click recipe name above to go to the post

click recipe name above to go to the post

I am definitely not done cooking from this book. I will share the lamb stew soon. And, after going apricot picking this weekend, I am considering the Apricot Baklawa. Check back soon!

Our 2024 Tabletop Travels So Far

Click on my recipe title to go to the original post and see the other bloggers' offerings

13 views2 comments


Wendy Klik
Wendy Klik
2 days ago

Amen Cam.


sneha datar
sneha datar
3 days ago

Looks so good!

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