October through December is the olive picking/olive oil pressing season in Palestine and throughout the Levant .Olive oil not only plays a major role in the Palestinian cuisine but it also plays a central role in the culture and history of the area and so do olive trees, olive picking and everything related to this season.
To give you a glimpse of just how important this is, the ancient Palestinian calendar used to start with the olive picking season. It was called the father of all seasons. The oldest olive tree in the world is in Palestine. It is estimated to be between 3500 and 5000 years old!
For generations, people would care for the trees their parents and grand parents had planted and they would plant new olive trees for their kids to harvest when they grew up. A way to maintain our connection as a nation to the land. Hoping that the new generations’ love for Palestine will run deep just like those deeply rooted olive trees.
The importance of Olive trees does not stop at planting and caring for olive trees.The olive picking rituals, stories and memories, are interwoven into the Palestinian proverbs, songs and tales.
If you ever witness the olive picking season in Palestine you will feel the buzz of joy and excitement as families spend the day from the crack of dawn till sunset lovingly picking olives one by one from trees they have cared for all year long, singing, sharing stories with the young, enjoying simple meals in the open field.
Culinary speaking traditionally farmers celebrated the long-awaited freshly pressed olive oil with a variety of recipes like seeds and olive oil bread (kaek bel zait) and musakhan. Recipes that allow that emerald green extra virgin olive oil to shine
For our third theme of #truly_palestinian (the campaign to document traditional Palestinian recipes that I told I about)we are focusing on olive oil based recipes. A whole category in the Palestinian cuisine called aklat bil zait. Which means recipes that have no meat in them, instead they use fresh ingredients, simple spices and beautiful Palestinian olive oil and believe me, you won’t miss the meat!
I have shared quite a few of these recipes with you here on the blog previously like hindbeh, mujadara , broad bean mutabal and mesalwa. I am adding on to that today with mutawam kusa (a garlicky grilled zucchini dip)
mutawam kusa is actually a great way to take zucchini to a whole new level. (Mutawam means that which is infused with garlic in Arabic and kusa is the Arabic word for zucchini). To prepare it, zucchini is first grilled which transforms its texture and adds a smoky note to it then it is mixed with a blend of greek yogurt and labneh for creaminess, garlic for zing and mint to balance everything out with a hint of freshness. The crowning jewel of course is a healthy dose of olive oil.It might sound super simple but I promise that you will be blown away after the first bite. So just give it a go and let me know what you think of it 🙂
Two final notes before getting to the recipe. The first is regarding the long grilling time and energy waste. Traditionally, this was actually prepared in taboon ovens (you can read more about them here). People used to grill the zucchini using the leftover heat of the oven after baking their taboon bread. I personally either triple or even quadruple the recipe and store the peeled and chopped zucchini in the freezer (it lasts for three months) or I simply prepare this when I am already using the oven to prepare a main meal or something
The second note is regarding zucchini. The Zucchini we use in Palestine is the one that you see in the picture above.
It has lower water content and is crisper than the super long, darker skinned variety that is more popular in Europe and the US. You can use the other type of zucchini but you may have to grill it longer.
1 kg zucchini (preferably 20 to 25cm long)
250 g greek yogurt
2 tablespoons labneh
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
1 clove garlic minced
Salt to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- Wash the zucchini , remove the tops and cut each into quarters lengthwise
- Grill the zucchini in the oven for 1.5 hours to 2 hours in a 180C oven (you want to get the skin to the point of being golden brown)
- Peel the zucchini trying to remove the peel only, leaving as much as possible from the pulp
- Chop the zucchini finely
- Mix the zucchini with the yogurt, garlic, mint, labneh and salt. (Preferably place the mix in the fridge in an airtight container for at least an hour to allow the flavors to blend)
- Add the olive oil at the time of serving
- Enjoy with warm bread and green olives