I was gifted the cookbook Falastin by a dear friend, and I’ve already made many recipes from it. The authors are Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, and the book is all about the food of Palestine, published in 2020.
From the book, “There is no letter “P” in the Arabic language so “Falastin” (pronounced “fa-la’steen”) is, in one sense, simply the way “Falastinians” refer to themselves. But this word is also about geography, history language, land, identity, and culture. Falastin is a celebration of this culture: the recipes and stories, the food and the people of Palestine.
I chose to make an enticing prawn and tomato stew, made with fresh tomatoes. It’s hearty, warming with the spices, but also has a fresh element with the cilantro pesto.
I don’t mean to disrespect the great Sami Tamimi, but 3 ingredients in this dish caught my attention – the use of cilantro, ginger, and dill together. I am familiar with cilantro and ginger together in Asian cuisines, but the dill really confused me. Not being a huge dill fan I omitted it. I would not have been surprised if it was mint instead of the dill, but there it is.
Prawn and Tomato Stew with Cilantro Pesto
1½ cups cilantro (30g), roughly chopped
1 green chile finely chopped
⅓ cup plus 2 tbsp pine nuts (50g) lightly toasted, reserve 1 tbsp for garnish when serving
1 lemon finely grate the zest to get 1½ tsp, then cut into wedges for serving
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil (80ml)
salt and pepper
9 oz cherry tomatoes (250g)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (60ml)
1 large yellow onion (1¼ cups / 180g) finely chopped
4 garlic cloves crushed
¾-inch / 2cm piece of ginger (1½ tbsp / 15g) peeled and finely grated
1 green chile finely chopped, with seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds lightly crushed in mortar and pestle (if needed, substitute with 2 tsp ground coriander instead)
1½ tsp cumin seeds lightly crushed in mortar and pestle (if needed, substitute with 1½ tsp ground cumin instead)
8 cardamom pods lightly crushed in mortar and pestle (if needed, substitute with ½ tsp ground cardamom instead)
1 cup dill leaves (20g) finely chopped (I didn’t use)
2 tsp tomato paste
6 plum tomatoes (2¾ cups / 500g) roughly chopped
1¼ cups water
salt and black pepper to taste
1⅓ lbs shrimp (600g) peeled
To make the cilantro pesto, combine cilantro, chile and pine nuts into a food processor and pulse a few times, until the pine nuts are roughly crumbled and incorporated with the cilantro and chile. Transfer to a small mixing bowl and add the lemon zest, olive oil, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix to combine, then set aside.
Place a large sauté pan over high heat. Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 tsp of olive oil. Once the pan is hot, add the cherry tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice, until blistered and charred on all sides. Remove tomatoes from the pan and set aside.
Wipe the pan clean, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and place it over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasinally, until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger, chile, coriander, cumin, cardamom, dill and tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Add the plum tomatoes, water, 1½ tsp of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then decrease heat to medium and cook for 25 minutes, uncovered, or until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have broken down.
Pat the prawns dry and mix them in a bowl with ¼ tsp of salt, 1 tbsp olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Put 2 tsp of olive oil into a large sauté pan and place over high heat. Once hot, add the shrimp in batches and fry for 1 minute on each side, until cooked through and nicely browned. Set each batch aside in small mixing bowl while you continue with the remaining prawns. When the sauce is ready, stir in the prawns and charred tomatoes and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, to heat through.
Serve either straight from the pan or spoon into wide shallow bowls.
Scoop out the cardamom pods if you like, they are there to flavor the dish rather than to be eaten. I couldn’t find my pods, so I opted for ground cardamom.
Dot the stew with about half of the pesto and pass the lemon wedges and remaining pesto in a bowl alongside.
Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of pine nuts on top.
This dish is outstanding and I will be making it again. The flavors are marvelous. The pesto, made with jalapeño and lemon in lieu of garlic, is wonderful, and pairs so well with the shrimp and tomatoes.