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Hungry for adventure? Head to West Bank cookery school

By Catriona Davies for CNN
  • Cookery school will spread Palestinian specialties to international visitors
  • It hopes to help women of Nablus become financially independent
  • Nablus was one of the West Bank town worst affected by the second intifada

(CNN) -- Women in the West Bank town of Nablus are preparing to open a cookery school to teach Palestinian specialties to foodie tourists.

The school will be part of a cultural and social center, called Bait Al Karama, and will be the first women-led cookery school in the Palestinian Territories, according to its organizers.

It has already joined the Slow Food movement, the international association set up to combat fast food culture and concerned with organic, locally-sourced food.

The old city of Nablus was severely affected by the second Intifada -- or Palestinian uprising -- which began in 2000, with heavy casualties, physical damage and intense restrictions on movement, according to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A report by the organization said that 522 Palestinians were killed in Nablus between 2000 and 2005, more than any other West Bank city.

The project is being organized by the women's committee of the locally-run Nablus Old City Charity Society, set up in 2001 to help the residents recover from the effects of the siege and the intifada, with the help of three Italian artists.

We want Nablus to go beyond the stereotype of the political situation.
--Cristiana Bottigella, cultural manager, Bait Al Karama

The Italian artists became involved two years ago after meeting members of the charity society while visiting Nablus.

Fatima Kadumy, director of the women's committee of the Nablus Old City Charity Society, said the center would give women the opportunity to become financially independent, especially those whose husbands were killed or are in jail.

"There are a lot of women here without husbands, without sons, without anyone to support them and we need to support ourselves and our families.

"The women here are very strong. This is a way we can help ourselves, help our country, help other people," she said.

Cristiana Bottigella, cultural manager of the project and one of the Italian artists involved, said: "We want people to go to Nablus not to look at what remains of the second Intifada, but because there's something new and culturally relevant there. We want Nablus to go beyond the stereotype of the political situation.

"As artists, we are coming from a cultural background, not one of development or charity.

"We felt attracted by the warmth of the people, the local environment and the need for Nablus to connect with the international community after years of isolation."

She added that the historic position of Nablus had made it an important economic center, particularly in the spice trade and contributed to its unique cuisine. She said the city's desserts, such as knafeh, a doughy sweet made from local white cheese, are a particular speciality.

Kadumy said: "We have a lot of very famous food here in Nablus that you won't find anywhere else. We want people to come here and learn the correct things about us.

"Now is the time for building something and for people to come from all over the world to see our city and our food."

Bait Al Karama already has a three-storey property in the old center leased from the city authorities and plans to start fitting the kitchen next month.

It is the time for people to come from all over the world to see our city and our food.
--Fatima Kadumy, Nablus Old City Charity Society

In addition to the cookery school, the center will have a beauty salon, a cafeteria, eventually a restaurant and occasional film screenings, readings and presentations, and artists-in-residence.

It hopes to employ 20 women within the first two years.

Bottigella said: "The beauty salon may sound strange but it is a very important place for women to meet and socialize."

The cookery school is hoping to attract international foodies, chefs, those interested in the Slow Food movement, and more traditional tour groups.

Recipes, courtesy of Bait Al Karama:

Knafeh, a sweet made from specialty cheese, originally from Nablus


1 packet Kataifi pastry (about 1 kg)

½ pound melted butter melted (227 grams)

1 pound Akkawi or Nabulsyya cheese (454 grams)

½ pound Mozzarella cheese (227 grams)

Sugar syrup



Preheat oven to 350F and butter the baking pan.

Soak the Akkawi cheese for an hour or so to get rid of the salt, changing the water frequently until most of the salt is washed out.

In a large bowl gently loosen the knafeh dough.

Mix very well with the half pound of melted butter by rubbing the dough between your hands with the butter, adding it little by little. This process should take about 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should become fluffy and light, if you gather it with your hands and let go it should retain its fluffy texture. Cover the pan with three-quarters of the dough, press down lightly.

Add cheese evenly, then add the top layer of the dough, not as thick as the bottom layer. Press down gently.

Bake until lightly golden, about 15 to 18 minutes.

If you shake the pan, it should be loose and the edges are brownish, this means that the knafeh is done.

Immediately pour cold sugar syrup evenly over the hot knafeh, sprinkle the pistachios on top of it and serve hot.

Makloubet Zaher, an upside-down dish with cauliflower, rice and beef


1 kg of beef, trimmed and cut in chunks

1 whole peeled onion

3-4 tbs olive oil or samneh

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

¾ tsp allspice

1 small cinnamon stick

1 cauliflower cut into florets

½ cup olive oil

2 cups rice grain

1 tbs samneh or clarified butter

At least 3 cups of hot water (less if you add the meat juice)


In a large pan, brown the meat with the hot oil or samneh. Add the salt and the spices and enough water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil then let it simmer covered for 60/70 minutes, depending on the type and cut of the meat.

In the meanwhile, fry the cauliflower in a separate pan in ½ cup olive oil until it is soft and golden. Let them drain over the kitchen paper.

Wash the rice and leave it to drain.

Melt the butter or samneh in a large aluminum pan, add the rice and stir until all the rice is coated with butter. Remove half the rice and even the rice at the bottom, add a layer of the fried cauliflower and chunks of meat, saving the juice. Add the remaining rice and top with a layer of the remaining vegetables.

Measure the liquid of the meat and add enough water to make 3 cups. Bring to boil on a high heat with the pan covered. Lower the heat until the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Turn the pot upside down in a large platter (metal plate) and lift the pot carefully. Serve with yogurt and a lettuce salad.