Recipe for peace: Saltaone Mahshi (PALESTINE)

As part of our Recipes for peace series, each week we feature an inspiring dish to celebrate the varied - and tasty - ways in which food can play a role in building peace.

This week’s recipe comes from Laila el-Haddad – a Palestinian journalist, author and blogger originally from Gaza City.

Laila el-Haddad’s Saltaone Mahshi recipe, or stuffed roasted crabs (PALESTINE)

This is one of those unique recipes that Palestinians outside of the Gaza region are likely to be wholly unfamiliar with. It’s a good way to enjoy and explore the cuisine of southern Palestine, while learning about life - and the dispossession of livelihoods by way of siege.

This was my father’s signature dish growing up, namely because my mother, who is from Gaza's south, never consumed crustaceans as a child and so never cooked them either. It reminds me of him and our pre-dawn mornings spent deep-sea fishing. That was our time, during which very few words were exchanged, and I would instead succumb to his entrancing voice, singing sweet melodies and lullabies while we waited for the fish to bite.

It is typical of the coastal area of Palestine and in particular amongst the fishermen near the Gaza City region, where they are stuffed with a local fiery red chili paste, tons of crushed garlic, and mixed with earthy notes of cumin, before being roasted until smoky and pink over a small grill directly by the seashore.

Crabs are one of the few sea creatures still readily available to fishermen because they can be caught near the shore. Fishermen are otherwise subject to “fishing without water”, due to a seven-year long Israeli blockade that has restricted their fishing zone to six nautical miles.

Ingredients for 2-4 people

  • One dozen large live blue crabs, at least 5 1/2 - 6 inches in diameter
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt, more for cleaning crabs
  • 8 tbsp garlic, crushed or finely minced (approximately 30 cloves)
  • 4 tbsp filfil mat’houn
  • 3 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cooking Instructions

  • Prepare the crabs: cut the ventral nerve cord by stabbing the crab with an ice pick or sharp knife quickly in the centre of its belly flap or between the eyes. You may want to place crabs in the freezer or in a bag full of ice cubes first for 15 minutes to numb them. 
  • Remove top of crab shell, or carapace, by gently separating the top from the bottom by hand or with a paring knife: there is a small crack where the carapace joins with the rest of the body, use this as a starting point. Discard shells.  
  • Sprinkle crabs with some salt and remove any guts and organs. Pull off feathery gills. Rinse well. Flip the crab over. You will see a small triangular shape near the middle. Lift this flap up and remove from crab. It should come off easily. Rinse off any organs. The crabs are now ready for stuffing.
  • Place approximately 1 tsp of stuffing in each crab cavity. Arrange in a pan and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil. Cover with aluminium foil. Roast in a 400-degree oven on lowest rack for approximately 10 minutes or until crabs turn pink. Uncover pan.  
  • Move oven rack to middle, and turn oven to broil. Return pan to oven for 5 minutes or until stuffing is slightly browned.

Laila el-Haddad is co-author of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey. The cookbook explores the culture and daily life of this embattled region through the food that is shared there.

You can follow Laila on Twitter @gazamom and read her blog here

Watch an interview with Laila about The Gaza Kitchen.