Happy Yom HaAtzmaut!
By Tina Wasserman
This past February we were in Israel with my niece’s family. Their first time. We saw many of the important sites and, of course, we visited Machane Yehuda, Levinsky and Carmel markets for a “taste of Israel.” You would think that after I personally led a food tour in pre-pandemic Israel and numerous other visits, there would be no new food experiences for me. You would be wrong. Every guide has a different perspective and after dictating to him that my family must experience my beloved Georgian Khachapuri (picture a pizza dough shaped like a boat and filled with soft cheese and a cracked egg and melted butter added and stirred in just before serving) and that a trip to the Halvah King in Machane Yehuda was mandatory so we could taste 20 different varieties of halvah, I let him direct us to Israeli foods that he thought we should taste. Yes, we had hummus at every meal and Israeli salad was abundant. (Did you know Israeli scientist have found a way to grow cherry tomatoes as sweet as sugar? The secret is they use salt water for farming. Maybe that would work in Dallas? Who knows?)
On our travels I watched, with joy, a hilarious gentleman frying bourekas while he shouted, “Bourekas, bourekas, bourekas,” to people passing his booth in the Carmel Market. I had delicious Yemenite soup on a little side street in Tel Aviv known by the Yemeni community. My guide was the son of the president of the Yemenite community in Israel and he introduced us to this hearty and delicious soup. I ate the Jerusalem Mixed Grill, which combined chicken meat with hearts, gizzards, liver and whatever offal was available. The flavor was terrific but I really didn’t need to know what I was eating! My new favorite is Sabich sandwiches. Give me warm pita filled with soft, fried or grilled eggplant combined with hard-boiled egg slices, hummus and Israeli salad topped with Amba (see recipe below) and I am in heaven. And every meal, including breakfast, ended with my finding the best rose-scented Muhallabeya (find it online at tjpnews.com).
In honor of Israeli Independence Day, I will share with you the recipes I developed to keep Israel in my tummy as well as my heart. Happy 75th, Israel!
Yemenite Beef Soup with Hawaij
This soup is a meal in a bowl, especially if you accompany it with warm pita or Yemenite bread. I could have sworn that chunks of brisket were floating in the soup, but here I recommend other fatty cuts that would also give depth of flavor because of the bones attached to the meat, which can be removed before serving the soup.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½-2 pounds thick-cut flanken or short ribs or brisket, cut into cubes
- 3½ quarts water
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6-8 sprigs of cilantro, depending on size and your taste preference
- 1 large onion, cut into 1-inch dice
- 6 large cloves of garlic, left whole
- 2 teaspoons hawaij
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper (about ½ tablespoon or to taste at end)
- 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
- Schug (hot peppery mixture), optional
- Heat a 6-quart pot for 15 seconds until hot. Add the olive oil and heat for another 15 seconds but don’t let the oil smoke.
- Immediately add the meat and stir over medium-high heat until the meat is browned but not burnt. This should take about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the water to the pot, simmer for ½ hour and skim off any foam that comes to the surface.
- Combine the tomato paste in a small bowl with a few spoons of soup. Add the mixture to the soup along with the cilantro, onion, garlic, hawaij and salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover and cook on a low simmer for another hour and a half or longer until the meat is very tender.
- Add the cut potatoes and cook for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender but not falling apart.
- Remove the cilantro from the soup. Fish out the garlic cloves and squeeze their pulp into the soup. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve in bowls and add some schug if you like your soup spicier.
- Serves 6-8 for a meal or more for a first course.
- Using a fattier piece of meat gives the soup a richer taste and refrigerating it overnight makes it easier to skim some of the fat and discard it before serving.
- Whenever a recipe has spices in it, if time will allow, waiting a few hours or overnight will allow the flavors to meld and the soup becomes richer in flavor.
- Potatoes absorb an inordinate amount of salt so it is good to check the flavor of the soup after the potatoes have cooked.
- Hawaij is readily available in large supermarkets or local kosher markets.
Sabich Sandwiches or Salad Plate
Originally created in the early ‘60s by an Iraqi Jew, Sabich Halabi, to feed drivers at a bus stop in Ramat Gan, this beloved sandwich spread all over Israel and is one of Israel’s most iconic street foods today.
- 1 large, long, purple eggplant
- Kosher salt, about 1/3 cup
- Oil for frying, olive oil, grapeseed oil or canola
- 4 Roma or Campari tomatoes, cut into dice
- 2 small Persian cucumbers, unpeeled but diced into ¼-inch pieces
- 1 half of 1 small onion, diced into ¼-inch pieces
- Juice of ½ small lemon, about 1 tablespoon
- 4 hardboiled eggs
- Store-bought hummus or 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 recipe Amba Sauce (see below)
- Fresh, soft pita
- Amba Sauce (Adapted from Einat Admony)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon wildflower honey
- 1 tablespoon Amba or Amchur (Indian) powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
- Wash the outside of the eggplant and, using a 1-hole bar zester or vegetable peeler, remove 4 or 5 thin vertical stripes from the eggplant. Cut off the stem end and then slice the eggplant horizontally into ½-inch-thick slices.
- Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle with kosher salt. Place colander in the sink and allow the eggplant to rest for 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and lemon juice in a 2-quart bowl and toss. Set aside.
- Make the Amba Dressing: Place mayonnaise in a 1-pint bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Add the remaining ingredients and whisk well until a smooth sauce is formed. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Rinse the eggplant slices well under cold running water and pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels.
- Heat the oil in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan to a depth of ½ inch. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers a little or registers 350 degrees on a deep frying thermometer.
- Depending on the diameter of your eggplant, add 4 or 6 slices of eggplant to the hot oil but don’t crowd them. Fry on one side until golden brown.
- Using 2 spatulas, carefully turn over the slices and fry until the bottoms are golden as well.
- Crumple a number of paper towels and place on a large cookie sheet. Remove the fried eggplant slices to the towels to drain.
- Repeat with any remaining slices of eggplant.
- Slice the hardboiled eggs horizontally into ¼-inch slices.
- When ready to serve, place a slice of eggplant in a pita half and top with a spoonful of Israeli salad, hummus, a few slices of egg and finish with the Amba Dressing.
- Alternatively, place all of the ingredients on a table and let everyone make their own sandwich
- Makes 4 or more servings.
- Salting and rinsing the eggplant slices removes some of the acidic components of the vegetable and makes the cooked slices sweet and flavorful.
- Eggplant slices can be baked in a 350-degree oven after liberally brushing them with oil. Eggplant should be very soft in center when done but still hold its shape.
- Crumpling paper towels provides more surface area for excess oil to be absorbed and uses way less paper towels in the process.
- A third alternative to the sandwiches is to place some Amba sauce on a serving plate and layering eggplant slices with the other ingredients and you can even use whole canned chickpeas instead of hummus. Garnish with some chopped parsley or mint leaves and you have a beautiful salad plate that can be served with fresh pita or chips on the side.