Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar year, begins this year on July 20. Every day during the month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours fasting and praying. But despite fasting all day long (or maybe because of it), Arab kitchens do not cease working.
Quite the opposite. Cooks are busy all day long preparing for the evening meal, the iftar, which is shared with family and friends, an opportunity to show off their skills and present traditional delicacies. The meal, rich with seasonal produce, ends with many sweet dishes and strong coffee.
Chefs Hussam and Nashahat Abas of the El Babour restaurants in the Galilee have decided to share the traditions of the iftar with Jews and Arabs alike in their restaurants.
“Ramadan is traditionally a month of sharing, hosting friends and family and opening one’s heart to others,” says Abas..
“This is an opportunity to build a bridge between peoples and learn about our rich culinary traditions, since the iftar showcases the Arab cuisine at its best.”
Although Arab cooking prides itself on many meat dishes, we asked chef Abas for some vegetarian recipes and, of course, the recipe for his famous knafeh, a delectable semi-sweet dessert.
STUFFED VINE LEAVES
✔About 60 vine leaves, preferably fresh young leaves. If unavailable, use ones from a jar
✔ 3 cups uncooked rice
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. black pepper
✔ 1 tsp. salt
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. ground nutmeg
✔ 1⁄4 cup olive oil for the stuffing
✔ 1⁄4 cup olive oil for the cooking
✔ 1 liter water
✔ Juice of 1⁄4 lemon (optional)
Soak rice in cold water. Blanch the vine leaves. Remove the stems from the leaves, place in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak the leaves 10-15 minutes and drain. (If using leaves from a jar, skip the blanching but rinse the leaves in water and drain.) Drain the rice and dry it using a clean kitchen towel. In a separate bowl, mix rice, nutmeg, pepper, salt and oil.
Place a vine leaf, smooth side down, on a clean surface and place a heaping teaspoon of filling on the bottom. Fold the sides over the filling and roll the leaf a tight cigar shape. Continue until all leaves are stuffed.
Tightly pack and layer the rolls in a wide nonstick heavy-based pot, seam side down.
When all the leaves are placed in the pan, douse with oil and lemon juice, and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then immediately lower the heat, cover and cook about half an hour over very low heat.
Note: Try using Baharat spice mix in place of the nutmeg.
EGGPLANT AND YOGURT
✔ 2 eggplants, seedless if possible, preferably baladi variety
✔ 3 garlic cloves, minced
✔ 2 cups yogurt
✔ Salt and freshly ground pepper
✔ Dry mint
To roast the eggplant: Wash and pat dry.
Using an oven grill, a barbecue or a gas range, char the eggplant on all sides until tender. Or place over an open flame on the stove and turn until charred on all sides.
To help keep the stove clean, line it with aluminum foil. The roasting takes a few minutes, and the flavor is much better than an oven-baked eggplant.
Cool and peel the eggplant, leaving the flesh attached to the stem. Place on a plate.
Mix together yogurt, garlic and mint.
Season with salt and pepper.
Pour yogurt mixture on the eggplant and serve.
Garnish with roasted pine nuts and fresh mint leaves.
KNAFE EL BABOUR
Knafe, an Arabic dessert made of fine vermicelli- like noodles and goat cheese, is a favorite in Israel. The noodles can be purchased at specialty stores and some supermarkets, as it is also used in other desserts.
✔ Butter (for greasing)
✔ 100 gr. knafe noodles
✔ 100 gr. fresh white goat cheese or crumbled fresh mozzarella
✔ 1 cup sugar syrup (boil together equal amounts of sugar and water until a thick syrup is formed)
✔ 50 gr. peeled pistachio, ground
You will need a round frying pan and a serving plate of the same size or larger.
Butter the frying pan well, including the sides. Cover the bottom with noodles and sprinkle with cheese. Cook over low heat, shaking the frying pan gently as you cook to avoid sticking. Using a spatula, check the bottom of the noodles from time to time and continue cooking until bottom is golden.
Turn the knafe onto a plate and drizzle the syrup on it while still hot. Do not drown it in syrup; the knafeh should not be too sweet, and too much syrup will make it soggy rather than crisp. Sprinkle with pistachio and serve.
Recipes and photos courtesy of El Babour restaurant.
El Babour invites visitors to enjoy the traditional dishes at dinner, offering a tasting menu of the holiday’s dishes, from July 20 until August 20, at a special price of NIS 120 per person.
El Babour Umm el-Fahm, Wadi Ara, (04) 611-4141
El Babour Yokne’am, Kokhav Center, (04) 989-1619
El Babour Express, Kibbutz Mizra, (04) 642-9214