El Babor restaurant in Acre combines local traditional Arab cuisine with modern-day techniques. One of the first chefs to introduce local Arab cuisine to the Israeli public was Hussam Abbas of El Babor. I’m not talking about the usual grilled meats, hummus and tehina combination but the more sophisticated cuisine that is inspired by tradition and seasonal herbs.
Now a chain of restaurants in the North, El Babor has a fish branch on the scenic coast of Acre, which recently launched its summer menu. Chef Shadi Bshara, who is in charge of the El Babor and the Sea in Acre, bases his dishes on the traditional cuisine but adds a new twist, using seasonal fish, vegetables and fruit.
The restaurant is not kosher, but we asked the chef to give us a taste of his creations. These include a sardine salad that can be a starter or a main dish for lunch; a simple fillet of grouper dish and a meat dish of lamb chops. To round off the meal, we got Abbas’s recipe for an unforgettable knafe, the classic traditional dessert made of thin shredded pastry heated in butter, margarine or palm oil, then spread with soft white slightly salty cheese and topped with more pastry.
A thick syrup of sugar, water and a few drops of rosewater or orange blossom water is poured on the pastry during the final minutes of cooking. Often the top layer of pastry is tinted with orange food coloring. Crushed pistachios are sprinkled on top as a garnish. Try this recipe, and you’ll never want the commercial kind again.
SARDINE SALAD WITH SEASONAL FRUIT
For the sardines:
✔ 1 kg. fresh sardines or anchovies, heads and tails removed
✔ 2 kg. kosher salt
✔ 50 gr. whole dry chili
✔ 2 or 3 bay leaves
✔ 1 liter olive oil Place sardines in a large bowl.
Cover with salt and refrigerate for 3 days. Remove fish from salt and save the salt. With your fingers, gently pull the skeleton out of the fish, and cut each fish into 2 fillets. Wash fish and return to the bowl with the salt for 1 more day.
Remove fish fillets from salt, discard the salt and wash the fish in water.
Place the washed fillets in a bowl, add chili and bay leaves and cover with oil.
For the salad:
✔ 100 gr. apricots, pitted and chopped
✔ 50 gr. cherries, pitted and chopped
✔ 2 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
✔ 2 green onions, coarsely chopped
✔ Juice of 1 lemon
✔ 1 tsp. olive oil
Toss all the ingredients in a bowl. Heap the salad on a serving plate and top with the sardines. Serve with tehina or labaneh.
OVEN-ROASTED GROUPER FILLET
✔ 1 kg. grouper, sliced into 4 steaks (250 gr.each)
✔ ½ kg. malukhiya, finely chopped (see note)
✔ 6 cloves garlic, minced
✔ 4 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ 1½ cups water
✔ Pinch each salt and pepper
Note: Malukhiya are greens popular in Arab cuisine. They are available in most markets. The name comes from the slightly salty taste. If you can’t find it, use another kind of greens such as Turkish spinach.
Preheat oven to 180°.
Rub each fish fillet with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Heat 4 Tbsp. oil in a wide and low pot. Lower heat and sauté the garlic a few seconds, then add the malukhiya and sauté 6 or 7 minutes over low heat. Add the water, bring to a boil and turn off the heat.
Season with salt and pepper.
Place the fish fillets on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the fish to the pot with the malukhiya and cook together for 3 to 4 minutes to combine the flavors. Serve with lemon.
✔ 3 whole lamb chops (250 gr.)
✔ 10 cherry tomatoes
✔ 120 gr. okra
✔ 1 cup beef broth
✔ 2 whole chili peppers
✔ Pinch salt and pepper
✔ 1 clove garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 180°.
To prepare the vegetables: In a pot with oil, deep fry the okra for 3 minutes. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
In a deep skillet or a wide pot, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and sauté the garlic a few seconds.
Add the cherry tomatoes and sweat them for a few minutes.
Add the whole chilies, sauté 1 to 2 minutes, and then the fried okra. Pour in ½ cup of the beef broth and season with salt and pepper.
Cook while tossing, about 5 to 6 minutes, until tomatoes are cooked.
Meanwhile, quickly sear the lamb chops on a hot grilling skillet on all sides and place on a baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let the chops rest for 1 minute.
To serve, place the okra and tomato stew on a plate and top with chops. Pour a little of the beef broth on top and serve.
✔ 100 gr. knafe noodles (available in the market or pastry shops)
✔ 50 gr. soft butter
✔ 100 gr. goat cheese (or mozzarella), crumbled
✔ 1 cup sugar syrup
✔ 50 gr. pistachios, crushed
You will need a large round skillet and a serving plate that is the same circumference as the skillet.
Grease the skillet generously with butter.
Spread the knafe noodles on the skillet in an even layer. Crumble the cheese, spreading it evenly over the noodles. Cook while shaking the skillet in a circular motion to avoid the pastry from sticking to the bottom.
Using a knife, check the bottom from time to time to see if it is done.
When the bottom is golden, turn the knafe on to the serving plate. Pour the syrup while the knafe is hot. Start with pouring about ½ cup of syrup, and check to see if more is needed. It is best not to douse the knafe with too much syrup. Sprinkle the pistachios on top and serve warm. Photos and recipes courtesy of El Babor and the Sea, 16 Hahagana Street, Acre promenade. Tel: (04) 628-9115.