Jerusalem’s flavors

Try some cuisine associated with the city.

Cooking Oil 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cooking Oil 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On Jerusalem Day, which is celebrated this year on Wednesday, May 8, I plan to cook chicken soup with kneidlach the way my mother, Pauline Kahn-Luria, made it after she moved to Jerusalem. During the 30 years that she lived in Jerusalem, my mother adopted Israeli flavors and added them to some of her Ashkenazi dishes like her Shabbat chicken soup, which she seasoned with cumin and fresh coriander.
“In a city in which more peoples and religions have met for longer times than any other place in the world, different cuisines and varied eating habits were created, naturally,” writes Sherry Ansky in the Hebrew-language book, Eating in Jerusalem (“Ochlim Biyrushalayim”). The book was published to accompany the “Eating in Jerusalem” exhibition, for which Ansky was the curator.
“It is actually this difference, full of contrasts, that creates the unique culinary environment of the city. In a way Jerusalem has a culinary tradition that has been continuing for at least 3,000 years,” says Ansky.
Yakir went to the exhibition, which took place in the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem in 1992, and was interested in the display of foods used in the time of King Solomon. It demonstrated that the basic ingredients of that period are still important today. According to Eating in Jerusalem, people enjoyed sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses and flavored their food with coriander, mint, thyme, oil, vinegar and wine. Wheat, barley, buckwheat, millet and lentils were used fresh, roasted or ground. Bread made at the time was something like today’s Iraqi pita. There was a variety of vegetables and fruits, and on the king’s table there were meats and wild birds.
To illustrate Jerusalem’s cooking at the time of Herod, Ansky provides a recipe for quail marinated and roasted with red wine, chopped sage, olive oil and date honey (silan), with a ground lamb stuffing flavored with sauteed onion, garlic, sage, fresh peas, parsley, raisins, chopped dates and pine nuts. If you don’t have quail, such a dish would be delicious made with baby chickens.
A traditional dish typical of Jerusalem today is kubbeh soup, which, according to Ansky, is no longer just for Iraqis and Kurds, but for everyone who knows good food.
“No matter where someone’s grandmother was born,” writes Ansky, “in Jerusalem everyone is willing to swear that his grandmother’s kubbeh is the best.”
A popular kind is kubbeh hamustah – fine and coarse bulgur wheat dumplings filled with ground beef, garlic and chopped celery and poached in chicken soup with zucchini, garlic, fried onion, chard leaves and sour salt.
Jerusalem hamin (cholent), wrote Ansky, has fried lamb patties with fresh herbs and a bag filled with a mixture of rice, ground lamb and fried onions added to the pot of white beans, marrow bones, beef, onion, potatoes and eggs in their shells.
I didn’t taste Jerusalem kugel until I moved to Jerusalem when I was 18, and since then it has been a favorite of mine (see recipe). Ansky, who loved Jerusalem kugel since she was a young girl, wrote that it’s surprising to see “pale Ashkenazim wolfing down this very peppery, oily kugel, like the ones made by Miriam Zaltsman in Mea She’arim” in one of the neighborhood’s old stone ovens.
In Jerusalem: A Cookbook, authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi describe Jerusalem food as “very personal, private stories immersed in great culinary traditions that often overlap and interact in unpredictable ways, creating food mixes and culinary combinations that belong to specific groups but also belong to everybody else.”
Among their favorite recipes are a simple couscous with tomato and onion made by Sami’s mother when he was growing up in Muslim east Jerusalem, and a similar Jewish Italian-Tripolitan dish made by Yotam’s dad in west Jerusalem from small pasta balls called ptitim.
With Jerusalem’s “immense tapestry of cuisines” and the countless number of cultures, some might say there is no such thing as a local cuisine, commented Ottolenghi and Tamimi.
“However, if you take a step back and look at the greater picture, there are some typical elements that are easily identifiable in most local cuisines and crop up throughout the city... Stuffed vegetables with rice or rice and meat... appear on almost every dinner table. Extensive use of olive oil, lemon juice and olives is also commonplace. Baked pastries stuffed with cheese in all sorts of guises are found in most cultures.”
Meatballs are another popular food.
“Together with... pickled cucumbers and a plate of hummus, meatballs are one of the ubiquitous Jerusalem dishes, celebrated by absolutely everyone – traditional Jews, fervent Chistians, Palestinian eateries, and funky fusion chefs,” write Ottolenghi and Tamimi. “But... they are essentially a ‘mama’ food: something simple, basic and familiar, yet loaded with memories and associations, and every Jerusalemite will have his or her own version.”
Their lemony leek meatballs, a Turkish-Jewish dish, are made of beef and leek patties sauteed in oil, and then simmered in chicken stock with lemon juice. The woman who gave them the recipe advised them with a big smile: “Sure, you can do it differently – but only if you want it to come out wrong!” ■
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and of Feast from the Mideast
This recipe is from Jerusalem: A Cookbook.
Authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi write: “In Jerusalem, just as famous as gefilte fish is chraimeh, the ‘queen’ of all dishes for Tripolitan [Libyan] Jews... Families pride themselves on their particular chraimeh recipe. It showcases the true skills of the Tripolitan cook – and, with variations on this theme, of other North African cooks – evident in the texture of the sauce, its color, piquancy, and heat.”
Sea bass or any type of white fish can be used instead of the salmon.
“Chraimeh is served as a starter, warm or at room temperature, with challah for dipping, a slice of lemon, and a jug of water to calm the heat. This dish is easily reheated and the sauce is so tasty that you may want to double the amount so you have more for dipping the bread.”
Makes 4 servings 110 ml. (scant 1⁄2 cup) sunflower oil 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour salt and freshly ground black pepper 4 salmon steaks, about 450 grams (1 pound) 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped 2 tsp. sweet paprika 1 tsp. caraway seeds, dry toasted and freshly ground 1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin rounded 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper rounded 1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon 1 green chili (hot pepper), coarsely chopped 2⁄3 cup water 3 Tbsp. tomato paste 2 tsp. sugar 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges, plus 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
Heat 2 tablespoons sunflower oil over high heat in a large frying pan for which you have a lid. Place flour in a shallow bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, and toss fish in it. Shake off excess flour and sear fish for a minute or two on each side, until golden. Remove fish and wipe the pan clean.
Place garlic, spices, chili and 2 tablespoons oil in a food processor and blitz to form a thick paste. You might need to add a little more oil to bring everything together.
Pour remaining oil into the frying pan, heat well, and add the spice paste. Stir and fry for just 30 seconds, so that the spices don’t burn. Quickly but carefully (it may spit!) add the water and tomato paste to stop the spices from cooking.
Bring to a simmer and add the sugar, lemon juice, 3⁄4 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Taste for seasoning.
Put fish in sauce, bring to a gentle simmer, cover pan and cook for 7 to 11 minutes, depending on size of fish, until it is just done. Remove pan from heat, take off the lid, and leave to cool.
Serve fish just warm or at room temperature.
Garnish each serving with cilantro and a lemon wedge.
This rich, peppery, caramel-flavored kugel is served in Jerusalem synagogues for the kiddush after Shabbat morning services. The kugel is dense and rich and has an intriguing peppery yet slightly sweet taste. It bakes all night in a very low-heat oven and turns deep brown throughout.
If you prefer to bake the kugel faster, you can bake it uncovered at medium heat (180ºC or 350ºF) for 1 hour. It will still taste good but its color will not be as deep. You can reheat any leftover kugel slices by wrapping them in foil and heating them in a toaster oven on medium heat.
Makes 8 to 10 servings 350 gr. (12 ounces) fine egg noodles 3 large eggs 1⁄3 cup sugar 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. ground pepper
Generously grease a round 8-cup casserole. Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water about 5 minutes or until barely tender. Drain, return to pot, and toss briefly with 3 tablespoons of the oil. Keep on stove so noodles remain warm; do not cover.
Pour remaining oil into a heavy saucepan, and then add sugar. Heat over low heat, shaking pan gently from time to time; do not stir. Cook 15 to 20 minutes or until sugar turns deep brown.
Gradually add mixture to noodles, mixing well with tongs. Caution: the caramelized sugar is very hot.
Beat eggs with salt and pepper. Add to noodle mixture and mix well. Transfer to greased casserole. Cover with foil and with a lid.
Put kugel in oven set at 82-93ºC (180- 200ºF). Bake kugel overnight, or up to 14 hours. Run a knife around its edge and turn out onto a round platter. Serve hot, in slices.