Friendship food

Middle Eastern chicken on skewers (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Middle Eastern chicken on skewers
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
For a recent celebration of the friendship between Israel and Turkey, hosted jointly by the Los Angeles consulates of both countries, Yaara Segal of the Israeli Consulate asked us to recommend what dishes to serve.
Coming up with a list of dishes that would appeal to both Israelis and Turks was easy, since the culinary cultures of the two Mediterranean countries have a lot in common. Some dishes that are favorites in Israel, such as burekas (savory filled flaky pastries) and malabi (creamy pudding), are in fact variations of classic Turkish dishes. People in both countries share a love for eggplant, peppers, bulgur wheat, flatbreads, baklava and much more.
The menu at the party turned out to be perfect for Israel’s Independence Day.
The dishes that the Israeli and the Turkish chefs prepared were casual, easy-to-serve and convenient for eating outdoors.
There were two buffets – one of Israeli food and another of Turkish food. Both the Israeli and the Turkish tables had hummus and grilled eggplant salad. The Israeli hummus, which was garnished with green s’hug (hot pepper and garlic relish) was spicier. Yogurt gave the Turkish grilled eggplant salad its creaminess, while tehina enriched the Israeli eggplant dip, which was sprinkled with red pepper and chopped parsley, and served with thick, tasty pita.
On the Israeli table there were bowls of tomato-cucumber-onion salad, tabbouleh, marinated cucumbers with red onions, and matbuha salad made of sweet and hot peppers cooked with tomatoes (see recipe). Stuffed grape leaves, chicken shish kebabs, falafel and potato burekas were served on platters.
The highlights of the Turkish table were stuffed mini sweet peppers with rice (see recipe) and vegetarian lentil “meatballs.” There also were olive-oil-dressed broccoli, carrots and other cooked vegetables, green salad, and dried bean pilaki (stew) with vegetables (see recipe), as well as trays of roasted lamb served with rice with raisins and pine nuts. Desserts included baklava and malabi.
In her remarks, R. Gulru Gezer, the Turkish consul-general, talked about the long history of the Jews in Turkey, the friendship between Israel and Turkey, and the two countries’ culinary similarities. We both love dolma (stuffed vegetables), she said, and she commented that the stuffed peppers and stuffed grape leaves could have graced either the Turkish or the Israeli table.
The consul-general of Israel, Sam Grundwerg, also emphasized Israel’s and Turkey’s shared tastes in food and announced that he was the first to let Consul Gezer know that in Hebrew, her last name means carrot! ■ Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.
Matbuha – zesty pepper dip This flavorful medley of hot and sweet peppers cooked with tomatoes is usually served as a dip with pita bread.
It’s also good as a hot or cold sauce or an accompaniment for meat, fish or grains.
This version of the dish is medium hot; increase the amount of hot peppers or leave in their seeds and ribs if you would like it hotter, or season the cooked mixture with cayenne pepper to taste. To make the preparation easier, you can chop the garlic and hot peppers in a mini food processor.
Serves 6 to 8
■ 3 or 4 Tbsp. olive oil
■ 2 large sweet red peppers or 1 red and 1 yellow, diced small
■ 2 large sweet green peppers or additional red peppers, diced small
■ 1.1 kg. (2½ pounds) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
■ Salt to taste
■ 6 large garlic cloves, chopped
■ 3 jalapeño peppers or other hot peppers, seeds and ribs removed (see note below), chopped
■ 1 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
■ ½ cup small cilantro (fresh coriander) sprigs, chopped
Heat oil in a wide stew pan. Add both types sweet peppers and sauté over medium- low heat for about 10 minutes or until softened. Remove peppers with slotted spoon.
Add tomatoes to pan, sprinkle with salt and heat until sizzling. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 20 minutes.
Add sautéed peppers, garlic, jalapeño peppers and cumin, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until sweet peppers are tender and mixture is thick. Add cilantro and cook for 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. Stir before serving.
Note: Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers if your skin is sensitive.
If not using gloves, wash your hands afterwards.
Turkish eggplant salad with garlic and yogurt To make this light, tangy dip, simply put the whole eggplants on the grill or in the oven, then chop their pulp with garlic in a food processor or with a knife. You then add yogurt, a splash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Serve the salad with fresh pita bread.
Serves 6
■ 2 large eggplants
■ 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
■ 6 to 8 Tbsp. yogurt
■ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
■ 2 tsp. strained fresh lemon juice, or to taste
■ Salt and freshly ground pepper
■ Cayenne pepper or semi-hot red pepper to taste Prick eggplant a few times with fork.
Grill eggplant above medium-hot coals for about 1 hour, broil it for about 40 minutes, turning often, or bake it at 205ºC (400ºF) for about 1 hour. When done, eggplant's flesh should be tender and eggplant should look collapsed.
Remove eggplant peel. Cut off stem.
Cut eggplant in half and drain off any liquid from inside. Finely chop eggplant flesh with knife or in a food processor by pulsing; do not process it for too long in the food processor so it won’t become a liquid puree.
Transfer eggplant to a bowl. Stir in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Drain any liquid from yogurt and stir into eggplant mixture. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Stuffed peppers with rice, pine nuts and currants Rice with pine nuts and dried fruit is a special-occasion dish in the Middle East and North Africa. In Turkey, it’s also a popular stuffing for vegetables.
In this recipe, the stuffing is flavored with onions sautéed in olive oil. The recipe uses average-size sweet peppers but you can use mini sweet peppers and decrease the baking time.
Serves 6 or 7
■ 5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
■ 3 medium onions, finely chopped
■ ¾ cup long-grain white rice
■ ¼ cup pine nuts
■ 2 Tbsp. currants or raisins
■ 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
■ 2 tsp. dried mint
■ ¼ tsp. ground allspice or cinnamon
■ ½ tsp. sugar
■ Salt and freshly ground pepper
■ 1¼ cups water
■ 6 or 7 fairly small red, green or yellow bell peppers (total weight about 1 to 1.1 kg. or 2¼ to 2½ pounds
■ Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
Stuffing: Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a sauté pan, add onions and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add rice and pine nuts, and stir over low heat for 5 minutes. Add currants, tomatoes, mint, allspice, sugar, salt and pepper; cook for 2 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for about 12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Taste and adjust seasoning; rice will not be cooked yet.
Preheat oven to 175ºC (350ºF). Cut a slice off stem end of peppers. Reserve slice, leaving stem on; remove core and seeds from inside pepper. Spoon stuffing into peppers and cover with reserved slices. Stand them in a baking dish in which they just fit. Add 1½ cups hot water to dish. Sprinkle peppers with about 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Cover and bake about 1 hour or until peppers are tender. Serve hot or cold, with lemon wedges.
Bean pilaki – white bean and vegetable stew In Turkey, dried beans are often cooked with other vegetables such as carrots, celery, potatoes or peppers. For a colorful addition, I sometimes cook green beans separately and add them at the last minute. Some cooks flavor this dish only with salt, pepper, lemon juice and a little sugar, and omit the other spices. Serve this stew at room temperature as an appetizer, or hot as a side dish or a meatless main course.
Serves 6 to 8
■ 9 cups water, divided
■ 450 gr. (1 pound) dried white or brown beans (2 ¼ to 2½ cups), sorted and rinsed (see note below)
■ 450 gr. (1 pound) green beans, ends removed, cut in 3 pieces (optional)
■ 3 medium tomatoes, diced, or 2 to 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
■ 2 medium carrots, diced
■ 2 celery ribs, diced
■ 3 garlic cloves, chopped
■ 5 to 7 Tbsp. olive oil
■ 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
■ Salt and freshly ground pepper
■ 2 to 3 tsp. ground cumin
■ 2 to 3 tsp. ground coriander (optional)
■ ½ tsp. sugar
■ 3 large onions, chopped
■ 1 to 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste
■ Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
■Chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)
Bring 7 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Add white beans. Cover and cook over low heat for about 1 to 1½ hours or until beans are tender.
Add green beans to a medium-large saucepan of boiling salted water and boil uncovered over high heat for 6 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well.
In saucepan used to cook green beans, combine tomatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 cups water, or enough to cover the ingredients.
Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add potatoes, salt and pepper, and cook for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender, adding more water as necessary so that stew won’t become dry. With a slotted spoon, add cooked white beans, reserving their liquid. Add cumin, coriander and sugar, and cook over low heat to blend flavors for about 10 minutes.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat remaining oil, add onions and sauté over medium heat, stirring often for 15 minutes or until deeply browned. Add to pan of white beans. Cover and heat gently for 5 minutes. Add green beans and 3 or 4 tablespoons cooking liquid from the dried beans, or enough to moisten the stew, and heat through, uncovered. Add lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with parsley and serve at room temperature.
Note: Instead of cooking dried beans, you can use 3 ½ or 4 cans (400 gr. or 15 ounces each) of cooked beans, drained.
Middle Eastern chicken on skewers Skewer the chicken pieces alone or alternate them with the vegetables.
Serve the grilled chicken with s’hug (hot pepper garlic relish) or another hot sauce, and with fresh pita.
If you have time, let the chicken sit in the refrigerator with its savory marinade of lemon juice, pepper, oregano and olive oil for a few hours so it absorbs the flavor.
Serves 2 or 3
■ 680 gr. (1½ pounds) boneless chicken breasts or thighs, skin removed
■ 2 Tbsp. strained, fresh lemon juice
■ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
■ ½ tsp. ground white pepper
■ ¾ tsp. dried oregano
■ A few shakes cayenne
■ 1 red or green bell pepper (optional)
■ 1 medium onion (optional)
■ Salt
■ 12 small or medium mushrooms, stems removed (optional)
■ Fresh mint leaves and small parsley sprigs (optional)
Cut chicken in pieces with about 3.2 cm. (1¼ inch) sides. Put in a bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil, white pepper, oregano and cayenne. Cover and marinate for 6 hours in refrigerator. If using bamboo skewers, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes so they won’t burn.
Cut pepper in squares about same size as chicken. Quarter onion lengthwise and cut each piece in half. Sprinkle chicken with salt. Thread chicken and vegetables on skewers. Brush with marinade. If using bamboo skewers, put foil on ends to prevent burning.
Grill above glowing coals or broil about 10 cm. (4 inches) from flame for about 10 to 12 minutes, turning often.
To check, cut into a large piece – chicken should not be pink inside.
Serve on a platter with mint leaves and parsley.