Israel Celebrates Ramadan Too

There are about one and a quarter million Muslims in Israel, and most of them will observe the holy month of Ramadan, which this year begins on the evening of the 29th of July (Islam follows a lunar calendar, in which the months gradually move around the months of the Gregorian calendar). The fasting begins at sun up and lasts until sundown, when the evening’s feast begins. Israeli and Palestinian Muslim cuisine are similar to the cuisines of neighboring Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and to a lesser extent, Egypt, although it has its own distinctive dishes and variations on regional delicacies. For example, the hummous tends to have a stronger lemon flavor instead of the heavy tehina flavor that you find in Egyptian hummous.

Traditionally, the fast is broken by eating a couple of dates, for a quick burst of energy, followed by a cold drink, such as tamarind, which is soaked in water the night before, then strained, sweetened and mixed with rose water and some lemon juice; or Qamar El-Deen, which is made by soaking apricot leather in hot water, mixing it in a food processor or blender, and chilling it before serving.

Soups are served after the long day of fasting, and these help provide the necessary liquids to rehydrate the body. The most popular soups are those made with lentils, vegetables, or freekeh, which is cracked green wheat. Various salads, such as baba ganoush, Arab salad, and hummous are also served at the beginning of the meal.

During Ramadan, unlike the other months of the year, meat is consumed in relatively large quantities. Festive Palestinian chicken dishes such as Musakhan and Makloubeh are served as a main course. Date, walnut and pistachio-filled biscuits, such as Makroud and Mamoul, are served to close the meal and washed down with sweet mint tea.

Partly because I live next to three of the largest Arab towns in Israel, and partly because I lived and studied with Arabs from various countries and like their cuisine, I decided to borrow some of the culinary experience of Ramadan and make a couple of typical dishes at home.

For a starter, I made an Iraqi lentil and meatball soup, which is almost a meal in itself, especially when Ramadan falls in midsummer.

Iraqi Lentil and Meatball Soup

Iraqi Lentil Soup With Meatballs

Serving Size: 6 to 8

2 medium onions, minced

500g (1 pound) ground beef or lamb or both

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1 cup soft bread crumbs

1 teaspoon salt plus salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 cups homemade chicken broth

1 pound brown or yellow lentils

55g (about 2 ounces) angel hair pasta

2 carrots, finely diced

Juice of half a lemon

Preheat an oven to 200C (400F), and line a baking pan with parchment paper. Place half of the onions and the ground meat, parsley, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and allspice in a medium-sized bowl. Mix the meat mixture thoroughly, and form into balls the size of walnuts. Place on the baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Set aside.

Meanwhile, pick any stones from the lentils, place in bowl, cover with cold water, and drain.

In a large pot, sauté the remaining onions in olive oil over medium heat until golden. Add the chicken broth and bring to boil. Add the lentils and the carrots to the soup and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are almost tender.

Break the angel hair pasta into the soup and add the meatballs. Simmer slowly for another 5-10 minutes or until the lentils and noodles are cooked, adding more chicken broth or water as needed. Just before serving, squeeze some lemon juice into soup.

Mr BT and I wish all of our Muslim friends: Ramadan Kareem!

For more Ramadan recipe ideas, see:



Makroud (Date and Sesame Biscuits)




Assyrian Inspired Hannukah

I know I should have made something Greek for Hannukah if I wanted to make something from the relevant ancient enemy of the Macabbees, but I couldn’t find anything that sparked my interest. So, I decided to make an Assyrian dish. They did conquer Israel in 772BC and scattered the tribes throughout the Middle East. But don’t worry, I don’t harbor any bad feelings towards the Assyrians. They are our brothers and still speak a variation of the language of my forefathers, Aramaic. The Assyrians have been Christian for almost two thousand years and make up a small, persecuted, minority in Iraq; many of them fled during the period since the fall of Saddam Hussein because of the violence between the different Muslim factions in Iraq.

Mr BT forgot that we would not be eating at home on Thursday and had taken out some ground beef from the freezer. So, I had to figure out what Hannukah inspired dish I was going to make with ground beef. I didn’t want to make kebab or stuffed vegetables like I normally do. I remembered that I had seen recipes for potato patties stuffed with ground meat, but was always afraid that they would be lead bombs in the stomach. But, in the spirit of Hannukah, I decided to give it a try. Potato patties are eaten in a variety of countries, using a variety of spices or no spices at all. The Russian version are quite bland, while the Algerian and Iraqi versions are quite flavourful. I decided to make a fusion version from Algerian and Assyrian recipes for potato patties filled with minced beef or lamb. The potato exterior is from an Algerian recipe and the meat mixture is Assyrian.

Mr BT calls this type of cooking “Con-fusion” cooking. Con, as in Congress, the opposite of progress. Okay, I know, stop with the bad jokes and get back to cooking.

The potato chaps were surprisingly light and full of spicy goodness. The spices are quite subtle, so make sure you taste the meat before making the patties. If you want to see a good step-by-step pictorial of how to make them, see Mimi’s photos from Israeli Kitchen.

Chag Hannukah Sameach from Mr BT and Baroness Tapuzina!

Potato Chaps or Potato Kibbeh

Serving Size: 4-6 as a main course

Potato Mixture:

1kg (2lbs) white potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

2 eggs

1 medium onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Meat filling:

1/4 kg (1/2lb) lean ground beef

1 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 cup parsley

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup canola oil or oil of your choice

Flour for dredging

Cook potatoes in water, until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash them until smooth. Add eggs, onion, garlic, salt, turmeric, cinnamon and parsley.

In a frying pan, saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Add the ground beef, parsley, pine nuts, and all of the spices. Cook until the meat is cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Moisten your hands with water, and take a couple of tablespoons of the potato mixture, flatten it in the palm of your hand. Place 1 tablespoon of the the meat mixture in the middle. Carefully bring the sides of the potato over the meat mixture. You may have to add a little more of the potato mixture to the top of the patty. Close the patty and flatten it. Moisten your hands in cold water before you make each patty. Place the patties on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Dredge the patties lightly in flour before frying.

Erev Yom Kippur 5770

I think my grandmother (z”l) would have been quite shocked by my erev Yom Kippur menu. It was definitely not the usual family fare. But, I have finally realised that we shouldn’t have a heavy meal before the 25 hour fast. It is just not healthy. So, I collected some interesting recipes for the meal.

I found a very interesting Iraqi fish dish that was adapted from a 13th century Baghdadi cookbook called Kitab al-Tabikh.

Al-Baghdadi’s Kitab al-Tabikh was for long the only medieval Arabic cookery book known to the English-speaking world, thanks to A.J Arberry’s path-breaking 1939 translation as `A Baghdad Cookery Book’ which was re-issued by Prospect Books in 2001 in Medieval Arab Cookery. For centuries, it has been the favourite Arab cookery book of the Turks. The original manuscript is still in Istanbul, and at some point a Turkish sultan commissioned a very handsome copy which can still be seen in The British Library in London. – From Amazon.Com

The recipe called for 1/2 cup of sumac and I was a bit skeptical, but the dish was outstanding. I used a large drumfish, called  מוסר in Hebrew or Mussar, which is a nice firm, meaty fish that was perfect for this dish. The Iraqis probably made this with a type of carp that is found in the Tigris river called Mangar.

I only stuffed one fish for the two of us, so I have enough stuffing left over for one more fish.

Baked Fish with Sumac Stuffing

Serving Size: 4

(Samak Mashwi bil Summaq) From A Baghdad Cookery Book (Kitab al-Tabikh) by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Baghdadi

1 to 2kg whole fish, such as drum fish, barramundi, grey mullet or gilt-head sea bream (you may need 4 fish, depending on the size)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Sumac Stuffing for Fish

For the stuffing:

1/2 cup sumac

1/4 cup fresh za'atar or thyme

1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, cumin, and cinnamon

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

About 3 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 220C (450F).

Place all of the stuffing ingredients in a food processor and process into a paste, as pictured above. Add more water, if needed.

Cut 2 to 3 diagonal slits in the fish and rub the oil and the turmeric on the outside and inside of the fish. Stuff the fish with the sumac mixture and close the incision in the fish with kitchen string, tooth picks, or the silicon ties as shown in the picture above.

Place the fish on a roasting rack and bake in the second level of the oven for about 20 minutes or until the fish is flaky. Cooking time will vary according to the size of the fish.

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash and Olives

My husband is not a big fan of ptitim (in Hebrew and maghrbiyya  in Arabic) or what the rest of the western world calls Israeli couscous. I have been trying to convince him to let me make it, so when I found an interesting recipe on Epicurious, I decided to push him a bit. He said ok. I found some whole wheat ptitim at the supermarket and I could have bought spelt ptitim, but I didn’t want to scare him off too much. This dish calls for preserved lemon which I like very much, but I didn’t have any at home, couldn’t find any in the olive sections of two different supermarkets, and didn’t have time to make any. So, I decided to add some lovely tart Tsuri olives instead that I cracked and pitted. The sweetness of the butternut squash with the tartness of the olives and the crunchy pine nuts and the fragrant hint of cinnamon gave a wonderful texture and taste to this dish. It was a perfect accompaniment to the fish and the salad I made. I think I have converted Mr. BT.

Janna Gur’s Carrot and Date Salad

I am in love with this carrot and date salad. I do not like tzimmes in any shape or form, but I really loved this dish. It calls for fresh dates which I have never cooked with.

Fresh dates are high in vitamin C. They are also a special food for Rosh Hashana. Moroccan Jews dip a medjhoul date in anise seeds, sesame seeds and powdered sugar to “mark the new year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessing and peace for all mankind.”

The crunchy dates and the cooked carrots were perfect together. And the silan (date honey) did not make the dish too sweet. I will definitely make this again.

The finishing piece to this meal was the semifreddo I made the day before. This is a very easy dish to make and would be perfect for any dinner party. I recommend using a strong-tasting honey such as chestnut, eucalyptus, thistle, or heather. The rosemary was quite subtle, so I will steep more rosemary in the milk next time. You need to factor in the cream that you will be folding in later. It will mute the honey and rosemary flavor.

Chestnut Honey, Rosemary, and Goat's Milk Semifreddo

Serving Size: 8

2 cups goat's milk

3 sprigs of rosemary

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup chestnut honey

Pinch of salt

2 cups heavy cream

Put the goat's milk in a heavy saucepan and heat until the milk is steaming, but not boiling. Turn off the heat and add the rosemary. Let it steep for 45 minutes. Taste the milk to make sure that it has a significant rosemary taste. If not, let it steep for another 20 to 30 minutes.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the egg yolks, honey and salt together.

Strain the milk mixture and place the milk in a clean heavy saucepan. Reheat the milk on medium heat, but do not boil. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into yolk mixture; return to same pan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves a path on back of the spoon when a finger is drawn across (do not boil). Strain into another medium bowl; chill covered until cold.

When the custard is cold, whip the cream to soft, thick peaks. If the cream is added when the custard is still warm, it will melt the cream.

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