On my first visit to Israel, many moons ago, I fell in love with the idea of being able to eat all of my meals from a pitta, pizza excepted. I’m a huge fan of Israeli street food and take tremendous pleasure in finding new eateries selling good freshly prepared food, especially something unusual, as well as revisiting my old favourite haunts.
We are currently in a very mournful period of the Hebrew year, approaching the day upon which we fast in memory of the destruction of not just one but two of our temples in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. It’s customary amongst Ashkenazic Jews (mainly of Northern and Eastern European origin) to refrain from eating meat, a symbol of rejoicing for 9 days, (with the exception of Shabbat) leading up to the fast day. Kosher restaurants often roll out special menus and frazzled parents serve a lot of pasta, pizza and vegetarian shnitzel.
There’s no doubt that these 9 days provide something of a challenge in the kitchen and I am going to be posting a few ideas for the uninspired in the days to come. My first effort is a take on Sabich, one of my favourite vegetarian street foods. Sabich was introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews who were forced to flee with little more than the clothes on their back following the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Although ingredients vary somewhat a Sabich sandwich is based on fried eggplant and hard boiled eggs. Tomatoes and cucumbers generally feature and parsley is usually included as well as Techina or Hummus or both. Some versions include boiled potato and amba, a mango pickle of which I’m not a fan. Ideally it should have some spice, saltiness and a variety of textures. When done correctly it’s a delicious and fairly inexpensive snack.
I decided to deconstruct the traditional sandwich and make a salad using the same ingredients but going easy on the carbs by leaving out the pitta. Although calories can be further reduced by brushing the eggplant slices with oil and baking them in the oven I don’t think that this matches the taste of the fried version but feel free to cut both calories and clean up by using the oven rather than the stove top.
The result was a riot of colours on the plate and a terrific combination of flavours and textures in every bite. It got a thumbs up from my better half who graciously helped with the accompanying pictures. Definitely to be repeated!
Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish)
1 medium sized egg plant sliced into thick rounds
4 hard boiled eggs
6 – 10 cherry tomatoes – preferably interesting colours, cut up into random pieces
4 – 5 small radishes, thinly sliced
Leaves from a small handful of parsley
2 green onions, slivered
half a chile pepper, red or green, finely chopped
3 – 4 small pickled cucumbers, sliced diagonally
preserved lemon (regular lemon will work just fine)
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
Fry the eggplant rounds in batches until a light brown colour on each side. Blot excess oil with kitchen paper.
Halve or quarter the hard boiled eggs (for a really fancy version you can use quails’ eggs)
Combine tomatoes, radishes, parsley, green onions, pickles with a generous lug of olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix a tablespoon of raw techina with a teaspoon of pickled lemon or lemon juice. Stir and add water until an appropriate consistency is obtained. It should be a thick liquid which coats the back of a spoon.
Arrange the various elements on a platter so that all ingredients are visible allowing the colours to shine through. Sprinkle chile pepper over the top and dot drizzle techina over. If you wish, you can also sprinkle za’atar and / or sumac over.