Although many people attribute Jewish food to the heavy monochromatic fare of Eastern Europe, Israeli food is far from that.
The Ashkenazi Jews, from Europe and Russia may have set the culinary tone of the new country but their cuisine quickly adopted local flavor.
Their food began to be influenced by the Arab population living along side them and by the agricultural bounty of fruits and vegetables that were unavailable in the old world.
Beginning from the 1950’s, the large influx of Jews from Arab countries added another layer of diversity and color to Israeli cuisine. It is not surprising that they were known as Arab Jews because their language, dress, cuisine…their entire culture, in fact, was a Middle Eastern one, and not very different from their Christian or Muslim neighbors.
Iraq, North Africa, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon have all contributed to the culinary heritage in this small country. Much of it was introduced by Jewish immigrants but not all.
In Israel there is a sizable population of Lebanese Jews as well as a small group of Christian Lebanese, Druze and Muslim who sought refuge from the increasing political turmoil of their homeland. They came with little but the memories of their mother’s and grandmother’s cooking and the longing to reproduce that flavor in their new home.
For those who don’t have Lebanese grandparents, it is still possible to enjoy authentic Lebanese food at restaurants around the country. One particularly popular venue which is frequented by locals and tourists alike is the Lebanese restaurant in Abu Ghosh (The Tasting Menu has an interesting review , I have also been there and enjoyed the food).
I would love to travel to Lebanon and experience its culture, food and people first hand, perhaps one day. As they say, inshallah.
Lebanese Stuffed Onions
This recipe was inspired by Aromas of Aleppo , a Syrian cookbook by Poopa Dweck and a Hebrew Lebanese cookbook taken from Isaac Diwan’s house, a friend who lived in Sidon until moving to Israel at age nine ( I photocopied part of the book and need to ask him for the author’s name (his relative it turns out) when he returns from traveling).
Syrian and Lebanese cuisine, as one would expect from their proximity and shared history, are very similar. The Syrian version of the stuffed onions uses tamarind concentrate instead of pomegranate. Israeli Arab and Palestinian cooking also share many of the same flavors and technique, such as their fondness for stuffed vegetables and use pomegranate syrup.
The secret of this recipe is the slow cooking time which helps to caramelize the onions adding a wonderful depth of flavor.
3-4 large dry onions
500 grams ground beef
1/3 short grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup pomegranate concentrate
Juice from one lemon
10 pitted prunes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Combine all the ingredients for the stuffing and knead well.
Cut a vertical slit down the side of each onion to the core and remove the outer skin. Put the onions in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the onions layers begin to soften and come apart. Drain and remove the onions from the saucepan.
Alternatively, cook the onions in the microwave for several minutes, until the layers are pliable (this is what I usually do).
Separate the individual layers of each onion.
Spoon a tablespoon of meat filling into each onion layer and roll tightly. The onions can be frozen on a baking sheet, if desired. Once frozen transfer to a freezer bag for easy storage.
Preheat the oven to 180 F
Place the stuffed onions in a medium ovenproof saucepan, placing the prunes interspersed between them. In a small bowl, mix the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, salt, 1 cup water, and sugar, if using. Pour over the onions. Top with an ovenproof plate to keep onions from opening. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the juices have thickened and the meat is fully cooked. Transfer to the oven and continue to cook the onions for 1 hour -1 1/2 hours. To brown the onions, remove the cover of the pot for the last 30 minutes, keeping watch so they don’t burn.