The past couple weeks have been quite cold and dreary here in the North of Israel. And we have received a fair amount of rain, for which everyone is more than thankful, as it has relieved our eight year drought. I must say, the clouds have created some rather magnificent sunsets, and the wind, hail, thunderstorms, and pouring rain have given me a respite to work on unfinished projects indoors. Still, we manage to get out and hike the mountains and wadis in the area when the sun does peak through. But in the meantime, I’ve been cooking and working on some regional recipes.
Israeli society is made up of a large strata of people from all over the world, but it seems that a majority of the population are former refugees from neighboring Arabic countries. We have friends from Yemen, Egypt, Libya, lots of Iraqis, plus the Druze and Lebanese. Each come here with their own culture and their own recipes. One of the most common types of food is memuleh (mem-oo-LEH), or stuffed. They stuff EVERYTHING here, from the typical dolmah (grape leaves filled with spiced meat and/or rice mixture) to filled potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peppers, squash, eggplant, and everything else you can core out and fill or roll up. The flavors vary widely depending on the local culture. The inner stuffing can be spicy or sweet, savory or crunchy – but never bland. Sometimes the veggies are baked, other times poached or most typically, stewed in a broth or sauce.
So, today I thought I’d share a few of my favorite recipes which include met as well as vegan options. They can be used as appetizers (stuffed mushrooms), entrees or side dishes. Get your aprons on and get ready to cook!
EGYPTIAN STUFFED ACORN SQUASH
This is much more simple than I thought it would be to make. The rich flavors are warm and the spices not too intense, but create quite a depth of palate to warm up family and guests on a cold winter day. A little stuffing definitely goes a long way for this. I stuffed three rather large squash (enough for two meals) and had plenty of the filling to freeze and use later in another dish. because it has so much color and aroma, this is a perfect meal for when company comes. Also, freezes well – and tastes even better the next day. This recipe serves 3 really hungry people or 6 with the addition of a side dish or two, and only takes about 45 minutes to make.
- 3 medium-large acorn squash
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 pound (1/2 kilo) lean ground beef
- 1 cup rice, cooked (I used a multicolor Basmati/brown/purple/red blend)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- juice of 1 squeezed orange
- salt & pepper
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
First, cook the rice according to package directions until just light and fluffy. Preheat oven to 400* F/200* C. Wash the squash and cut down the center lengthwise. Remove the seeds and stringy bits. Brush with olive oil and place, flesh side down, into a baking dish filled about an inch high with water to make a bain marie. Cover with foil and roast for about 30-40 minutes. While the squash is in the oven, brown the onion, garlic and ground beef in a heavy skillet. Add in all the spices and stir over low heat. Mix in the rice. Add orange juice and stir. Cover and let sit on low heat. When the squash is tender, remove from oven and set individual squash boats on a platter. Scoop the meat-rice mixture into the shallows, letting some fall onto the plate. Can top with chopped parsley or cilantro (cuzbara), or pomegranate arils. Serve hot.
PERSIAN STUFFED KHAZILIM (Eggplant) – Vegan – serves 4
I was served this dish a few weeks ago at a friend’s home. She is originally from Iran, so this was quite exotic and fancy. You can serve it plain or with the yogurt sauce, as Raz did. Either way, it’s very filling with bright flavors that just pop in your mouth. the combination is smoky, sweet, with a mild spice. Just over-the-top delicious!!!
- 2 large purple eggplant
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 cups couscous (small grain)
- 1 cup unsweetened apple juice
- 1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped (reserve 2 Tbsp if making sauce)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice (English pepper, here)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 pomegranate
- 1/3 cup roasted pinenuts
- 1/2 cup yogurt (I use goat milk yogurt)
Preheat the oven to 400*F/200* C. Wash & split the eggplants lengthways and brush each half with a little olive oil. Wrap in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet in the oven for about half an hour until the eggplant is soft, yielding a bit squishy to the touch (Raz grilled hers on a barbecue, which gave the eggplant the most glorious smoky flavor!! I suggest you try it this way, if at all possible). While the eggplant roasts, prepare the couscous according to package directions, but substitute 1 cup of apple juice for the same amount of water. Cook until light and fluffy with a fork. In a very small frying pan on medium high heat, add the pine nuts and roast about two minutes, shaking pan gently. Do not let them burn! When the couscous is done, gently fold in the spices, salt, pepper, mint leaves, roasted pine nuts and 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate arils. Take the eggplant out of the oven, carefully unwrap (watch the steam) and scoop out about 1/3 of the eggplant. In the created well, spoon in the couscous mixture. Top with mint leaves and sprinkle over a few of the pomegranate arils. You can make a sauce with the yogurt and mint leaves, or keep it vegan and serve as is… enjoy!
I make this just about every Friday night as an appetizer for our Shabbat dinner. We absolutely love them, and I think you will too. Not only are they tasty, but it’s a really simple recipe to fix. This recipe serves 4.
- 4 extra large, jumbo mushrooms or 8 medium mushrooms
- 1 white or yellow onion, diced into small cubes
- 2 clove garlic, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large stalks mangold or Swiss chard
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon zata’ar (found in most large grocery stores)
- 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 350*F/170*C. Clean mushrooms and remove stems. Chop up the stems, onion, garlic, and leafy greens (not the stalk part). Set the mushroom caps in a slightly greased baking pan. In large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Let warm slightly and add the chopped onions and garlic. Sauté about 3-5 minutes until just softened. Add in the reserved mushroom bits and mangold or chard leaves until wilted. Stir in the zata’ar, salt and pepper. Scoop by teaspoons into the mushroom caps. Top with the breadcrumb and sesame seeds. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Serve hot.
ISRAELI STUFFED PEPPERS- DRUZE STYLE
So this is an interesting dish with all sorts of variations and flavors. The Druze make it with ground lamb, but you can substitute ground beef or turkey. The peppers are stuffed and stewed in a tomato sauce. You can also use zucchini if the peppers don’t agree with you. Different cultures add chopped prunes or dates to sweeten the sauce. Some use a beef or chicken broth in lieu of the tomato sauce. They are all regional variations. Mint leaves enhance the lamb flavor, but if you use another meat, you might opt for no mint. Either way, this is a recipe that’s fun to play around with and adapt to your own tastes. This is my take on the Druze specialty. I hope you are not too confused, but it’s a great one-pot meal to try on a chilly day.
- 4 bell peppers – the red and yellow are prettiest and sweetest (or try zucchini, tomatoes, or onions)
- 1/2 large red/purple onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 pound (1/2 kilo) ground lamb (beef or turkey)
- 1 cup Basmati rice
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves, optional
- 1 chopped tomato
- 1 16 ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 chopped dates, pits removed
- 6 chopped prunes
Slice tops off peppers, core and seed. Mix all the fillings in a large bowl… these are uncooked ingredients!!! Stuff the peppers, but loosely! DO NOT TIGHTLY PACK!!! Thump the peppers on the bottom of the counter to get the filling to the bottom. Leave about 1/4 inch/1 cm spacing at the top as the filling expands when cooked. Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a large bowl. Place the veggies in the bottom of a large stockpot and pour the sauce all over the top of the stuffed veggies. Place the pepper tops on top of the stuffed peppers. Heat the stuffed veggies until just boiling, the cover and simmer for 1 hour. Serve with sauce spooned over the top.
WINTER AVOCADO & GRAPEFRUIT SALAD
Obviously, this is not a stuffed dish, but we’ve been enjoying it a lot lately as a side dish to the stuffed veggies. It’s seasonal for us this time of year and is healthy, light and vegan. Serves 4.
- 2 medium-large avocados
- 1/2 small red/purple onion
- 2 grapefruits or pomelos
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- salt and pepper
Peel and slice the avocados into a pretty serving bowl. Peel and thinly shave/slice the half of onion. Peel the grapefruit. Segment the deseeded and destined grapefruit or pomelo. Place 3/4 of the segments in the dish and in a small bowl, squeeze the remaining grapefruit juice (from 1/2 of the fruit). Add dijon, freshly cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt. Mix thoroughly and pour over salad. Quite refreshing…