tomato and green plum salad

SPRING

Spring brings with it many unexpected things in Jerusalem, including changeable weather, donkeys and a visit from US President Donald Trump. (No, those two are not related.)

Trump's first overseas trip as President and his first visit here period had me in a major panic when I realised that my press card had expired. Yes, yes, I know, journalists are a disorganised breed and I so fit in there...

But with last minute help from France 24 and the Israeli Government Press office, I had my  card in my hand just before Air Force One touched down, and the Donald tried to hold his wife's hand as they stepped onto the tarmac, but she swatted it away. ("The slap heard around the world," etc etc seemed to get as much international attention as anything he said.) It was a high paced visit, including the Old City in lock-down so the American first family could go to pray first at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where it's believed Jesus was crucified, and at the Jewish holy site, the Western Wall. Here's part of my live report on this video - and I'm talking to my Aussie mate Annette Young back in the studio in Paris. (People often find it hard to tell us apart...)

  Donald Trump put the photo of himself at the Western Wall on his Twitter account. 

Donald Trump put the photo of himself at the Western Wall on his Twitter account. 

Have to admit that my favourite caption for that photo of Trump at the Wall comes from from the very funny Jackie Jennings, @ohhijackie --

"Who paid for you?" he whispered, but the old Wall keeps her secrets.

Then after 27 crazy hours, which cost the US tax payers millions of dollars, just like that, they were gone. 'Donald J Trump has left the building.' Exhausted journalists could go back to cooking. And meeting donkeys. Thought I was hallucinating for a moment there, as there was a fence up on my usual path and a posse of  curious donkeys gazing out.  (I've learnt that dogs and donkeys don't mix, at least not on the first date.) It's been that kind of week. 

HEALTH

Spring means lighter foods – including seasonal fruit and vegetables like the small sour green plums now available in the Jerusalem markets which star in the tomato salad below.

Today's recipes are dedicated to Food is Love photographer David Mane who is using diet to fight a chronic medical condition. In an effort to reduce underlying inflammation, he now eats no meat, chicken eggs, yellow cheese, bread, in fact no grains that contain gluten and also no sugar. What does that leave? Fish, most vegetables, some fruit, some nuts, some legumes and a little white cheese. And lots of fermented Asian superfoods like Natto and kim chi, and of course the turmeric and other spices he grows in his organic garden.

  Vine leaves and sour spring plums - for cooking not eating - at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market. 

Vine leaves and sour spring plums - for cooking not eating - at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market. 

It’s not easy, but so far he’s had great results. His health is improving, and on such a tough diet, he’s also losing weight.

Was searching through our archive of grandmothers’ recipes to see what they can offer. At least he hasn't gone raw so that helps. Since rice is out, we can’t make one of my favourites, stuffed vineleaves, and since eggs are out, we can’t make most vege fritters. 

But we can make a Sri Lankan zucchini fritter which has only 2 ingredients, zucchini and chickpea flour, and is one of the best things you will ever eat. The spring salad from the Central Asian kitchen, made with tomatoes and green plums,  is a winner.

A PLUM IS NOT AN APRICOT

I was very excited to see these small hard green plums at the Markets, since they are used in spring dishes in Georgian and Central Asian cooking, and one of the Food is Love grandmothers has given me a recipe for a spicy tomato salad where they feature. Well, I thought she had. Turns out her recipe is for a cooked tomato dish with sour green apricots. Since I was already home with the plums, I decided to plough ahead – hoping that they would be a reasonable substitute. 

It’s similar to the tomato dish Matboucha (our recipe here) which is an Israeli staple, but this dish is easier to prepare, since you grate the tomatoes instead of peeling and chopping them, and that turns out to be a time saver. The addition of the plums is good too. I haven’t tried it with the green apricots, but I can say that this version worked a treat.

Miriam Atsil is one of the leaders of Melbourne's Central Asian community. If you think shelooks familiar, it's probably because she's on the opening page of this website.

  Miriam Atsil, Melbourne, Australia.

Miriam Atsil, Melbourne, Australia.

Miriam is the one who told her new daughter-in-law she had to come and learn how to cook from her, or else her new husband would always be eating at his mother's house instead of at his wife's. If she wanted a good marriage, she had to know how to prepare the old Central Asian dishes.

"I said it because it was true!" Miriam exclaims. And yes, her daughter-in-law took Miriam's advice and everything has worked out well. 

Miriam describes this as a good dish because it's “sour, bitter and hot.”

  This version made with green plums!

This version made with green plums!

Miriam’s Tomato & Green Apricot Salad

INGREDIENTS 

  • 500 g fresh tomatoes, grated
  • 250 g raw green apricots - or green plums!
  • Half a teaspoon salt – or more to taste
  • Fresh chili to taste

METHOD

1.     Cut the tomato in half and grate it. Throw away the skins. When you’ve gathered all the seeds and juice cook in a pot with olive oil, half a teaspoon salt and fresh chili - chopped or whole. The amount of chilli really is up to you and how hot you like this dish. One moderate Israeli ‘Banana Chili’ was enough for 500 g of tomatoes and the result was quite fiery!

2.     Slice the apricots or plums in half. After 30 minutes, when the tomatoes are almost cooked, throw in the apricots, with their seeds. Taste and add more salt if it’s missing.

3.     Cook for another 5 minutes. Turn heat off, cover, and let cool in the pot. Can serve with seeds or remove them.

JERUSALEM VERDICT

This is a classic Central Asian dish, as it's very flavourful. lt's also healthy and a good return on a relatively small investment of time and effort. I liked it so much I made it twice. The first time it was sweeter and also hotter ie spicier. The second time, the chili – same amount! – was less dominant, and I must have added more salt since it was sour, salty and hot. Wonderful. 

ZUCCHINI FRITTERS

This Sri Lankan Jewish recipe has basically 2 ingredients -- chickpea flour and grated zucchini, with some spices thrown in. You don’t add any liquid, and the result is amazing. It’s also vegan, until you reach the yoghurt sauce. Vegans could replace it with a non-dairy sauce like tahina, recipe below. 

NOTE: The recipe calls for frying, but you can also bake. Frying has the edge in terms of taste, especially when the fritters are hot. But if you want a healthier result, then go with baking. If you are eating them at room temperature the difference is less pronounced. 

Mrs Ruben’s Zucchini fritters

SERVES 3-4

Makes 12 large fritters, or 18-20 small ones. 

 INGREDIENTS

  • 2- 2 ½ cups grated zucchini, about 3 large zucchini
  • ½ cup chickpea flour (also called gram)
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • oil for frying

TO SERVE

  • 2 1/2 cups yoghurt
  • salt
  • optional - one clove crushed garlic

METHOD

1.     Grate the zucchini. A food processor with a grater blade produces a quick, good result. Salt lightly and leave for 10 minutes and squeeze out any extra liquid. There will be lots!

2.     Mix chickpea flour, spices and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the zucchini, but do not add any water. The liquid the zucchini will continue to give out will be enough to make a batter. (It's hard to believe, but it is true.)

3.     Heat oil. Deep frying is best. It’s counter-intuitive, but the more oil you use to fry, the less the fritter absorbs. Make balls by rolling  a teaspoon batter in your hands. (Use more if you prefer large fritters.) Drop them into the hot oil, flatten, turn when brown, then remove – about 3 minutes altogether.  

4.     Place as many fritters as fit comfortably into your fry pan without sticking together. Continue until you use all the batter. You can eat straight away or let the fritters cool to room temperature.

5.     SAUCE: Mix yoghurt with salt, and garlic.  The recipe says to add fritters to the yoghurt, and to serve cold. But they’re also good served warm, for reasons of aesthetics and taste, with the yoghurt on the side.

TAHINA

Since sesame is one of the seeds on Davo's permitted list, here's a recipe for tahina. It's popular in Israel because it’s local and tasty, of course, but also because in kosher homes, it can be used as a spread during a meat meal, instead of butter.

It’s best to add the lemon juice first, as it produces a whiter sauce. If you are using a food processor, you can just add all the ingredients at once. Don’t make too much – it doesn’t keep well. Make as much you think you will eat at one sitting.

  Tahina, with Grandma Rina's green hot sauce. 

Tahina, with Grandma Rina's green hot sauce. 

This recipe comes from the kitchen of Israeli grandmother Rina Mevorach, where her grand-daughter Enelle has become the family tahina maker.

Enelle’s Tahina

Serves 6

 ingredients

  • 1 cup tahina – store bought sesame seed paste*
  • juice of 1 lemon or 1 teaspoon lemon salt
  • 3/4 – 1 cup water
  • 1 -2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Enelle sometimes grates in a fresh tomato as well. 

METHOD

1.     The tahina paste often separates in the jar, so stir it first with a fork. Measure out one cup and mix with the crushed garlic, salt and ¾ of the lemon juice. (Omit the juice and salt if you are using lemon salt.) Add water bit by bit, ¼ cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. It may appear to be separating, but keep mixing, it’s emulsifying, like a mayonnaise.

2.     When it’s reached a thickness you like, stop adding water. Enelle prefers it on the thick side. Add parsley and stir. Taste. It should be tangy. Serve sprinkled with paprika or sumac, and add olive oil or green hot sauce. 

*The quality of tahina depends on the brand you buy. In Jerusalem, you're spoilt for choice. Tahina here is made with sesame seeds imported from Ethiopia or Sudan and then hulled and ground here. Not sure why, but 2 of the best brands come from around Nablus in the West Bank. Har Bracha tahina is super-tasty (and kosher!) and is made by Samaritans, yes the ones from the story of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament, the same small sect who have survived in tiny numbers since the time of Jesus. Their Holy Mountain, Mt Gerizim, is near Nablus, and that’s where they make their tahina. Their community of less than 1,000 is split between Mt Gerizim and Holon in Israel.

Dove Tahina brand, hand-ground by a Palestinian family firm inside Nablus is very popular with Israeli tahina connoisseurs, who snap it as soon as they see the plastic jars with the blue dove on the front. (It turns out not to be a dove but a local sandpiper called a Karawan, but if you ask for the Dove brand, people will know what you mean.) The jars have to cross from the Palestinian territories into Israel so delivery is patchy. This tahina was also once kosher too – but the manufacturer has complained that one of the unexpected downsides of the conflict is that rabbis became too scared to visit his factory to renew the kashrut certificate. You can read more here  in Haaretz. Just noticed the story is 10 years old - may be time for me to go on a Tahina pilgrimage to Nablus and see how they're doing. 

There you go Davo, keep fighting that inflammation...  No one has to feel cheated if they get to eat these dishes together, the mix of flavours is fabulous!

And I will go now and see how my new best friends are doing, and maybe scratch the brave one's nose.