One year ago Tomatoes and Pomegranates
There is a recipe this week -- of course there's a recipe - but it's also a holiday posting.
You know when you feel that need for a midweek long weekend?
Jaffa comes highly recommended, especially in late September when it’s still hot, but no longer unbearable. The humidity has disappeared leaving warm, sunny days, and easy, pleasant nights. In fact, turns out the start of autumn is the perfect time to go!
It’s only 20 minutes from Tel Aviv, and officially part of the city, but it feels a world away.
Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew, Yafa in Arabic) has narrow streets, with Arab buildings, food and of course residents. The co-existence is part of its appeal. Some parts of the town are new, some ancient. Many buildings are made of sandstone, with arched windows and ceilings.
Palm trees and old bougainvillea bushes are everywhere. Sometimes there are columns in the middle of a residential street. The sea is reassuringly close, a splash of blue when you round a corner.
It somehow feels like Morocco with Israeli street names. When you see the tall towers of Tel Aviv pop up on the horizon, in a gap between buildings, it’s a shock. Because it is so lovely, of course there’s a building boom. Prices are skyrocketing. As you walk, you hear the sound of jackhammers and construction everywhere.
We found an AirBnB place in Seashell street, 'the most beautiful street in Jaffa', with a sea glimpse and a balcony. First coffee on the balcony and you know you're on holiday.
City officials long ago closed the ancient heart of Jaffa to traffic, and visitors can walk to the restaurants, shops and museums, including a private museum owned by Israeli artist Ilana Goor.
Goor houses her own work – sculpture and now furniture in different metals - and since she is also a committed collector, the works of other artists as well.
There are many African works as well and Goor is obviously affected by colour, enjoying the part that it plays in tribal and other art works, across genres, from sculpture to embroidery. It's also a whimsical collection. Ilana Goor is a woman with a sense of humour as well as style.
Goor has a great collection of kitchen utensils, outdone only by the view from the kitchen window. Who wouldn't love to cook with a view like that?
Ilana Goor lives between Manhattan and Jaffa. She was ‘in’ when I was there and I was lucky enough to sit and talk with her. She is like her museum: multi-faceted, eclectic, provocative, unusual. She is also clever, well-connected and adventurous, and great fun.
SUN AND SAND
If you’re going on a sea-side holiday, bottom line is the beach. Luckily, Jaffa beach is clean, beautiful, and quiet. At this time of year the water is very warm. The other great thing is the beach cafe. The food at Cassis is good, especially the breakfast, the decor is lovely and the location is unbeatable!
There aren’t many people on the beach and those who are there are NOT PLAYING MATKOT, a cross between aerial tennis and ping pong that is a feature of almost every beach in Israel. The absence of that perennial ‘bink / bink’ is a small miracle, letting the sound of the waves take centre stage.
There were 2 old men who did try to play, but the life guard chased them off the beach.
“Go to Bat Yam if you want to play matkot!” the life guard barked at them through his loudspeaker.
That made me smile, but the 2 old blokes had the last laugh. When the life savers knocked off, they returned, and began playing as the sun went down.
Jaffa is a good place to eat, and a great place to eat fish. The standard presentation is lots of salads which come as a first course, and then you choose a fish or meat main dish. One of the oldest fish restaurants here is Hazaken ve Hayam – the Old Man and the Sea - always worth a visit.
At a restaurant called Saint George, just opposite Ilana Goor’s museum, the food was excellent and I had one of the best and freshest grilled fish I’ve ever eaten. Other customers had come all the way from Haifa in Israel's north just for dinner here.
In the past, a trip to Jaffa has always included a meal at Rauf wa Atina, my favourite of this type of restaurant, where they did simply the best mezze table. I was sorry to learn that it’s closed. (Drove past to see it’s become another branch of the Old Man and the Sea. They must be doing something right... )
There are many disputes about Hummus, including proper spelling (Chummus? Humus? Homus?) as well as whose is best.
Abu Hassan in Jaffa is definitely a front runner.
Unlike Abu Shukri, a contender from East Jerusalem, where they’ve had a falling out in the family and are now fighting each other for the name, there have been no Hummus Wars at Abu Hassan. On the contrary, they're expanding.
Our AirBnB apartment was 1 minute’s walk from their original store in Dolphin street. (What a great address!) We went for breakfast, of course, since it’s a breakfast food, which means they make one big batch, and close when the pot is empty, usually around lunchtime.
Ali Karavan, aka Abu Hassan, started out in 1959 with a small stand with two pots on Dolphin Street. That grew into this restaurant, and by 1972, due to popular demand, he opened another restaurant downtown, which quickly became so popular he had to open a third place directly across the street! He passed away in 2007, leaving a glorious hummus legacy.
At Dolphin street, they serve hummus, in the traditional manner, with pita and chilli, and also ful - broad bean paste - and labne. That's it.
Said has been working as a waiter here for 30 years – half the 6 decades the store has been open.
“We make the best M’sabaha, the best in the country,” Said says proudly referring to the morning mix of humus, tahina, and chilli sauce, which is served warm.
When I ask what made it the best, Said smiles.
“Well, we can’t give away our secrets, but our cooks know exactly the right amount of ingredients to add – and when to stop.”
There's a life lesson in there for all of us.
Hummus is a simple dish, so it’s funny how much competition and grandstanding there is. I am not going to give you Abu Hassan’s recipe, I don't know it and it’s a trade secret, obviously.
But I am going to give you the recipe of a cousin of mine, Elly Mekler, which he gave me more than 20 years ago. I didn't know I had it, and since he has passed away now I was so happy to find it!
I discovered it in my battered hand-written cookbook, the one that has accompanied me from London to Sydney to Moscow to Jerusalem. I don’t consult it all that often anymore, since I rarely write down recipes by hand these days. I’ve become lazy and clip them from the internet like everyone else.
But I like the feel of this old cookbook, with some recipes sent by friends, and others cut out from newspapers. It gives me a sense of continuity. When I checked it after returning from Jaffa, I found 2 significant things.
First was a baby photo of one of my best friend’s children. Michael is the grandson of Food is Love grandmother Eva Grinston, the son of her daughter Elisabeth, who has now completed university! How did the photo get there? How did it survive all this time, without falling out? I'm not sure. But it was lovely to see it. And behind Michael’s baby photo, there was Elly’s hummus recipe. It's wonderful to be able to make it and to share the recipe with you!
It seems I am also sharing the recipe with Elly's daughters, Michelle and Simone, who didn't have it written down, although it was Elly's signature dish, which he made often. If the girls had boys over while he was in the kitchen, Elly would demand they them to come "learn how to make hummus."
Preparing hummus was obviously men's work!
I will say the obvious thing. The better the chickpeas and tahina paste are, the better the hummus will be. Also I have become a huge fan of the super-smooth local version, so the smoother you can process it, the better too. Some people remove the 'skins' from the chickpeas after boiling, but I don't think it's necessary. You can remove those that float off, but to do it for each grain is too time-consuming for not much difference in result.
Makes 1 large batch
- 500 g chickpeas
- ¾ cup tahini paste ie not made up; you may want to add ¼ cup more, see how it tastes.
- 1 cup chcickpea cooking water (can top up with ordinary water if there is not enough)
- 1 heaped teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup lemon juice OR ¾ teaspoon lemon salt mixed into ¾ cup water
1. Soak chickpeas overnight; 24 hours if possible. Cook in a large pot with plenty of water to cover. When it reaches boiling point, turn down to moderate and cook for 50 minutes, removing scum that forms on the surface. They are ready when they are soft, in fact almot falling apart, and it may take longer depending on the chickpeas. Drain. If there is one cup of water left over, you can use this as the water in this recipe.
2. Reserve 1 cup of chickpeas for decoration. The best time to process the chickpeas is when they are warm. Let them cool a little, then tip in the food processor. Add the tahina, lemon juice (or lemon salt plus water) chickpea cooking water and salt.
3. When it’s smooth, taste it, and adjust salt or lemon. If it's too thick, add some more water. If it's too thin, add some more tahina paste. Since Elly's oral recipe indicated "this much salt" which was what he could fit in his cupped palm, you may have to play with it a bit!
4. Serve on a flat plate, smoothed out and topped in the centre with remaining whole chickpeas, olive oil and sumac or paprika. Some green chili hot sauce is also a good addition. Scoop up with pita or chopped vegetables.
5. It's best served the day you make it, though any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
6. Suggestions. This is the classic version. You could add to the mix: 2 tablespoons olive oil; 2 cloves garlic or 4 cloves roasted garlic; 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika.
TIP: Use a lot of water when cooking the chickpeas, it is very easy to burn them if you don’t!
Back in Jerusalem, I made half the quantity, using lemon salt and water, and it worked very well. It’s not quick, since you have to pre-soak, but it’s super easy for such a great quality home cooked product.
I would be tempted to add a little more tahina paste, but that may be because I had to add more water. Advice: this is not something you should make in a blender. I used my blender, well it’s new, I had to try, but that turned out to be a bad idea. The mix quickly becomes too gluggy for a blender, so you have to do lots of stopping, starting and tamping down. In the end, I added more water than I needed to just to get it moving. So back to the food processor for this dish in future.
Swimming eating and resting has made me realise how much I miss the sea. I’m originally a Sydney girl, now living in Jerusalem, which means a beach girl living in a mountain town. New Year’s resolution: Get down to the beach more often!