tomatoes and pomegranates

One year ago Apple Cake

Turkish bride

 “Help! My teenage daughter’s just announced she’s vegetarian. What will I cook?”

This was the forlorn cry from a lovely American friend who used to be a journalist here in Jerusalem.

Food is Love to the rescue! Tried to comfort her - she's actually she's lucky it wasn’t vegan, gluten free or some combination of the two,  vegetarian is relatively easy, yada yada yada - and now we're going to post vegetarian recipes for her as part of an occasional series, starting this week with 2 wonderful vego dishes from Turkey. Soon we'll all be thanking Nicole's daughter!

There's a soup and a salad. My favourite vibrantly breathtakingly red, actually addictive Tomato and Pomegranate salad (discovered by Yotam Ottolenghi on a visit to Istanbul); and “Turkish bride" soup, easily made by a new bride from ingredients she would find in the cupboard - - lentils, cracked wheat and tomato paste. All you need is an onion! You always need an onion... (See below)

help food is love!

Inspired by Nicole, I am also trying a call-out.

Food is Love is currently looking for Jewish grandmothers originally from Lithuania or Italy to interview for this project. If you know anyone who might suit, please contact us so we can add their life stories and recipes to our wonderful collection.

OLDEST MAN

The oldest man in the world is preparing to celebrate the Barmitzva he missed as a boy.

Yisrael Kristal is a Holocaust survivor from Haifa in Israel. He’s just turned 113, 6 months after the Guinness Book of World Records officially recognized him as the oldest man currently living.

Yisrael Kristal with Marco Frigatti from the Guinness Book of Records, son Chaim Kristal daughter Shulamit Kuperstoch and 2 of his great grandchildren. March 2016 (Dvir Rosen/Guinness World Records/Associated Press)

Yisrael Kristal with Marco Frigatti from the Guinness Book of Records, son Chaim Kristal daughter Shulamit Kuperstoch and 2 of his great grandchildren. March 2016 (Dvir Rosen/Guinness World Records/Associated Press)

 He didn’t have the right documents, so it wasn't a simple process, but a Jewish Records Indexing organization from Poland stepped in to help, and the Guinness Book of Records was satisfied. (For more more details on that paper chase, read this piece in The Forward and this one in the Canadian Jewish News.)

And though Kristal doesn’t know it yet, he’s about to celebrate another milestone. Next week his family is going to hold a barmitzva for him.

This celebration usually happens when a Jewish boy turns 13, but Yisrael Kristal missed out in Poland during the First World War – yes that’s World War One, people, not Two! Now, 100 years later, his descendants will give him a barmitzva.

FAMILY

Kristal was born in a small Polish village in 1903 before there were many cars on the road or radios in people's homes. In his village they didn’t even have electricity.

Kristal remembers the first car he saw as a boy. 

It belonged to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Kristal and other children threw sweets at this horseless carriage, which seemed to them like an apparition. (The emperor died in 1916, so Kristal has well and truly outlived him.)

Kristal’s mother died when he was seven years old. Four years later, when World War One began, his father was press-ganged into the Russian army. Kristal was taken in by relatives who didn't send him to school, and didn’t hold a Barmitzva for him.

"My father told my son not to take his Barmitzva for granted, as not everyone was lucky enough to have one," says Kristal's daughter Shulamit Kuperstoch. "He said the same thing to his great grandsons so it obviously affected him."

BAR MITZVA

Kuperstoch is insisting on a modest do. No media. No strangers.

"Israel's President asked to attend, and I said no. It would only stress my father."

She's very protective.

"It's a privilege to be his daughter," Kuperstoch says. "I share things with him and tell everyone about him."

"Other people boast about their children or grandchildren. I boast about my father."
A Kristal family photo. He has 2 children, 9 grandchildren and more than 20 great grandchildren.

A Kristal family photo. He has 2 children, 9 grandchildren and more than 20 great grandchildren.

I sat down for an interview with Shulamit this week, as she says her father is now too frail to talk to the media. (This was for a story for the Canadian public broadcaster, the CBC, which has worked in well with Food is Love.)

“Over the past 6 months, for the first time, I see a decline. He is starting to get old,” says Shulamit.

Not bad to start showing signs of age only at 112!

Marco Frigatti and Yisrael Kristal, when he was 'only' 112. (Dvir Rosen/Guinness World Records/Associated Press)

Marco Frigatti and Yisrael Kristal, when he was 'only' 112. (Dvir Rosen/Guinness World Records/Associated Press)

SURVIVOR

What is most remarkable though is that the oldest man alive today is a Holocaust survivor.

"We tend to think that the more we look after ourselves and rest and avoid stress, the longer we will live, but no, this man worked all his life, and it was hard physical work, and he endured so much," says Shulamit Kuperstoch.

"He lost his first wife and their two children in the Holocaust. He lost his mother when he was young. He himself was in Auschwitz. And yet here he is."

Above, Kristal in Poland in 1947, right, and in Israel, a supercentennarian. It is remarkable that a Holocaust survivor who has endured so much should be the oldest man alive. (Photos Shulamit Kuperstoch)

LIFE SAVING SWEETS

In the 1920s, Kristal moved to the Polish city of Lodz, married Chaja Frucht and trained as a confectioner.

He loved his job and had a talent for it, something that even the Nazis appreciated.

Kristal says his skill as a sweet maker kept him alive during the Second World War.

Kristal with his confectioner's diploma. He credits this skill with saving his life during World War Two (Photo: Haaretz)

Kristal with his confectioner's diploma. He credits this skill with saving his life during World War Two (Photo: Haaretz)

German soldiers liked his candies and chocolates. They commissioned them from Kristal, who was by then living in the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, with his wife and their 2 small boys.

The illnesses rampant in the ghetto claimed the lives of the boys, but Kristal and his wife were still alive in late 1944 when the Nazis emptied the ghetto and sent the Jews of Lodz to Auschwitz.

His wife was killed soon after arrival. Kristal was put to work.

"My father was strong and not emaciated as he hadn't been starved in the ghetto," said Kuperstoch. "Still, the terrible conditions in the concentration camps meant that by the end of the war in April 1945, he weighed only 37 kilos."

After a long rehabilitation, where he had to learn to walk again, Kristal began to work, making sweets for the Russian soldiers who'd liberated him. When he returned to Lodz, he found he was the only member of his extended family left alive. He went to a tailor to buy new clothes, and there he met Batsheva Judah a woman 20 years his junior, who had also lost her entire family.

Three days later, they married.

"They were entirely alone in the world. So why should they remain alone?" Kuperstoch said. "They built a wonderful life together, which lasted for more than four decades, till my mother's death."

ISRAEL

Yisrael and Batsheva came to Israel in 1950. They had a son, Haim and then daughter Shulamit.  Yisrael set up as a confectioner, even though there was rationing and sugar was scarce.

"He founded a successful business, through hard work and also because it was his passion," Kuperstoch said. "When there was no sugar, he would pick carob off trees and distill sugar that way. I think he was a genius in his field.”

It's been a life-long passion. After he retired aged 70, Kristal worked from home. When he turned 100, a big party was held in his honour, and Kristal made a package of candies for each guest.

WHAT'S HIS SECRET?

Kristal has a standard answer when asked the secret of his long life: he says “I can't tell you, it's a secret!”

After this mischievous response, he reflects more deeply on something which, as an observant Jew, he believes is in the hands of God.

"I don't know the secret. I believe that everything is determined from above, and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men than me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can to rebuild what was lost,” Kristal said to the Guinness Book of Records.

His daughter suggests his moderation and modesty are part of the reason for his long life.

"He never eats to excess," says Shulamit Kuperstoch. "He always eats slowly and not too much."

The other reason is his sense of humour.

"Maybe that's his secret. His sense of humour. His optimism,” says Shulamit. "He's always hopeful and sees the glass half full. He sees the good and gives thanks for what he has. He wakes up, thanks God for yesterday and asks for one more good day. He doesn't have huge ambitions, but he’s slowly collected the days, one by one."

VEGETARIAN DISHES

So, after that amazing story, to the cooking. Both these dishes - which are actually vegan, now I come to think of it - are staples in my kitchen. The salad is seasonal and is best at the end of summer when pomegranates appear in the markets. The soup is an evergreen, since it depends on ingredients that are sitting in your cupboard.

SOUP

There are many legends around this cheap, sustaining and delicious meal in a bowl, known as Turkish Bride soup, Ezo Gelin Çorbasi.

That it was fed to the bride the night before the wedding to give her strength (not so convincing); that it was the dish every bride had to know how to prepare from ingredients in her cupboard (more likely); that it was named after a particular bride, a real person, Ezo, who was unhappily married and made this soup to try to win over her mother-in-law.. (Hope that isn’t it!)

What is beyond dispute is that this soup is a winner, because it's easy to make and so full of flavour. And by the way it's also meant to be a good hangover cure.

When you think the cupboard is bare, it isn't! All you need is one onion, and you can make Turkish Bride soup. You can see why it's a staple all over Turkey.

When you think the cupboard is bare, it isn't! All you need is one onion, and you can make Turkish Bride soup. You can see why it's a staple all over Turkey.

It's also very forgiving. Substitutions are fine. Olive oil for butter. Harissa for chili paste. Thick burghul for fine. Fresh mint for dried. Whatever you have in the cupboard seems to be right! And it really is a cupboard soup, so play around with it and see what suits you best.  

Turkish Bride Soup

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 150g / 6oz / ¾ cup red lentils
  • 75g / 3oz / 1/3 cup fine burghul (bulgur wheat)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon chilli paste or harissa
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 litres water or vegetable stock
  • salt
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper or chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried mint –  fresh is fine too

to serve

  • extra olive oil (or butter) and paprika
  • lemon halves
  • yoghurt

METHOD

1. Heat oil or butter in a large saucepan, add the onions and fry till transluscent.

2.  Add tomato puree and mix; then add a little water and the lentils, burghul and chili paste till they are all coated in the sauce. Now add the rest of the water and salt. Bring to the boil mixing well. Reduce the heat and cook for about 20 minutes.

3. Add the cayenne pepper and dried mint, mix and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the lentils and burghul are soft. You can eat this straight away, though the flavours improve the longer it sits. 

4. Optional. To serve: Heat olive oil or butter (1 tablespoon for 2 servings) in a pan. When oil starts sizzling add ½ teaspoon paprika and after approximately 30 seconds remove from the heat. Pour over the soup.

5. Can also serve with lemon juice, extra chili flakes and yoghurt if desired.

SALAD DAYS

I believe I am actually addicted to this salad, which Yotam Ottolenghi discovered at a famous Istanbul kebab restaurant called Hamdi’s. Tomatoes and pomegranates are made for each other! The tastes and textures that complement each other perfectly, especially if you have lately come round to pomegranates like me, and now have to eat one every day.

Even Ottolenghi, who’s been cooking with both tomatoes and pomegranates for years, came close to apologising that he'd somehow overlooked this stellar combination. 

But all those wasted late summer meals are behind us now, for here is the salad.

HELP!

The only downside is the time it takes to peel the pomegranates.

If you can, try and persuade your guests to come and help you. This week I cooked dinner for 2 dear friends, Orla and Adrienne, both of whom used to work in Jerusalem. Since it was also a birthday dinner for Adrienne's mother Bette, it was very kind of her to get down and get peeling too... 

Put your friends to work peeling the pomegranates. If you're very lucky, like me, even the birthday girl will agree to help! Tea towels to protect their clothes are a must ... a drink of ginger ale, jalapeno peppers and lemon is recommended.

Put your friends to work peeling the pomegranates. If you're very lucky, like me, even the birthday girl will agree to help! Tea towels to protect their clothes are a must ... a drink of ginger ale, jalapeno peppers and lemon is recommended.

Tomato and Pomegranate Salad

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 kg tomatoes – or a bit more -  cut into ½cm dice; ordinary tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or a mix
  • 1 red pepper, cut into ½ cm dice
  • 1 large pomegranate --  all the seeds
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced

DRESSING

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1½ pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra to drizzle at the end
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  • Salt and black pepper

METHOD

Peel and seed pomegranate, chop tomatoes, pepper and onion. I often chop the tomatoes a little larger, that’s fine too.

Just before serving add the dressing. You can add lemon or lime juice in place of vinegar and other herbs as well as the oregano – but do use oregano, it does give it a wonderful flavour.

NOTE

If the tomatoes and pomegranates are both ripe and fresh you can't go wrong.  I like going all red – no need for green or yellow tomatoes, they distract from the main game. Red is the colour and the number... 

And though I often make this salad with cherry tomatoes, somehow I now prefer it with ordinary tomatoes. 

It’s best to prepare this as close as possible to when you will eat it, so the tomatoes won't give out a lot of juice.

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There you go Nicole - let us know how you go with those!

NEXT

And next week, the story and recipe of much loved Melbourne grandmother Baba Schwartz who is currently here for a grand-daughter’s wedding. Joy all round!