This post should be accompanied by ruffles and flourishes from an honor guard of trumpeters. It is a post which has been five months in the making. Getting to his point has involved three very determined people, an organized multi-national effort, and lots of cellular phone calls.
Intrigued? Read on.
Last March, Beth Greenfeld and I went to a cooking demonstration at the Kennedy Center in honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel. Moshe Basson of Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem was the featured chef. He came to the demonstration armed only with the recipe for one of the dishes he prepared that night -- Ma'aluba, a casserole of chicken, rice & vegetables which may be found in the Poultry section of the archives. Beth and I were disappointed that he didn't supply the recipe for Stuffed Figs, the best dish of the evening.
Basson realized he had let down the audience and airily said the remaining recipes would be published in the next food section of THE WASHINGTON POST. Beth and I duly checked the paper but only Ma'aluba was printed.
We shared our disappointment with Ruth Heiges in Israel and she sprang into action. She called the restaurant to request the recipe. A charming young woman promised to send the recipe, but warned there would be a delay while the restaurant shut down for Passover. Weeks and months went by without the promised recipe arriving and the missing recipe slipped from everyone's minds.
Something triggered Beth's memory of the longed-for recipe and the hunt was on again. I went on a cookbook search and turned up quite a few Yemenite stuffed fruit recipes (which I will share shortly), but the real thing remained elusive.
Ruth went to the source once again. This time, she didn't settle for speaking to charming assistants. She kept placing cellular phone calls until she spoke with the master himself. He faxed the recipe to Ruth and a casual reading highlights why Basson didn't bring it to the Kennedy Center demonstration. The recipe was written for a chef who doesn't need things explained. For the average person, it was filled with gaps and vague areas. Ruth had to place follow-up phone calls to clarify both instructions and quantities of ingredients.
And that's the true story of this recipe. Eucalyptus Restaurant, Beth Greenfeld, Ruth Heiges and I present "Stuffed Figs, Onions and Eggplant" for your Jewish cuisine pleasure.
- Karen Selwyn
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Stuffed Figs, Onions and Eggplant
Recipe by Moshe Basson, Eucalyptus Restaurant, Jerusalem
For the filling:
Ruth's note #1: Israeli chickens are not particularly large. I would
guess this to be about 2 to 2-1/2 pounds. I think I
would buy chicken cut in strips for stirfry, and cut
that into cubes while still slightly frozen. Otherwise,
if using fresh breasts, I would parfreeze them, to make
the cutting easier.
Ruth's note 2: For a vegetarian version, substitute mushrooms
chicken. Basson recommends a combination of button and
For the sauce:
*Tamarind comes from the Hebrew: ~tamar hindi~, meaning Indian fig.
1. To prepare the filling:
Fry the onion in a small amount of olive oil. Add the cubed chicken
spices. Stir until the chicken turns white. Adjust seasonings. Remove
from heat. Cool.
2. To prepare the sauce:
Thin the tamarind paste in a saucepan with a little hot water. Chop
figs and add them. Add the water and brown sugar. Bring to a boil.
Remove from heat.
If not using tamarind paste, dissolve the brown sugar in a small
of hot water, and add the lemon juice.
3. To prepare the onions, eggplants, and figs:
Peel the onions. Do not trim off the root end.
Using a corer or sharp knife, carefully hollow out each onion, leaving
shell of about two layers. (Basson disapproves of the technique of
parboiling the onions before hollowing them out, as it diminishes the
flavor of the final product.)
Fill each onion with the stuffing mixture. Place in a large pot.
with water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat. Simmer
for about a half hour.
Meanwhile, cut a slit the length of each eggplant, taking care not to
cut all the way through. Fry them lightly in oil.
Remove from the frying pan. Fill with stuffing mixture. Add the
eggplants to the pot containing the onions, which will have become soft
by now. Continue simmering, for total cooking time of 1 hour.
If using fresh figs, open the tops and hollow them out. If using dried
figs, simply enlarge the opening at one end (no need to remove anything;
just work open to create a shell). Fill with stuffing mixture.
Dried figs: Add to the pot at the same time as the eggplant.
Fresh figs: Add to the pot only for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Place 3 figs, 2 onions, and 1 eggplant on each plate. Spoon heated sauce
over the array. Serve with white rice.