The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts had a month-long festival honoring Israel on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. One of the activities was a lecture, demonstration, and dinner focusing on the cuisine of Israel, specifically the foods which would have been eaten in Biblical times. The presenter of this lecture/demonstration was Moshe Basson, executive chef of Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem. Basson made the interesting point that to learn about food from the Bible, it is necessary to observe the oldest generation of women living in the Druze and Palestinian villages since contemporary cuisine in Israel has been too influenced by the Diaspora. The menu for Basson's lecture/demonstration/dinner was as follows: Jerusalem Artichoke Soup Tomato Soup with Mint Subeiza (Mallow) Stuffed Cyclamen Leaves Ma'aluba Stuffed Figs Ice of Paradise (Bluza) Land of Milk and Honey The only recipe Basson shared was the recipe for Ma'aluba. He intended to share the recipe for everything he cooked, but he didn't prepare any hand-outs and the evening ended with a vague promise to make the remaining recipes public. That has not happened so far. The one recipe I'd most like to get hold of is the recipe for stuffed figs. In this dish the cavity of figs was filled with an extremely tasty mixture of minced chicken in a tamarind-flavored sauce. Basson described a vegetarian version of the stuffing. This dish was by far the tastiest of the lot and I would happily incorporate this dish into my repertoire. If you prepare the Ma'aluba, you'll discover it's a perfectly acceptable stewed chicken preparation which is somewhat on the bland side. It may not be historically accurate, buy I'd serve a bowl of zehug (Yemenite hot pepper-garlic chutney) to flavor the chicken if I made this dish for a my family. If you're comfortable with fusion cuisine, just place a bottle of your favorite hot sauce on the table for the same effect. The dessert, Land of Milk and Honey, was the one dish that was not well received by all the diners sitting near me. It was visually attractive. A lovely design created by a dark sauce was drizzled over a white substance of pudding-like consistency. We never did identify the white substance, although I kept insisting it was agar-agar. We did pin down the dark sauce; it was unflavored ground sesame seeds. If you can think of liquid unflavored halvah, you'll get a close approximation of the taste. Karen Selwyn * * * * * * * * Casserole of Chicken, Rice & Vegetables (Ma'aluba) 6 whole chicken legs 3 medium onions, sliced 1 medium-sized eggplant, quartered and sliced with skin on 3 medium potatoes, sliced 1 small head cauliflower, separated into medium-sized flowers 6-10 threads saffron 1 tablespoon basmati turmeric (See note below) salt and pepper 3 1/2 cups rice, washed twice, left in cold water for 1/2 hour (See note) 1-2 tablespoons olive oil additional oil for sauteeing Saute the sliced onions in olive oil over a medium flame until they are brown and soft. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides. Add the saffron and black pepper to the pan. Cover the contents with cold water. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt to make a salty broth. While the chicken is simmering, saute the potatoes until they are slightly colored on the outside but not fully cooked. Set aside. Saute the cauliflower until honey-colored. Set aside. Remove the chicken from the saute pan. Arrange the meat, skin side down, in a large, straight-sided casserole. Fill in the spaces between the chicken with eggplant. On top of that layer, spread the cauliflower and potatoes. Remove the rice from the water, drain. Place rice on top of the chicken and vegetables. Add enough broth from the pan with the simmered chicken to cover the rice and 1/3 of an inch more. Place the pot, uncovered, over a medium flame, and let it boil. After about 15 minutes, cover the pot and adjust the flame to the lowest possible setting. Continue cooking for 20-25 minutes. Check occasionally by removing the cover and smelling; when it smells a ittle burned, it is ready. Take a round metal tray and place it on top of the pot. Turn the pot over onto the try, patting the top to release the chicken. Slide the pot upward to reveal the upside-down chicken dish. Note: I've typed the recipe up exactly as written in the hand-out but I think there's a mistake. I know the type of rice used in this dish was basmati rice. Furthermore, I've never heard of basmati turmeric. I suspect the word basmati is simply misplaced in the list of ingredients.
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