Just as our life in Tel Aviv had a Yemenite flavor from living and shopping near the Yeminite Quarter and Shuk HaCarmel, our life here in Jerusalem, a stone’s throw away from Machaneh Yehuda, smells and tastes of Iraqi and Kurdish cuisine. Our neighbors are immigrants from Kurdistan (now part of Iraq), whose children, grandchildren and great grandchildren crowd into their tiny apartment every Friday evening. Songs, prayers, laughter and delicious cooking smells waft from their balcony and kitchen window.
“This was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in”, their daughter told me. “It was the kind of place where everyone was always cooking together and front doors were open from the time people woke up until they went to sleep.”
Although Nachlaot (and Zichron Yosef, a small offshoot of Nachlaot, where we live) is now home to all kinds of Jewish immigrants, as well as foreign workers from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, the Iraqi and Kurdish influence is still unmistakable. Up and down Agripas — the main thoroughfare between the outdoor market and the neighborhood — and within the shuk itself, one can find Iraqi flatbreads, stuffed vegetables, mustachioed men playing towleh (an Iraqi version of backgammon) and sipping small cups of strong coffee. If you are lucky, you will also find kubbeh. Stuffed with meat, chicken or vegetables, kubbeh are cracked wheat and semolina-based dumplings that are more or less the backbone of Kurdish cuisine. Joan Nathan writes about one Kurdish grandmother in her book, The Jews of Israel Today, who typically makes about 60 kubbeh every week for the Shabbat meal with her immediate and extended family. This is hardly unusual in this food-centric country, where many of the Jews who came to Israel from Arab nations in search of a better life are still alive and cooking.
Friday afternoons at the Cafe, my coworker Roie throws himself into a frenzy during closing trying to get to his granmother’s house that much sooner for steaming bowls of kubbeh hamousta — a homestyle stew with large chunks of vegetables and fat dumplings stuffed with beef. “What’s the rush?!” I tease him as he hurls dirty aprons towards the laundry pile and scrubs the espresso machine ferociously. “My grandmother’s kubbeh!” he replies, shoving his work clothes into his courier bag and dashing out the door.
Last Shabbat at my friend Julia’s house, my resolve to try my hand at real soup kubbeh (as opposed to the fried version, which I have made before) was finally solidified as I slurped my way through a bowl of her mother-in-law’s beet and lemon version. Although the results of my efforts were fruitful, there is so much to learn about how to make all the different varieties of kubbeh, I feel I could be experimenting for a long time before I really find my favorite recipes. I also may try to find my way into Roie’s grandmother’s kitchen for some tips….
Ari’s Vegetarian Kubbeh Stew, with inspiration from Joan Nathan, Vegan Start and the wonders of the internet.
Even food freaks like me fall into a rut from time to time. With all the upheaval in our life this past year, it had been some time since I felt I’d cooked something really adventurous. Although I would make some changes next time I attempt this stew (as indicated below) overall I was thrilled with the finished product here.
For the Kubbeh filling:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
10-12 baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped
handful of parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
Heat a bit of olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms and saute. Cover briefly to allow their juices to release. Add the parsley and cook until wilted.
Allow filling to cool while you make the kubbeh dough.
For the kubbeh dough:
2 cups fine bulgur wheat (Some recipes call for half fine and half coarse. I used all fine.)
2 cups semolina
Cover the bulgur wheat with salted warm water (a few dashes of salt will do) by about an inch. Let sit in a bowl for about an hour until the liquid has been absorbed (if your liquid gets absorbed too quickly, add more; you want well-hydrated bulgur for this recipe). After the hour, drain excess liquid and mix in the semolina. Begin kneading the dough, adding a bit of flour as you go. Knead until you have a pliable dough that is not too sticky — I would try to add as little flour as possible, but do what you have to in order to get a dough you can work with.
When you have a dough that you feel you can work with, take a plum-sized amount in your hand and shape it so it is concave with an even thickness all around.
Now make the soup:
2 onions, chopped
3 celery stalks (leaves reserved) cut into a smallish dice
1 1/2 cups of butternut squash or pumpkin, cut into chunks
2 beets, peeled and cut into chunks
2 medium zucchini/magda/summer squash cut into large chunks
celery leaves, finely chopped
handful of parsley, finely minced
salt and pepper
juice of 1 whole lemon
4-6 cups water or vegetable stock
Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a wide soup pot over medium. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes. Add the celery and pumpkin and saute well until the onion begins to turn golden. Add the rest of the veggies, except the celery leaves and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cover for a few minutes.
Begin to drop the kubbeh into the soup — my recipe made about 20 kubbeh, and I used maybe half of them in the soup, freezing the rest for a future soup.