The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
Part 2: The Nations of the Maghreb
The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb

The four major nations of the Maghreb, the corner of North Africa that houses Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya, have made two major contributions to the lifestyle of Israelis: first, in the large number of immigrants who brought their culture and lifestyles to Israel and second, to the often complex and delicious cuisines that those immigrants brought with them. So taken for granted have many of these dishes become that many of the second, third and even fourth generation children of those immigrants are now convinced that they evolved in Israel.

Tunisia – Some Like It Hot

The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb

Few people celebrate religious festivals, weddings or other joyous family occasions with more culinary gusto than those Israelis who have their roots in Tunisia. In traditional homes, such festivals or other celebrations are perceived as reasons for entire families to gather together. On arrival, each family member is greeted with a cup of hot, sweet tea – even before having entered the home. Once settled, hot savory pastries and hors d’oeuvres are passed around on huge copper trays, candied almonds and stuffed prunes are served hot from the oven and an incredible amount of tea is consumed.

The actual celebratory dinner starts only when the oldest member of the family invites everyone to take their place at the table. Tunisian cuisine is not as exotic as some may imagine. If there is a single major descriptor appropriate for the food of Tunisia it is that the people like their food hot. In fact, Tunisian Jews probably have as many recipes for making hot sauce as Russian and Polish Jews have for borscht.

The Tunisian kitchen, although based on a country-style cuisine, is a rich one. Especially popular dishes both in Tunisia and Israel include tagines – meat or poultry stews often cooked together with fruits; fish dishes that rely on subtle seasonings and vegetables; couscous; merguez, a sausage that comes in what seems to be an infinite variety of flavors and of hotness; and a collection of marvelous sweet pastries and cream desserts. The following recipes are designed to serve 6 – 8.

Stuffed Fennel Bulbs – Bisbas Michchi

6 fennel bulbs, well washed
675 gr. (1 1/4 pounds) minced beef or lamb
3 Tbsp. parsley, chopped finely
1 1/2 tsp. tabil spice mixture (recipe follows)
1 tsp. black pepper
salt to taste
6 Tbsp. olive oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. dried breadcrumbs


375 gr. spicy tomato sauce


Cut off the hard bases of the fennel bulbs and cook in lightly salted water just until tender (about 15 minutes). Drain and cut in half lengthwise.

In a mixing bowl, combine the meat, parsley, tabil, pepper and salt to taste. Blend thoroughly. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the mixture until well browned. Let cool, and then mix in the eggs and breadcrumbs.

Place 6 of the fennel halves cut side up on a greased baking dish and pile the filling on top. Top with the remaining fennel halves, spoon over the tomato sauce and place in a hot oven to bake for 20 minutes. Serve hot.



The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb

Tabil Spice Mixture

This is the most popular Tunisian spice mixture and is used to season meat or poultry, stuffings and vegetables. To make the mixture, combine 2 1/2 tsp. each finely chopped garlic, ground caraway seeds, crushed hot red pepper flakes and ground coriander seeds. The mixture may be made as hot or mild as one likes by varying the amount of hot pepper flakes used. Tabil may be stored nearly indefinitely in a well-sealed jar.

Sole with Zucchini Sauce – Hout Makli

16 small to medium sole fillets
salt and pepper to taste
the juice of 6 lemons
8 small zucchinis
1/2 cup olive oil
4 medium onions, chopped
4 cups tomato sauce
1 – 2 tsp. tabil, harissa, zhug or other hot sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
oil for frying
4 eggs, lightly beaten with 3 Tbsp. water
flour for dredging


Wash and dry the fish fillets, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle over half the lemon juice and set aside.

Peel the zucchinis and slice into thin rounds. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet and saute the zucchini rounds until browned on both sides. Remove the slices with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reheat the oil and saute the onions until translucent. Add the tomato sauce, hot sauce, garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook, uncovered, over a medium high flame, for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Return the squash to the sauce and continue to simmer on a low flame, uncovered, for 5 minutes longer.

In a separate skillet, heat oil about 1/2" (1 cm) deep. Dip the fish fillets first in the egg and then dredge in the flour and fry until nicely browned on both sides. Drain the fillets on paper toweling.

Add the remaining lemon juice to the sauce, correct the seasoning with salt and pepper and pour over the fish fillets. Serve hot.

Tagine with Chicken and Fruits – Tagine Wusla al Habib

1 large or 2 small chickens,
cut into convenient serving pieces
2 onions, chopped finely
1/4 cup parsley, chopped finely
2 – 3 Tbsp. parve margarine
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 kg. (1 lb.) pears, apples, prunes or a mixture of these (pears and apples should be peeled, cored and sliced)


Place the chicken, onions and parsley in a large pot, pour over water to cover, add the margarine and ginger and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently, covered, until the chicken is very tender (about 1 hour). Add the fruits and continue to simmer until they are just tender, taking care not to let the fruits disintegrate. Serve with rice or couscous.

Honey Cream – Muhallabia

100 gr. (6 oz.) very fine sugar
1 1/4 cups sweet white wine
5 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
pinch of ground cinnamon
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks


In a heavy skillet, slowly heat the sugar in 2 tsp. of water, stirring regularly, until the sugar has melted and turned into a caramel syrup. Immediately pour the syrup into a cake tin, tilting so that the entire bottom of the tin is coated. Let cool.

Heat the wine and honey in a saucepan, stirring until the honey dissolves. Add the cinnamon and lemon rind, stirring well. Remove from the flame and let cool 5-6 minutes.

Beat together the egg yolks and whole eggs in a mixing bowl. Add these to the honey-wine mixture, beating until well blended, and pour into the cake tin. Place the tin in a large pot of water (be sure that the water is not higher than 1 cm. (1/2 ") from the lip of the tin) and bake in a medium oven until the mixture is set (about 45 minutes). Let cool for 15-20 minutes and then refrigerate.

Just before serving, run a thin knife blade around the edges to loosen the sides and invert onto a chilled serving dish.

The Road to Algiers

It has been reported that thanks in part to General de Gaulle, there are more and better Algerian restaurants within the confines of the cities of Paris and Tel Aviv than in Algiers. What confounds the French, but what Israelis have taken for granted for many years is that the foods found in the homes of former Algerians is so variegated one might easily be convinced that Algeria boasts three completely separate culinary styles.

The solution to this puzzle is simple enough. What is put on one’s table depends on whether the restaurant one has entered is owned by someone whose roots are Saharan, urban Moslem or Jewish. Even though there are commonalties, there are also enormous differences in the cookery of the three groups. The major culinary contribution of the Algerian Bedouins to cuisine is the delicious mechoui, whole very young lamb rubbed with spices and spit roasted. Urban Moslems devised an enormous variety of delicately herbed stews (tagines), and the input of the Jews was in adapting French sauces and cooking methods to traditional North African cuisine.

The following recipes are suitable for serving 4.

Spiced Eggplant – Betanjal M’Charmel

1 kg. eggplant
about 1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice or more to taste
1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
4 – 6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. ground cumin
harissa sauce for serving (recipe follows)


From each eggplant, cut out 3 vertical strips of skin, leaving it with a striped effect. Slice the eggplant into 1/2" (1 cm) thick slices, salt and let drain in a colander for 1/2 hour. Rinse well and squeeze gently. Pat dry using paper toweling.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and fry the slices, several at a time, until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper toweling and then mash the eggplant, garlic and spices together. Return this mixture to the skillet and fry until all of the liquid evaporates and only oil and vegetables remain. Stir often during cooking.

Pour off the oil and season with the lemon juice. Correct the seasoning with salt to taste and let come to room temperature. Serve with the harissa sauce. (Serves 6 – 8).

Harissa Sauce


Note: This sauce may be purchased at many ethnic markets. Those who want to make it themselves will find it a simple operation.

2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
1/4 tsp. each ground cumin and salt
olive oil as required


In a blender or with a mortar and pestle grind the peppers finely. Add the garlic, spices, tomato and salt. Crush until well blended. Scrape the mixture into a jar, pour over just enough olive oil to cover, cover tightly and refrigerate until needed. (Yields about 1/4 cup. Considering how hot the sauce is, this quantity should last for quite a while.)

Glazed Duck

1 duck, about 2 kgs.
1 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. each salt, sweet paprika and white pepper
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
8 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 tsp. hot paprika
orange and lemon slices for garnish


Clean the duck well under running water. Cut away excess fat and refrigerate until ready to use. Reserve the fat.

Mix together all of the remaining ingredients, mixing until blended smoothly. With a brush spread this mixture on the inside and outside of the duck, coating evenly. Place the duck in a low oven for 2 hours. Every 45 minutes turn the duck and baste with the brush using the liquids in the pan and the remaining marinade. Be careful not to pierce the duck when turning.

After two hours, remove from the oven. Let cool for 15 minutes. Cover the duck and sauce with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-6 hours. One hour before serving remove from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1/2 hour. Remove the plastic wrap and cover the upper side of the duck with the fat that was reserved. (If this is not adequate add margarine to cover). Place in a hot oven for 1/2 hour. Garnish with orange and lemon slices.



The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb

Mixed Grilled Vegetables

1 cup mushroom caps
1 cup olive oil
2 large green peppers, halved
2 medium onions, halved
2 tomatoes, halved
2 small zucchini squash, halved lengthwise
1 tsp. dill seed
1/2 tsp. each salt, pepper and ground garlic
juice of 2 large lemons
pinch of rosemary


Combine the oil, lemon juice and seasonings and mix well.

Put the vegetables in a mixing bowl and pour the marinade over. Toss gently and let stand for 1-2 hours, mixing occasionally.

Over a charcoal fire or under a hot broiler, grill the vegetables until the tops begin to blacken. Turn and coat each with a bit of the marinade and cook the second side until beginning to blacken but before burning. Serve hot.

Spiced Peaches

8 firm peaches
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
6 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon, about 3" (7 1/2 cm) long


Dip each peach in boiling water for 4-5 seconds and then peel the skins.

In a large saucepan, mix together the vinegar, sugar and cloves. Boil, covered, for 5 minutes. Lower the flame, add the peaches and simmer, covered, until the peaches are just tender (about 10-12 minutes).

Transfer the peaches to a sterile wide-mouthed jar, add the cinnamon sticks, pour over the liquids and seal. Let stand 2-3 days before serving. Remove from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving.

Libyan Cuisine – Simple but Tasty

Often referred to as "tent cookery", the cookery of Libya is not sophisticated but is tasty and healthy. In addition to staples which include milk, oil, semolina, rice, dates, vegetables and pasta products, meats are generally cooked in ways that make for easily digestible dishes.

In this devotedly Moslem land, many eating habits are governed by strict tradition. At dinner, for example, each course is served on a common platter and guests are expected to eat by helping themselves from around the edges of the platters. The food in the very center of each tray is never eaten as it is intended as an offering to heaven.

In the most traditional homes, beverages are not served with meals. Only after the last tray has been cleared from the table, a communal vessel (guerba) containing spring water or milk makes the round of those participating in the meal. The person drinking should not breathe into the bowl, and must remove it from his lips before beginning to breathe again. After everyone has drunk his or her fill, meals are concluded with coffee and a pipe of tobacco.

Because the dietary laws laid down in the Koran are similar to those maintained by Jews, maintaining kashrut was not a problem in Libya, and Moslems and Jews enjoy similar diets.

Each of the following recipes will serve 6 – 8.



The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
Workers’ kitchen, Jerusalem

Spiced Sausage

1 kg. ground beef or lamb
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp. each salt and black pepper
beef or sheep intestines as required
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp. parsley, chopped finely
1/2 tsp. hot paprika (or more or less to taste)
1/2 tsp. each grill spice and dried oregano
juice of 2 lemons


In a mixing bowl, combine the ground meat with the beef stock, bicarbonate of soda and 1/2 tsp. each of the salt and black pepper. Mix well.

Clean the intestines well, cutting off any fat that may cling and washing thoroughly. Stuff the intestines with the ground meat mixture and by using kitchen string form sausages about 6" (15 cm) long.

Heat 3 Tbsp. of the oil in a heavy skillet and fry the sausages until dark brown on all sides. Transfer the sausages to a saucepan with a small amount of boiling water and cook, maintaining a low boil, for 15 minutes. Remove from the water and refrigerate overnight.

Shortly before serving, place the sausages in a slow oven and heat through. Prepare a sauce by combining the remaining olive oil with the remaining salt and black pepper, the paprika, grill spice, parsley, oregano and lemon juice. Serve with the sauce in a gravy boat.

Marinated Chickpeas

1/2 kg. gr. chickpeas
2 bay leaves
2 hard-boiled egg yolks, chopped and sieved
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. onion, finely chopped
3 – 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. capers
salt as required


Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water. Add the bay leaf and 2 tsp. of salt, cover and cook over a medium flame until the chickpeas are tender (about 1 1/2 hours), adding more water if necessary. Drain well.

In a small mixing bowl put the egg yolks and into this beat the oil and vinegar with a wire whisk. Stir in the onion, garlic, 2 Tbsp. of the parsley, capers and the cooked chickpeas. Refrigerate overnight. Allow to come to room temperature before serving and just before serving sprinkle over with the remaining parsley.

Pickled Eggplant

12 baby eggplants, with stems intact
3 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 1/2 Tbsp. each salt and ground cumin
2 – 3 dried red chili peppers
1/2 tsp. oregano
black pepper to taste


Make a 1" (2 1/2 cm) slit in each eggplant. Place the eggplants in a saucepan with a large amount of lightly salted boiling water and cook until just tender (about 10-12 minutes). Drain, cool and transfer the eggplants to a large crock or jar.

In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients with about 4 cups of water. Pour this mixture over the eggplants. If necessary, add water so that the eggplants are covered. Cover the container tightly and let stand at room temperature for

3-4 days. To serve, drain and serve whole.



The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
Fish market, Netanya

Pickled Sardines

1 kg. very small fresh sardines
1 1/4 cups flour, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large carrot, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly
6 cloves garlic, halved
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bouquet garni made by tying together
3 sprigs parsley, 3 sprigs dill and 1 bay leaf
2 – 3 dried red peppers, chopped finely
1 tsp. salt
9 whole black peppercorns
chopped parsley for garnish


Roll the sardines in the seasoned flour. In a skillet heat the oil and in this fry the fish until golden on both sides. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon, drain on paper toweling and distribute on a serving platter. Pour off half the remaining oil from the pan.

Reheat the remaining oil and in this gently saute the carrot, onion and garlic until the carrots are softened but not yet browned. Add the vinegar and wine, mix well and then add the bouquet garni, red pepper, salt and peppercorns. Simmer gently for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bouquet garni, pour the contents of the skillet over the fish, let cool and then refrigerate, lightly covered, for 36-48 hours before serving. Immediately before serving sprinkle over the parsley.

Morocco – Arabic Cookery with a Difference

The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
Maimuna celebration, Jerusalem

Although the best and most popular dishes of Morocco have their roots in peasant and working-class homes, this is a cuisine that shows a remarkable level of sophistication. The subtle use of spices and herbs and the frequent combination of meat and fruit make for an interesting and tasty table and, as in the case of other nations that have contributed large numbers of immigrants to Israel, these dishes have become as beloved in Israel as they are in North Africa.

In perusing the recipes for the dinner that follows, one should not be surprised to find almonds used in three of the dishes. Sometimes used as a fruit, sometimes as a seasoning and sometimes as a condiment, the effect of the almonds is quite different in each case. The dinner is designed to serve 4.



The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb

Fried Olives with Mushrooms

250 gr. mushrooms, cleaned and chopped finely
1 hot red pepper, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
250 gr. green olives, pitted and chopped finely
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. black pepper
toast points or cocktail crackers for serving


Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the onions until translucent. Add the mushrooms, hot pepper, black pepper and garlic and continue sauteeing until the onions are golden brown. Add the breadcrumbs and olives and saute for 2-3 minutes longer, stirring constantly. (Add a bit of olive oil if the mixture becomes overly dry). Serve hot on toast points or cocktail crackers.



The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
Almond grove at the foot of Mount Tabor

Chicken with Almonds – Djej bi Looz

1 chicken, about 1 1/2 kgs., quartered
2 medium onions, chopped
100 gr. whole blanched almonds
about 1/2 cup olive oil
4 hard-boiled eggs, halved
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. pepper or more to taste
pinch or two of saffron
salt as required


Make a paste by grinding together 1 Tbsp. of the salt and half the garlic cloves. Rub the chicken parts on all sides with this mixture. Rinse well and then pat dry with paper toweling. In a mortar, combine the remaining garlic with the parsley and pound to a paste. Moisten the mixture with 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil and add the saffron and pepper. With this mixture rub the chicken thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for about 24 hours.

Heat 4 Tbsp. of the oil in a heavy flameproof casserole and saute the onion until just golden. Add the chicken and continue to saute until the chicken is golden brown on all sides. Add about 2 cups of water, bring to the boil, cover, reduce the flame and simmer gently for about 45 minutes, turning the chicken several times. Add water if necessary to prevent the casserole from drying out.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a skillet and fry the almonds until golden brown. Drain on paper toweling. To serve, spoon the almonds over the chicken, garnish with the hard-boiled eggs and serve hot.

Fried Beet Greens

the greens and stems from 1 kg. beets
6 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 – 6 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste


Wash the beet greens well, shake dry and cut into 1" (2 1/2 cm) long pieces. Transfer to a saucepan, pour over water to cover and boil just until tender (about 5-6 minutes). Drain and squeeze out the excess water.

Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the garlic for 1-2 minutes. Add the beet tops and continue to saute over a low flame for 15 minutes longer. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper and cook over a very low flame for 5 minutes longer. May be served hot or chilled.

Orange Rice

3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 Tbsp. onion, chopped coarsely
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped coarsely
rind of 1/2 orange, chopped
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup uncooked rice


Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the celery, onion, parsley and orange rind and saute for 5 minutes on a low flame. Add the orange juice, 1/2 cup water and salt. Bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the rice, reduce to a low flame, cover and boil until the rice is tender and the liquids are absorbed (20-25 minutes). Fluff just before serving.



The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
The Diverse Israeli Table-Part 2- The Nations of the Maghreb
Dates, Neot Hakikar

Stuffed Dates

375 gr. dates, pitted
1 cup each peeled, ground almonds and sugar
about 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg white


Mix the ground almonds, sugar and egg white together. Put this mixture in a skillet and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes sticky. Add 1 tsp. water and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the flame and let cool for several minutes. With this mixture stuff the dates and roll in confectioners’ sugar. Serve while the filling is hot or at room temperature.