Friday, January 31, 2014

Faithful Foodie Pilgrimage to Israel - Part One - Chefs for Peace

I have just returned from a power packed ten days of faith and food in the beautiful country of Israel where I enriched both my heart and tummy.   I experienced so many wonderful things I want to share that I have decided to break the experience in to bite size sections sharing one slice at a time.
Chefs for Peace
Chefs Nabil Marcos Aho, Ibrahim Abu Seir, Founder Kevork Alemian and Chef Moshe Basson 

Our group was blessed to have several of our events hosted by Chefs for Peace, a group of multi cultural chefs with one goal, creating peace through food.  Chefs for Peace is an organization founded by Kevork Alemian in 2001, along with chefs of Muslim, Jewish and Christian backgrounds they infuse their flavors to bring forth the message of a peaceful coexistence.  The discussion of politics is put on a back burner and they work together to unite others though food.  Their hope is to someday bring the leaders of both Israel and Palestine together at one table to share the food of peace.  These award winning chefs opened their doors to provide us with four memorable events during our time in Jerusalem. 

Our first foodie cultural event was hosted by Chef Nabil Marcos Aho, head of Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center College for Hospitality Management and Co-founder of Chefs for Peace.  The culinary school was established in 1990 and provides students with professional training to enhance their prospects of securing employment.  Chef Nabil and his students demonstrated the making of the traditional Middle Eastern dish Falafel.   Once prepared our group shared in the deliciousness which made our taste buds sing with joy.  
Our next adventure was a night of biblical foods at The Eucalyptus, a Kosher Restaurant owned by Chef Moshe Basson also a member of Chefs for Peace.  The practice of The Chefs for Peace is to always have a Christian, Jewish and Muslim Chef at their events, Chef Moshe (Jewish) was joined by Chef Ibrahim Abu Seir (Muslim) and Chef Nabil Marcos Aho (Christian) along with the group founder Kevork Alemian.  Our meal began with Genesis 25:30-35 “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of red lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright”.   Thus our first course was red lentil soup, thick and tangy, served in a small soup cup similar to a coffee cup.   The second course was **Stuffed Jerusalem Sage Leaves, I believe this has to do with the passover.  These nuggets of green were simply divine!   With a drum roll on the top of a HUGH pot our third course of  Maklubeh (an upside-down chicken and rice dish) arrived. I was so involved with the presentation I missed the explanation of the dish.  The meal ended with a scrumptious desserts where I fell head over heals in love with Basbousa/Harisa

The best of the best of our food adventures was our time at Mahane Yehuda market, with alley ways of vendor booths filled with brilliant colors and smells it engulfed our senses with wonder and awe over the beauty of the foods!  We were divided in to three groups, lead by a member of the Chefs for Peace, the goal, to pick up fresh ingredients for the nights dinner.  The most entertaining booth was Uzi Eli Juice Stand, owner Uzi Eli Chez,who has a contagious laugh, provided us with samples of his fresh squeezed juices including a lighthearted explanation of the healing powers of the drinks.  Mr. Chez invited Father Leo behind the counter where he proceeded to spray and rub products all over him.  Being a great ambassador Father Leo allowed himself to be the product tester making for an amusing, fun experience.  The day ended at Bulghourji with a lovely meal prepared by the Chefs of Peace which included middle eastern salads, rice, couscous and balsamic strawberries for dessert. 
Father Leo and Uzi Eli Chez


I truly appreciate the experience Chefs for Peace provided us.  The smiles on these mens faces show the kindness in their hearts, the desire to for peace and acceptance of all people  regardless of  politics, religion or skin color.  Please include their vision in your daily prayers and show support for their group by liking and promoting their Facebook page.

*Note links are recipes that closely resemble the foods we were served and not the actual recipe.
Recipes not included in links -
**Stuffed Jerusalem Sage Leaves. Other leaves to use include grape leaves or any other edible leaf.  Chef Moshe Basson has also been known to, use beet leaves when visiting in the United States, Chard is also an acceptable substitute.
Approximately 100 Jerusalem sage or other leaves
2 cups round or short-grained rice, rinsed with water
2 finely chopped onions
3/4 cup each: fresh mint leaves, parsley, and celery leaves, all finely chopped by hand
1 teaspoon thyme
3/4 teaspoon each: black pepper, nutmeg, allspice
1 1/2 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups ground beef or (for vegetarian version) cubed mushrooms, sautéed in olive oil and black pepper
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 potatoes, sliced
17 unpeeled garlic cloves (optional)
8 lemon wedges per diner
1) Combine rice, onions and meat, herbs, spices, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and olive oil together in a bowl to create stuffing.
2) Remove stems of the leaves. Lay the leaves down with their inner sides facing up. Save the stems.
3) In batches of up to 10 leaves, soak leaves in boiling water for 1 minute to soften them and make them easy to work with.
4) Place approximately a teaspoon of stuffing in the center of each leaf. Fold the leaf like an envelope, then roll with filling in the middle, so it looks like a thin cigar. Leave room on the ends — do not overstuff.
5) On the bottom of a wide pot around 8-10 inches in diameter, create a layer of leaf stems plus leaves that were rejected because they were too small or asymmetrical to stuff. Add the potato slices and half of the tomato slices. Lay the stuffed leaves on top in a layer, with the”seam” of the cigar facing down. 3-4 tomato slices on each layer and some garlic. On top of this layer, place the remaining tomato slices and unpeeled garlic cloves.
6) Add another layer of stuffed leaves. Continue layering stuffed leaves and tomatoes and garlic until all of the stuffed leaves are in the pot.
7) Into the pot, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt mixed with water until the water touches the top layer of leaves.
8) Bring to a boil. Continue to cook at a gentle boil, covered; over medium heat for about 25 minutes or until liquids evaporate. Check the doneness of the rice in one of the stuffed leaves to decide whether to remove or leave covered and heating for another 10 minutes.
Serve with lemon halves to squeeze on stuffed leaves. For pretty presentation place the lemon wedges in a circle in the center of the plate with the stuffed leaves spread out like a flower around the lemons.