Tuna Garbanzo Bean and Sumac Salad

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s time to say it again: necessity is the mother of invention. This Tuna Garbanzo Bean and Sumac Salad recipe is something that I invented when I absolutely thought I had nothing to eat in the house. What I did have was a couple of cans of Costco tuna, waaay up in my pantry along with a can of garbanzo beans. And in my fridge, I found wilted dill and parsley from last week’s Passover cooking class. I had a couple of lemons, because if I don’t have lemons, then I’m really a slacker. And truth be told, the only reason I had red cabbage was because InstaCart delivered the wrong thing. 

Tuna garbanzo bean and sumac salad

But there’s nothing I would change about this salad, and I think it’s perfect for a potluck, a buffet, or a family-style lunch. Or to feed your employees while you work (which is why it was so urgent that I found something to eat in my house.) 

If you’ve never zested a lemon, you can do it with a microplane. It adds a pop of Italian summer to the salad. Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice that has a tangy taste that’s delicious on all kinds of salads. Good to keep in the house. And there you have it! 

Tuna Garbanzo Bean and Sumac Salad

  • 1 can of organic garbanzo beans
  • 2 7oz cans of olive oil packed tuna (I get Italian tuna from Costco)
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/8 cup of fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/8 cup of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • a handful of red cabbage, chopped VERY THINLY
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of sumac
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste – the amount of salt you need will depend on whether or not your beans are salted, and how salty your tuna is.

1. Put it all together in a large bowl, and mix thoroughly!

‘Lemon’ Tells Bittersweet Tale of Coexistence

The Israeli film, “Lemon Tree,” is a striking story about relations between individual Israelis and Palestinians and illustrates one of the anomalies of our perception of the Middle East conflict.

If, as a foreigner, you want to understand the attitudes of an ordinary Palestinian, or absorb some levelheaded dissent from Israeli government policy, your best bet is to read Israeli newspapers or watch an Israeli movie.

That is a tribute to Israel and to its journalists and filmmakers. Can you imagine Hollywood creating, or mighty America accepting, a film that portrays the Viet Cong as sympathetic human beings during the Vietnam War, or Taliban fighters with understandable resentments in Afghanistan today?

The Journal talked about these differences with director/co-writer Eran Riklis of “Lemon Tree,” but first something about the film itself, which was inspired by an actual incident some eight years ago.

At the opening of the film, Salma Zidane, a 45-year-old widow from a small West Bank village abutting Israel’s Green Line, is bottling some spicy lemonade in her kitchen.

The ingredients come from a small lemon grove, which she inherited from her father and which she tends lovingly with the help of an elderly handyman.

The rural rhythm is disturbed when the newly named Israeli defense minister, Israel Navon, decides to build a large, handsome house directly facing the lemon grove.

His security detail warns that the abundant lemon trees would provide perfect cover for terrorists aiming to assassinate Navon and orders that all the trees be uprooted.

Although both Arabs and Israelis counsel the widow that it’s hopeless to fight the edict, she appeals first to the Palestinian Authority, which doesn’t want to be bothered, and then to an Israeli military court, which quickly rules against her.

Despite the warnings of everyone, including her young Arab lawyer, Salma insists on taking her case to the Israeli High Court (Supreme Court).

The case now becomes a national and international media story, to the exasperation of Navon, who chides reporters at a press conference for bugging him about lemons when he has to worry about the country’s survival.

In parallel, the film gently develops the story of the loneliness of two middle-aged women and the silent bond of sympathy that develops between them.

One is Salma, who attracts and is attracted to her much younger Arab lawyer, to the dismay of her relatives. The other is Mira, Navon’s wife, who grows increasingly estranged from her husband, both for his roving eye and his callousness toward the lemon grove widow.

The hearing before a Supreme Court panel is an emotional highlight and without giving away the verdict, each side wins a bit and loses a bit.

Despite the underlying seriousness of the film, Riklis lightens it with flashes of humor. Best is an Israeli, named Private Quickie (for his slowness), who whiles away long hours in a guard tower studying audio self-improvement courses and embodies every army’s Good Soldier Schweik.

Outstanding in a fine cast is Hiam Abbass, a native of Nazareth, who portrays the widow with great dignity and an undertone of sadness. She was featured earlier in Riklis’ “The Syrian Bride.”

When Riklis phoned from New York, he was asked about the apparent gap between Israeli filmmakers, who tend to sympathize with the Palestinian viewpoint, and the Israeli electorate, which now seems to favor a more hard-line policy with the ascent of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“I don’t think Israelis are becoming more prejudiced,” Riklis responded. Rather, “people are becoming tired, they are fed up with what is happening. They want to live normal lives.”

After dealing with Jewish-Arab relations on the human level in “Lemon Tree,” “The Syrian Bride” and “Cup Final,” Riklis believes he’s about done with the subject.

But, he cautions, if a really good story comes along, he might change his mind. “Never say never,” he said.

“Lemon Tree” is just opening in the United States and Canada, but has received warm receptions in Europe, Asia and South America.

“The situation we deal with in the movie isn’t unique to Israel,” Riklis said. “With local variations, it could happen along parts of the United States-Mexican border.”

“Lemon Tree” opens May 1 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and the Town Center in Encino.

Meat meets lemon — brisket gone wild!

One day last month, my husband returned from Trader Joe’s carrying a large slab of brisket.

“I invited our neighbors for dinner,” he announced, “and they’re kosher.” I can cook, but my only attempt at a nice bubbie-style brisket took two days and was a memorable disaster. I’m sure it was digestible, it just wasn’t chewable. I have suffered brisket-phobia ever since.

I had about five hours to get something suitably special on the table. So, I abandoned all my brisket preconceptions, took a deep breath and thought, “Do what you love, do what you know.”

The result was extraordinary.

What I know is how to combine the cooking techniques of my family–Swedish (non-Jewish) Americans given to light but hearty flavors — with all the Mediterranean flavors that have become part of any serious California cook’s repertoire: olives, olive oil, fennel and preserved lemons.

Preserved lemons and brisket? Yes, those salty tart gems are crucial to this dish. I use homemade, but you’ll need three to four weeks advanced preparation for my recipe (Paula Wolfert offers a one-week version in her book, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco”). You can also buy preserved lemons at specialty Middle Eastern markets and at Surfas in Culver City.

Couscous and a little green salad with oranges are all you’ll need to complete the meal. For our dessert, I stuffed halved nectarines with a mixture of crumbled store-bought amaretti cookies, chopped almonds and honey.

The honey makes this an ideal Rosh Hashanah meal. And the amaretti cookies were, of course, kosher and pareve. Amazing how fast a Swedish American can catch on to these things.

Brisket with Fennel and Olives

1 3-pound brisket (I use a point cut)
2 large fennel bulbs, cored, trimmed and very thinly sliced. Include any nice fronds.
1 very large Vidalia, Walla Walla or other sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 cup mixed green and black olives (Greek, kalamata, etc.)
3 preserved lemons, diced, and a couple tablespoons of their juice
1/2 cup water or a mixture of water and dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Italian parsley

Choose your heaviest dutch oven, or use enameled cast iron. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. On the stovetop, bring the pan to a medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and brown the brisket on both sides, not more than five to seven minutes in total. Remove the meat, and toss the fennel and onions in the pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Put the lid on and let them sweat a little. When the vegetables soften, stir in half the olives and one of the diced lemons. Nestle the meat in the mixture and add the 1/2 cup of liquid. Cover tightly, and bake for three to three and a half hours. Add the rest of the lemons, their juice and the olives, return to oven 30 minutes or so.

When ready to serve, remove meat and slice across the grain. Serve on a pla
tter surrounded with the vegetables and drizzle the pan juices over all. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Preserved Lemons
Kosher salt
Lemons to preserve, as thin skinned as possible
Additional lemons for juice

Cut the lemons in quarters from the tip to the stem end without cutting all the way through. Pack the quarters with salt, rubbing it in and close them back up. Place tightly together in a crock or wide mouthed glass jar. Cover with fresh lemon juice and seal tightly, leaving it in a cool dry place for 3-4 weeks. Check every few days to be sure the lemon juice still covers the lemons completely, and top it off if you need to. When ready, remove anything objectionable from the top of the lemon juice and refrigerate.

Stuffed Nectarines a la Chez Panisse
4 ripe nectarines
1 cup pareve amaretti cookies, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped almonds
3 tablespoon (approx.) honey.
Kosher dessert wine (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with cooking parchment or lightly oil.

Halve nectarines and remove pits. Mix almonds and amaretti cookies together, add honey to moisten mixture. Stuff into cavity of each nectarine, place in pan and drizzle with a little dessert wine, if desired.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so, then slip the fruits out of their skins before serving. These are good warm or cold.