Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center, bicycling with retired cycling champions Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the Giro.

Israel gears up to host prestigious Italian cycling race

Stressing the chance to show off Israel to the world, Israeli officials joined with their Italian counterparts in announcing Monday that three stages of the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling race will be held in the country, starting in Jerusalem.

It will mark the first time that any leg of cycling’s Grand Tour races — the Giro, the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta — will take place outside of Europe, and just the 12th time the Giro had gone outside of Italy in its 101-year history.

Israeli officials said the race will be the biggest sporting event ever held in their country and touted it as an opportunity to showcase the Jewish state — and its capital — to the world.

“Hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe will watch as the world’s best cyclists ride alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City and our other historic sites,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the hotel gathering. “Our message to the world is clear: Jerusalem is open to all.”

The race will bring more than 175 of the world’s best cyclists to Israel along with tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.

Culture Minister Miri Regev called on “everyone who loves the Giro to come here to Israel.”

“This bike race across the Holy Land will be a fascinating journey through time covering thousands of years,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a thrilling experience for everyone.”

Israel will host the first three stages of the Giro, or “the Big Start,” on consecutive days from May 4 to 6. Stage 1 will be a 6.3-mile individual time trial in Jerusalem, passing the Knesset and ending near the walls of the Old City. Stage 2, in the North, will start in Haifa with riders pedaling 103.8 miles down the Mediterranean coast to the Tel Aviv beach. Stage 3, in the South, will cover 140.4 miles through the arid Negev from Beersheba to Eilat on the Red Sea.

Italian officials told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz earlier this month that they were being careful to avoid crossing into politically sensitive areas, like the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem, which they feared could spark protests. An official map of the Stage 1 route shows it approaching but not entering the Old City, which is located in eastern Jerusalem — where much of the world, but not the Israeli government, envisions a future Palestinian capital.

According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the route will pass the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as part of a tribute to Gino Bartali, an Italian cycling champion credited with saving hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. While ostensibly training in the Italian countryside, Bartali, who won the Giro four times and the Tour de France twice, would carry forged papers in the frame and handlebars of his bicycle to Jews hiding in houses and convents. He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar.

In 2013, years after his death in 2000, he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem.

Alberto Contador, left, and Ivan Basso, right, former winners of the Giro d’Italia, with race and Israeli officials including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, fourth from right. (Courtesy of the Giro)

Italian Sports Minister Luca Lotti said Monday that the race would celebrate Bartali’s memory. In addition to being a great sports champion, he said, Bartali “was also an extraordinary champion of life, and a man of heroic virtues, and this needs to be commemorated, and shared, especially with the young generations — never to be forgotten.”

Retired Giro champions Alberto Contador of Italy and Ivan Basso of Spain, both two-time winners, also were on hand for the Jerusalem announcement.

Sylvan Adams, a Canadian real estate magnate and philanthropist who recently immigrated to Israel, helped bring the Giro to Israel and will serve as its honorary president. Adams said he was motivated by love of cycling and a desire to help his adopted country.

“I would call this the antidote to BDS,” he told JTA, referring to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. “The media sometimes portrays our country in a negative way, and this is a way to bypass the media and go straight into the living rooms of 800 million people. They’ll see our country exactly as it is, and my experience is people almost universally have positive experiences when they encounter Israel.”

The Giro is just part of Adams’ larger plan to make Israel a cycling powerhouse. A co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy, Israel’s first professional cycling team founded in 2014, he is building the first velodrome in the Middle East in Tel Aviv to be finished in time for the race.

“My plan is to bring Israeli athletes to the highest level of the sport,” he said.

Ran Margaliot, an Israeli former professional cyclist and the general manager of the Israel Cycling Academy, said the team has applied to compete in the Giro and will find out if it qualified in December. It is among 32 second division teams jockeying for a wild card spot, but he is hopeful.

“I certainly think we deserve an invitation,” Margaliot told JTA. “No one can tell me we’re not good enough, and we work as hard as the Europeans, even harder.”

Margaliot said that while he failed to achieve his ambition of becoming the first Israeli to race in a Grand Tour, the next best thing would be for an Israeli member of his international team to do it.

“You can imagine what it would mean for an Israeli rider to be racing in his own country, passing near his home and friends and family,” he said before catching himself. “But we have a lot of work to do to get ready.”

Israeli natural gas development mired in contention

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

The recently-discovered massive gas reserves found off Israel’s Mediterranean coast can ensure Israel’s economic and political well-being for decades to come. International companies have invested billions of dollars in developing the gas fields and are calling on the Israeli government to pass legislation allowing them to move ahead.

The primary player in developing both the Tamar field, which has already begun producing natural gas, and the much larger Leviathan (named after the Biblical whale) is a partnership between Noble Energy in Texas and the Israeli Delek Drilling company.

We have a roadmap that the government published to solve all the regulatory issues vis a vis the natural gas market in Israel,” Yossi Abu, the CEO of Delek told The Media Line. “Now it’s in the process of a public hearing and in the next week or two we hope to have a final decision in the government with respect to natural gas resources.”

Beyond strengthening ties with Jordan and Egypt, exporting natural gas could bring closer ties between Israel and Cyprus.

“It would give muscle to what has been referred to as a strategic realignment of the eastern Mediterranean that would bring Cyprus and Israel as well as Egypt to a new triangular relationship,” Theodore Tsakiris, a professor of the geopolitics of hydrocarbon at the University of Nicosia told The Media Line. “It would be not only based on energy but will be consolidated through the establishment of this energy cooperation.”

Israel’s natural gas industry sparked controversy when Israel’s Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo said that the two companies shared control of two-thirds of Tamar and 85 percent of Leviathan are a de facto monopoly. Gilo asked the government to cancel a government deal that would allow them to retain that control in exchange for selling two smaller fields called Tanin and Karish to a third party.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu overruled Gilo’s decision saying that natural gas is an issue of national security, and Gilo quit. Thousands of Israelis have attended protests against letting the deal go through over the past weeks, saying that “tycoons” are getting rich at the Israeli public’s expense. In several cases the protests have turned violent.

Much of their anger is directed against Yitzhak Tshuva, the self-made owner of Delek, who reportedly has $4.2 billion in personal wealth. Delek officials say that cancelling the deal would be a huge mistake that could cost Israel huge sums in future investments. Israel would be seen as a country that does not keep its promises to international companies. Yossi Abu of Delek says the company has already invested six billion dollars in infrastructure and is set to shell out ten billion dollars more. The deals to supply Egypt and Jordan have already been signed and offer great earning potential.

“We hope that Israel will not miss the very good window of opportunity to use the natural gas resources in order to establish a better relationship with our neighbors – Jordan, Egypt and Cyprus,” Abu said. “We see the natural gas resources as one of the ways to get to economic peace between Israel and our neighbors.”

Abu spoke at a conference at Bar Ilan University, open to the public, where at one point anger bubbled over. On a panel was Eliezer Marom, a former commander of the Israeli navy, who has worked for several international companies since leaving the navy. He sat next to Ya’akov Amidror, a former National Security Advisor who briefly worked for Delek.

During Q and A one audience member challenged Marom.

“All of these generals like you work for international companies after leaving the army,” he said. “You then represent their interests rather than Israel’s interests.”

“Apologize right now,” Amidror broke in furiously. “You have no idea how much Marom has done for our country. Your remarks are offensive and inappropriate.”

Marom only smiled.

“I have never worked against Israel’s interests,” he told audience. “But if anyone has any good job offers for me, I’m available.”

Social protests in Israel began in 2011 when hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest the increasing cost of living in what were originally termed the “cottage cheese protests.” Protests against the natural gas industry have become populist with calls to break the Noble Energy –Delek monopoly, and lower the price of gas for Israeli consumers.

Changing the terms of the deal could be disastrous for Israel’s investment climate, say analysts like David Weinberg, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

“There’s been a lot of noise and discussion over the last month about the threat of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, and the damage it might do,” Weinberg told The Media Line. “No BDS movement in the world has the potential to do one-onethousandth of the damage to Israel as this debate over gas. The potential for profit and economic missteps here is far greater than the BDS movement could possibly throw at us.”

Israel Festival brings L.A. a taste of Tel Aviv

Eden Bennun craved a taste of Israel. Growing up in Kfar Saba and Rishon LeZion as a child gave her a love of Israel’s smells, sounds and foods.

That’s why she made her way to the Celebrate Israel Festival at Rancho Park along with about 10,000 other Angelenos (down from approximately 15,000 last year on a very busy day in Los Angeles). The April 21 event was hosted by the Israeli American Council (IAC), formerly the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC).

“I wish I could record the smell,” Bennun said, standing next to a food booth occupied by Hummus Bar & Grill, a restaurant in Tarzana.

Thousands of people walking around in Hebrew-lettered T-shirts, shorts and sunglasses, helped create a scene reminiscent of a beautiful day along the Tel Aviv beaches, but it was the aroma of Mediterranean eats that stuck with many.

[SLIDESHOW: Celebrate Israel Festival’s 'Top Jews of L.A.']

From the standard fare of shawarma and falafel to Jerusalem bagels with za’atar (dried herbs mixed with sesame seeds), the festival offered a range of Middle Eastern treats. An area called Café Tel Aviv provided dozens of options, including local kosher favorites Mexikosher, Toast Café and even a stand from Sadaf, the Mediterranean gourmet food company.

The sounds of Celebrate Israel, like the food, brought the Holy Land to Los Angeles for a day. Israeli pop and rock music blared from speakers until Mashina, a popular Israeli rock band that drew many late visitors to the event, took the stage around 6 p.m.

Thousands of people packed in near the main stage, where they listened to the American and Israeli national anthems and speeches by some of the event organizers and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. A sea of miniature Israeli flags emerged in the crowd as Mashina took the stage; the band’s performance was even streamed live over FMIL radio, a worldwide Hebrew-language radio station.


Attendees at Sunday's Celebrate Israel Festival stand for the Israeli national anthem. Photo by Korey Johnson

Due to smaller crowds in the celebration’s initial hours, several thousand early birds were able to enjoy Israel without having to wait in line.

Person after person described how the food and environment reminded them of Israel, whether as their childhood home or as their religious and relaxation destination. Galia Dhari, an Israeli who now lives in Valley Village, said that coming to Rancho Park made her feel a part of her native land — for a day.

“It feels like a little bit of home,” Dhari said. “It makes me miss Israel more, but it gives me a little feeling of home.”

Bringing Israelis “home” — even briefly — and bringing Israel to Americans, was the whole point of the event, according to festival chairman Naty Saidoff. Saidoff and his wife, Debbie, were the presenting sponsors of the event.

“When we see the red, white and blue, and then blue and white, fluttering in the wind, we know this is all what it is about,” Saidoff said in a speech to the audience. “We brought you Israel — art, culture, agriculture, the past and the future.”



Thousands of people stand in preparation for a musical performance from Mashina, a popular Israeli rock band. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

Jason Ramin, a native Angeleno, visited Israel for the first time 12 years ago. The sense that he was connected to almost everyone at the festival through that experience was what made it special for him.

“Last week I was at Coachella, and I didn’t feel like I was as connected to every random person in that setting [as] I am today,” Ramin said.

The musical variety and energy at Celebrate Israel didn’t quite match that of Coachella, which hosted 180,000 people over two weekends, but there was no lack of things to do. Kids could enjoy a puppy petting zoo, a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, other rides and even physical training activities with “Israeli Scouts” (Tzofim).

In addition to the remarkable variety of foods, there were picnic tables of adults playing backgammon (shesh besh). Adults and kids could take part in a drum circle in the respite of the shade; it was a sunny 80 degrees in the afternoon. There were dozens of vendors as well.

Timan Khoubian, who was born in Iran and now lives in Los Angeles, came to Celebrate Israel to join L.A.’s Jewish community in celebrating the Jewish state, and also to enjoy some Israeli food himself.

“It’s a part of my identity,” Khoubian said, holding pita filled with chicken shawarma. “It’s a reminder [that] I’m a part of a bigger community.”

Nadav Tzabari, whose permanent home is in Israel, traveled to the festival from San Francisco. For Tzabari, it was an important symbol of unity for thousands of Jews in Los Angeles — Israeli and American — to come together.

“I want the Jewish people outside of Israel actually to feel proud of who they are and of Israel,” Tzabari said. “It’s a safe place for them.”

U.S. positions ships for ‘remote’ possibility of evacuation

The United States positioned three warships in the eastern Mediterranean reportedly to evacuate Americans from Israel in the “remote” possibility the Israel-Gaza conflict requires it.

CNN reported Monday that the 2,500 Marines on board the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York and the USS Gunston Hall had been scheduled to return to Norfolk, Va., for Thanksgiving, but now are on standby near Israel.

The online report quoted two officials as saying that such a contingency was still seen as “extremely remote.” The officials said that the ships would not be used in combat.

Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza on Nov. 14 after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza. It has since called up thousands of reserve troops and is considering a ground offensive pending the outcome of truce talks in Cairo.

Erdogan: Turkish warships will escort aid vessels to Gaza

Turkey said on Thursday it would escort aid ships to Gaza and would not allow a repetition of last year’s Israeli raid that killed nine Turks, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.

Raising the stakes in Turkey’s row with Israel over its refusal to apologize for the killings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean.

“Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.

“From now on, we will not let these ships to be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla,” Erdogan said.

Referring to Erdogan’s comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “This is a statement well-worth not commenting on.”

Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close U.S. allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.

Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Israel says it acted legally against ships that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.

Israel has said it will enforce the blockade, which it says is needed to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier on Thursday that Israel and Turkey will eventually mend fences rather than become foes, describing their unprecedented dispute over Gaza as “spilled milk.”

Noting that an inquiry commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had vindicated the blockade, Barak predicted that wider Middle East upheaval would help bring Israel back together with its Muslim ex-ally.

“Ultimately this wave will pass. We recognize reality. They recognize reality,” Barak told Israel Radio. “We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region … I am certain that we can overcome these (disagreements).”

But Erdogan appeared to raise the heat, saying NATO member Turkey has taken steps to patrol the Mediterranean, and vowed to stop the Jewish state from exploiting natural resources in the area.

“You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said, apparently in reference to Israeli plans to exploit offshore gas reserves found in areas that are also claimed by Lebanon.

“You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean,” he said.

Turkey says oil deals granted by the Greek Cypriot government, which represents the island in the European Union, are illegal as the borders of Cyprus remain undetermined while Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots pursue reunification talks.

Turkey’s plan to flex its naval muscles may fuel Western unease about Turkey’s reliability as a NATO partner and its penchant for actions designed to court popularity in the Muslim world.

Asked whether Israel might yet say sorry for the seizure of the Turkish vessel, Barak said: “Look, it’s spilled milk. It’s not important right now.”

In addition to an apology, NATO-member Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

“A normalization or improvement in Turkey-Israel relationships shouldn’t be expected unless they apologize, pay a compensation and lift an embargo on Gaza,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

Reporting by Omar Fahmy; Aditional reporting Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Karolina Tagaris

Tasty Middle Eastern flavors tweak Thanksgiving table

Hilit Gilat knows her way around the kitchen. For the past two years, the Israel-born chef has built a steady reputation for preparing sumptuous, slow-cooked meats, savory stews and Mediterranean delicacies for families and private events, corporate affairs and even visiting dignitaries.

But when a client hired B-Shool (Hebrew for “cooking”), the Irvine-based boutique catering and private chef service she runs with her husband, to prepare his family’s Thanksgiving dinner last November, the sprightly aficionado of fine dining was put to her biggest culinary test.

“Thanksgiving doesn’t exist in Israel, and most Israelis have no idea what it’s about,” said Gilat, 36. “For many Israelis living here, it’s just another four-day weekend.”

Like scores of their compatriots, Hilit and her husband, Saar, spent their first Thanksgiving four years ago on a family trip with ne’er a turkey in sight.

Subsequent years were spent with friends, but without the holiday trimmings.

“All I was interested in is Black Friday,” she said, referring to the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.

Her first exposure to the holiday as a historical landmark came two years later, when her daughter, Romi, now 7, recounted tales of the Pilgrims she was learning in kindergarten. And though Hilit learned more each year through Romi and younger daughter, Yarden, 5, she failed to grasp Thanksgiving’s significance as a cherished family celebration.

It struck the couple as odd, then, when a client gingerly asked if they would consider catering his family’s Thanksgiving dinner for 12, if they didn’t already have holiday plans.

“He looked at it like he didn’t want to take us away from our family on Thanksgiving,” Saar said. “We just looked at each other and thought, ‘What the heck.'”

The pair soon realized the knotty task they had taken on.

“I knew about the turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but I had never tasted pumpkin pie and had no idea what else to prepare,” Hilit said.

That night, they sent an S.O.S. via e-mail blast to their American friends that simply read, “What do Americans eat on Thanksgiving?”

They looked up traditional ways of cooking yams, brussels sprouts, stuffing and green beans, as their friends had advised. But the couple, accustomed to the piquant taste of their French, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine, were unimpressed with the traditional meal’s relatively bland flavor. They decided to develop a Thanksgiving menu that would reflect their signature style, infusing holiday staples with exotic ingredients like date syrup, wine and dried fruits.

The side dishes proved easy to tackle. The turkey, on the other hand, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, was a far greater source of stress.

“I had never cooked a turkey before, and here I was, faced with so many different kinds to choose from,” Hilit said. “Organic, self-basted, naturally fed, I didn’t know where to start.”

There was also the timing issue. The couple usually precooks food in their kitchen and then completes the process at the event site. They feared that roasting the turkey this way might dry it out, ruining an otherwise elegant meal. They decided to bring the raw turkey to the host’s home early in the day to roast it and then return later to finish their preparations.
“It was like leaving a baby with a sitter for the first time,” Hilit said. “I was so nervous.”

The final obstacle was carving the massive bird. Practice runs with a carving knife and scissors came out “less than aesthetic,” according to Saar, so they invited the host to do the honors.

It was only the next day, while enjoying leftovers at a friend’s house, that they discovered what they affectionately call “the electric saw.”

“It will definitely be different next time,” he said.

Different, perhaps, but it would be difficult to make it better.

“It is strange to cook food that you’re not used to, but it’s fun to try new things,” Hilit said. “My clients realized it wasn’t my usual menu, and I think that made them appreciate it even more.”

With a successful Thanksgiving event under their belt, the Gilats no longer feel like outsiders looking in to a Rockwell scene, and they look forward to sharing their new repertoire with clients and friends alike. The experience has also given them a deeper appreciation for the quintessential holiday of their adopted home.

“It gives you a rare chance to reflect on, and be grateful for, the good things in life,” Hilit said. “That is a wonderful message you can give to your children.”

7 medium-sized yams
1/2 stick salted margarine, cut into cubes
1 egg white, whipped
1/4 cup nondairy heavy cream (optional)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chopped sweetened pecans

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Wrap yams individually in aluminum foil and place on baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until completely soft.

Peel yams and mash into lumpy texture (do not over mash). Add margarine and stir until completely melted and dissolved. Fold in the whipped egg white, nondairy heavy cream, juice, white sugar and vanilla.

Pour mixture into heat-resistant dish. Mix pecans with brown sugar and sprinkle on top of yam mixture.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sugar caramelizes and pecans are brown and crispy.

Makes six servings.

Cooking time: 4 hours

1 organic turkey (12-14 pounds), cleaned, washed and dried
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
handful finely chopped sage
1/2 cup margarine or olive oil
1/2 cup date syrup (found in Mediterranean food stores) or honey
1/2 cup sweet red wine
3/4 tablespoon unsalted margarine (if desired)
Oranges, lemons and limes cut to eighths; 1 cup pitted dried fruit (apricots, prunes, etc.) for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In mixing bowl, work spice mix into softened margarine or olive oil. Liberally season inside of turkey with kosher salt and pepper. Massage turkey with spiced mixture inside and out, and between skin and flesh.

Fill turkey with prepared rice and close cavity with toothpicks or needle and thread.

In a bowl, mix date syrup and wine. Place turkey in baking pan. Baste with some of the date/wine sauce. Cover well with aluminum foil and place in hot oven.

Cook turkey for 3 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Remove foil and let brown for 30 minutes or until juices run clear.

Remove turkey from oven and let stand 20 minutes. Transfer juices from bottom of pan to small pot and reduce over medium flame. Add knob of margarine, if desired, to thicken.

Transfer turkey to serving dish. Pour gravy over turkey and garnish with citrus and dried fruits.

Makes 12 servings.

Festive Rice
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup canola oil
3 carrots, grated
1 handful each: white raisins; pine nuts; toasted, peeled pistachio nuts
Pinch salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups long grain rice, well rinsed
2 1/2 cups boiling water

Sauté onions in pan over medium-high heat until lightly golden brown. Add carrots and continue cooking for five minutes. Add remaining ingredients except rice and water; stir well. Fix seasoning to taste.

Add rice and continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add boiling water; bring to a strong boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until all liquids are absorbed (rice will not be fully cooked). Cool.


(To simplify your Thanksgiving preparations, I replaced my homemade pie shell with a store-bought one.)

1 large butternut squash, cut into cubes
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, melted
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white/brown sugar
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
1 store-bought pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place squash cubes in pan. Cover with foil. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until softened. Mash butternut squash to smooth texture. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.

Pour into pie shell and bake for one hour.

Makes eight servings.

For more information about B-Shool, call (949) 705-6425.

Sarkozy’s summit gets every* Arab country to sit with Israel

PARIS (JTA)—While the French-initiated summit for the Union for the Mediterranean did not produce any major breakthroughs, French President Nicolas Sarkozy recognized one achievement.
“The fact that we were all in the same room is already a lot,” Sarkozy said at a news conference Sunday in the French capital following the inaugural summit, which featured the participation of every Arab country other than Libya with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Conference participants approved six projects and signed an accord that, among other things, talks of developing peace and fighting terrorism. All 43 nations also signed on to support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Sarkozy underlined that much work still needed to be done to implement the projects.
Peace between Israel and Syria and the Palestinian Authority was a major focus of the event.
On Sunday, Sarkozy hosted a meeting of Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a day earlier Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Sarkozy and the new president of Lebanon, Michel Suleiman, to discuss peace in the region.

Olmert spoke about his morning discussion with Abbas.
“It seems to me that we have never been closer to the possibility of a peace accord than we are today,” Olmert told reporters.
“We are living through an essential and critical moment,” he said, evoking the “very serious negotiations” currently under way.
Abbas said at the news conference that “it is in all of our interests to reach” peace. “We should achieve peace for the people of the Middle East in general, but also for peace in the world.”
The summit, which aimed to normalize Israel’s relationship with its Mediterranean Arab neighbors through shared economic and cultural projects, was considered risky due to the huge differences among the participating nations.
Referring to critics who questioned the feasibility of the French-initiated project, Sarkozy asked in his opening remarks Sunday, “Who can live without taking risks?”

He added, “The very idea of life is that: to take risks. The risk we are taking in Europe is to extend a hand of friendship to [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak and to invite Prime Minister Olmert as a friend. If the risk we are taking is just that, extending a hand of friendship, and trying to construct peace, then it would have been an even greater risk not to have taken that risk.”

At the conference, Assad sat opposite Olmert at a large, circular table set in alphabetical order so the disputing countries were not placed side by side. The leaders did not meet one on one, nor did they shake hands.

Afterward, Sarkozy dismissed rumors that Assad stepped out before Olmert’s closed-door speech to member states, insisting that the event went off “without an incident.”
But according to several diplomats and participants, Assad and Abbas left for meetings on the sidelines of the summit. Assad reportedly met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

An Israeli official said that Assad left the room half an hour before Olmert’s speech.

A European source reportedly confirmed that both Assad and Abbas were absent, but insisted their absence was “neither ostentatious, nor intended to create an incident.”

Mubarak wondered, “If Mr Assad has things to do outside of the plenary session, what is the problem?”
Following a Saturday meeting with Sarkozy, a visibly cheerful Assad told reporters that he wanted France to co-mediate any direct talks between Israel and Syria with the United States when a new American president takes office next year.

At a news conference Saturday, Sarkozy told reporters that he asked the Syrian leader to “bring him proof” that Iran was not planning to build nuclear weapons.

The next day Sarkozy told journalists that during his meeting with Assad, he discussed the Syrian leader’s potential contribution to the freeing of Israeli kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who is also a French citizen, held captive by Hamas since 2006.

Assad is in a position to speak to Hamas on the subject because of Syria’s close ties to the group.

Syria and Israel are holding indirect talks through Turkey. Both have raised the specter of direct talks but there have been no agreements.
Olmert said he hoped the indirect talks would be upgraded to direct talks “in the future,” but added, “The Syrian track will under no circumstances come at the expense of the Palestinian talks, which are of utmost importance to us.”
Assad’s visit to France, a first since Syria and France froze ties in 2005, marks his newly improved relationship with Europe.
In his opening remarks Sunday, Mubarak said, “This new phase we’re entering into must be an age of peace in the Middle East, and I would invite Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert to pursue their peace negotiations in order to achieve total peace, and in order to establish an independent Palestinian state and to open a new era of peace in the Middle East.”

Mubarak, who was presiding over the conference with Sarkozy, called for a realistic approach to Sunday’s discussions while maintaining a new and positive outlook for improved negotiations.

“We must not overlook the consequences of the gap between the countries of the South and those of the North,” he said. “We must take a realistic view of that gap, but we must also approach it in a new spirit with a new philosophy.”

Following the conference, Sarkozy congratulated “the Arab countries for their courage” in accepting the invitation to join Israel at the discussion table.
Until last week it appeared that a handful of key Arab states, such as Algeria, would not attend the summit because of Israel’s presence and fears that northern European nations would take an upper hand in the conference, which initially did not include all of the European Union.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent senior representatives because of reported scheduling problems.

All the participants were invited to Monday’s Bastille Day celebrations, which at first incited an outcry from human rights activists who criticized Assad’s presence.

Sarkozy announced that the participants had adopted six projects that involve cleaning up the Mediterranean Sea, as well as creating maritime and land highways, civil protection programs, solar energy laboratories, a Euro-Mediterranean university and a business development initiative for the region.

“In four hours we couldn’t solve everything,” Sarkozy joked, “but now we need to develop [discussions] and go farther.”

Video headlines from Israel 2008-07-14: Olmert and Assad in Paris, prisoner swap Wednesday

Video headlines from Israel 2008-07-14: Olmert and Assad in Paris, prisoner swap Wednesday

New UCLA program puts spotlight on Mediterranean Jewish life

UCLA has established an academic program in Mediterranean Jewish Studies, focusing on the rich history of Jewish life and culture in Italy, as well as in France, Spain, the Balkans, Greece, North Africa, Egypt and aspects of Israel’s past.

Starting in the fall, the program will bring a noted scholar as visiting professor to the campus for one quarter each year to lead classes on a topic dealing with Jewish society, history or culture in one of the designated countries.

The program was launched through a $1.4 million gift from Andrew Viterbi, considered the father of cell technology, his wife Erna, and their three children.

“This is the first program of its kind and exemplifies the trend in historical analysis to go beyond traditional political boundaries and look at broad regional trends,” said historian David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

Viterbi interview

Viterbi and his parents arrived in the United States as refugees from a small town near Milan, a week before the outbreak of World War II, after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, aping Adolf Hitler, had imposed anti-Semitic laws.

After graduating from USC with a doctorate in electrical engineering and joining the UCLA faculty, the young professor developed the groundbreaking Viterbi Algorithm, which opened the doors to the digital age.

His mathematical formula for eliminating signal interference, allowing cell phones to communicate without interfering with each other, also led to direct broadcast satellite television, deep space weather forecasting, video transmission from the surface of Mars, voice recognition and even DNA sequence analysis.

As an entrepreneur, he co-founded Linkabit in the 1960s and cell phone giant Qualcomm in 1985, both hugely successful enterprises.

He has since endowed or supported a wide range of Jewish institutions in San Diego and Israel and served as president of the Jewish Community Foundation in San Diego and Congregation Beth El in La Jolla.

Commenting on his donation to UCLA, Viterbi said, “Because the Mediterranean region has been at the crossroads of commerce and ideas for thousands of years, it has been the site of one of the richest and most diverse Jewish cultures in history. I want that culture to be explored and recognized.”

The philanthropist himself “is perfectly fluent with the scholarship of the Italian Jewish experience,” said Myers, who was recently elected a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research.

The Center for Jewish Studies offers close to 50 public lectures, seminars and conferences each year, including series in Sephardic studies, Holocaust studies, and Modern Jewish culture.

UCLA’s academic departments list 70 courses each year in Jewish and Israeli studies and Hebrew.

Museum-hopping in Madrid, sans ham

What is the best museum town in the world?

Paris comes to mind, as does New York.

But as a certified art museum lover, I put my money on Madrid.

Madrid, the proud and stately capital of Spain, is home to three of the finest collections of art anywhere: the Museo del Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, each of which would be the standout attraction in a city with less to offer, and a reason to visit in its own right. The three museums form a triangle of sorts around the Paseo del Prado, allowing visitors to walk easily between them.

Madrid has lately receded into the shadow of showy Barcelona, which gets all the buzz for being a European capital of style. And indeed, with its spectacular Mediterranean setting, whimsical, unique architecture and international fashion scene, Barcelona deserves its stylish accolades. But its museums are limited to small, idiosyncratic or single-artist collections; the greatest visual thrill is walking its streets.

Madrid is arguably less glamorous, more conservative, more closely associated with Spain’s troubled past than its exhilarating future. It is also the guardian of Spain’s wonderful aesthetic legacy, and serious lovers of art could easily get lost inside its museums for a week at a time.

Jewish travelers will find a flourishing community in today’s Madrid. The freedoms of post-Franco Spain, combined with an influx of Argentine Jews who settled here in the wake of political and economic crises over the past 30 years, have contributed to an active, if small, Jewish community.

Observant travelers will want to acquaint themselves with the Jewish Community of Madrid (Comunidad Judia de Madrid), a nexus of Jewish life here for nearly 100 years. The community provides information, both online and in person, about Orthodox worship services, activities and Jewish resources throughout Madrid.

Bet El Synagogue is affiliated with the Masorti, or Conservative, movement and has a helpful Web site; there is also a Chabad center in Madrid.

On to the art: The Prado is a surprisingly small museum that can hold your attention longer than the encyclopedic Louvre. Rather than being vast and comprehensive, the Prado contains only the most exciting works by a small number of wonderful artists.

In one room you’ll find virtually all of the greatest works of 15th- and 16th-century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch, including his famous “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Even if you’re jaded by endless Madonnas, the soft, glowing religious portraits of Raphael will force you to stop and stare in admiration. Upstairs, many of Goya’s most famous works — from his “Maja” series to his controversial “black” paintings — are grouped together, inviting contemplation. The collection also includes major works by the Spanish giants Velazquez and El Greco.

When it opened a decade ago, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum was a major event on the international art scene: the acquisition by the Spanish government of the personal collection of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, comprising some seven centuries of European and American painting, with emphasis on the Italian primitives and Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish masters, German expressionism, French impressionists and 19th- and 20th-century Americans like Hopper and Rauschenberg.

In 2004, the museum made waves again when it added the collection of the baron’s widow, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Together the two collections represent more than 1,000 works of art, mostly paintings, which have been called the 20th century’s most significant private collection.

As with the Prado, nearly every work is stunning. But more importantly, the Thyssen-Bornemisza represents a perfect pan-Western complement to the Prado’s smaller, more focused collection, and the more contemporary Reina Sofia. In fact, it was the availability of space in such close proximity to these other collections that motivated the Thyssen-Bornemisza family to choose Spain to house its legacy.

On view through Jan. 7 is “Sargent/Sorolla,” an exhibition that looks at the parallel careers of John Singer Sargent, who is having a big year in the United States, and Joaquin Sorolla, his Spanish contemporary.

It’s also a Rauschenberg year. On the heels of the fabulous Rauschenberg “Combines” show at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art this past year comes “Rauschenberg:Express,” an exhibition of 1960s silkscreen print collages from the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s permanent collection.

An apt metaphor for today’s Spain, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia unites the aesthetic cutting edge — modern and contemporary art, including some daring conceptualism and Picasso’s famous “Guernica” — with a historic 16th century formal national hospital building.

A very Madrid counterpoint to all this art is an evening of zarzuela, Spain’s answer to opera. Culturally distant from the main currents of Western Europe for much of the last few centuries, Spain developed its own distinctive idioms, of which zarzuela, which is closer to what we think of as operetta, is one. (If you have ever wondered why there are no Spanish operas at the Met, this is why.)

The Teatro Lirico Nacional de la Zarzuela, on Jovellanes Street, presents a regular schedule of faithfully presented classics. Join the elegant evening crowd, draped in fringed shawls and diamonds, and go out afterward for a glass of sherry at one of the nearby tapas bars. If awards were handed out for cities least hospitable to kosher eating, Madrid would certainly be in the running. As in most of Spain, the main ingredients on Madrid restaurant and cafe menus are ham, shrimp, ham, calamari, ham, octopus — and ham. Madrid even boasts a “Museo del Jamon,” which feels less like a curated collection and more like a temple, with shrines and icons of hanging pork.

For advice on a ham- and shellfish-free visit, a friend recommended the Madrid listings on Kosher Delight’s Web site.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: ” target=”_blank”>

Reina Sofia Museum:

Israel Launches First Underwater Museum

It was the largest, most impressive port in the Roman Empire when it was inaugurated in 10 B.C.E. And some 2,016 years later, the ancient port of Caesarea — along the Mediterranean coast of Israel — was inaugurated again last month, this time as the world’s first underwater museum.

Divers can now don their wetsuits and tour the sign-posted remains of the magnificent harbor built by King Herod to honor his Roman patron, Caesar Augustus. The site has been excavated over the last three decades by a team led by the late professor Avner Raban of the University of Haifa’s Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies.

It’s not your ordinary museum tour. Visitors float from one “exhibit” to the next, marveling in silence at the untouched remains of a once-glorious harbor: a Roman shipwreck, a ruined lighthouse, an ancient breakwater, the port’s original foundations, anchors, pedestals.

“It’s a truly unique site,” said Sarah Arenson, a University of Haifa maritime historian and participant in the project. “This port was built as the state-of-the-art port of the Roman Empire, and made the other ports of the time, including those of Rome, Alexandria and Piraeus, look small and out-of-date by comparison.”

Arenson notes that the port is also unique today: “There are no other ancient ports in the world that are accessible to ordinary divers,” she said.

Some such ports are restricted to authorized scientists. Others may be open to any diver, but would be meaningless to such visitors “because,” Arenson explained, “all you would see is a bunch of stones.”

At Caesarea, divers view some 28 different sign-posted sites along four marked trails in the sunken harbor covering an area of 87,000 square yards. Divers are given a waterproof map that describes in detail each of the numbered sites along the way (currently maps are in English and Hebrew; within a few months they will be available in six additional languages). One trail is also accessible to snorkelers; the others, less than eight yards below the surface, close to the beach, are appropriate for any beginner diver.

And what does the visitor see?

In a sense, an abrogated history of this once prominent port town — from its entrance at sea (about 100 meters from the current shoreline) to the Roman shipwreck that signaled the demise of the port — probably due to an earthquake — about a century after its construction, researchers believe. And, in between, divers can view the remnants of the original foundations that made this harbor one of the wonders of the Roman Empire.

“This port was built using the knowledge and technology of Roman engineers,” said University of Haifa maritime historian Nadav Kashtan, a member of the team that excavated the site.

The port was built with a type of hydraulic cement, invented by the Romans, known as pozzolana.

“The Romans found that when they take the volcanic powder found around Mount Vesuvius and mix it with lime and rubble, the substance hardens in water,” Kashtan said. “This hydraulic concrete was imported to Casearea and used to fill wooden frames which were then lowered into the water to lay the foundations for the port.”

Two such frames were found, one almost perfectly intact, and are on view today.

Kashtan noted that thousands of men were recruited — both from Rome and locally — to build the port in the course of 12 years. Among them were many divers, who descended simply holding their breath, or possibly in a diving bell.

The Roman city of Caesarea was built on the ruins of a decaying Phoenician town called Straton’s Tower. Its builder, Herod, who also built the Second Temple of Jerusalem, was considered one of the most magnificent builders of the Roman era, Kashtan notes.

The Jewish king built the town — given to him as a present by Augustus — into a grand, fortified city that served as the capital of the Roman province of Judea for about 600 years.

The underwater park was developed with the financial support of the Caesarea Development Corporation.

Israel has long been known as a diver’s mecca because of the rainbow of corals and exotic fish found off the coast of the Red Sea resort of Eilat. But the country has more than two-dozen other diving sites along the Mediterranean coast — from the unique maze of chalky white caves of Rosh Hanikra in the north, to a collection of shipwrecks dotting the coast as far south as Ashkelon.

The sunken port of Caesarea — with its ancient sites and modern explanations — is sure to become one of the top underwater attractions.

Leora Eren Frucht is an associate editor of Israel21c.


Oxnard Kosher Dining Is a Sur Thing

“Kosher gourmet” sounds like an oxymoron. And “Oxnard kosher” sounds like the nocturnal ravings of some deluded diner.

Well, get used to it. Gourmet kosher dining has arrived in the Southern California farming community of Oxnard. Paris, London, New York maybe. But Oxnard? Home of big-box grocery chains, Mexican cantinas and strawberry fields forever.

Oxnard’s population is more than 70 percent Latino, which could explain why Tierra Sur, the finest new kosher restaurant on this coast (or almost any other), has decided to open with a decidedly Mediterranean-Spanish flavor, with a large dose of Tuscany thrown in for good measure.

So what’s a nice kosher restaurant doing in a place like this?

Tierra Sur is found deep in the heart of Oxnard’s industrial section, 60 miles north of Los Angeles and a mile and a half off Highway 101, nestled in the confines of the Herzog Winery.

Herzog itself has come a long way. It began making kosher wine back in 1848 in the small Slovakian village of Vrobove, where Philip Herzog crushed grapes for Austro-Hungarian royalty. The winery moved to upstate New York in the early 20th century, and then switched to California, where it is now headquartered and makes surprisingly good wines.

The front of its $13 million state-of-the-art winery houses an elegant tasting room and gift shop, which features high-end table wear, glasses and gifts appropriate to the sophistication of the entire operation.

But the pièce de résistance is Tierra Sur, with its high-ceilinged dining room, flanked by tall windows draped in heavy silks, soft leather dining room chairs pulled up to intimate-sized tables adorned with white table clothes and Reidel crystal stemware. The lighting is subdued, and the color scheme — earth tones of soft olive, gold and browns — highlights the elegant Mediterranean menu.

All this décor is very nice of course, but what about the food?

It more than measures up to the ambience.

Chef Todd Aarons, who grills some of his best creations in an outdoor wood-burning fireplace on the patio, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from the California Culinary Academy and cut his kitchen teeth at San Francisco’s Zuni Café. Two years later he moved to Savoy in New York’s Soho district. However, his cooking chops and tastes were really formed during a sabbatical in Tuscany, working at four restaurants and imbibing the culture of the Mediterranean table through his pores.

Following his return to California, Aarons went to a post-graduate program at Beringer Vineyard’s School for American Chefs in Sonoma, developing his skills in matching wine with food.

But it was while working for an Italian coffee company in Israel, and developing menus for Italian-Mediterranean restaurants in Netanya and Tel Aviv, that Aarons rediscovered his Jewish roots, fell in love with an Orthodox young woman and eventually became a ba’al teshuvah. Now the dietary laws of kashrut have became the most important element of his cooking.

Aarons commutes to the new restaurant from his home in North Hollywood, where he lives with his wife and three young daughters within the eruv.

Before his Oxnard venture, Aarons ran Mosaica, an upscale glatt kosher French Mediterranean restaurant in New Jersey. But the opportunity to create a restaurant from scratch with the financial support of the Herzog brand was impossible to resist.

So with sous chef Chaim Davids, Tierra Sur opened in late 2005 with kosher supervision by the Orthodox Union. But if you expect pickles, corned beef on rye, or matzah ball soup — fuhgeddaboudit.

Dinner with five-star service — on a par with a dining room in a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton — changes not just with the seasons but every evening according to the chef’s whim and the availability of the finest and freshest ingredients.

The Mediterranean influence is most visible in the appetizers, many of which come directly from the Spanish tapas or Greek mezes so beloved of the countries bordering that sea.

Platillos were small plates of delicate salt cod beignets; mushrooms a la Greque, cooked in truffle oil (one of the many instances where the absence of butter in the kitchen does nothing but improve the flavors); and a baba ghanoush that is fire roasted in the patio oven. The boudin blanc was a house-made veal-and-chicken sausage with roasted pink lady apples and turnips, and a corn and salt cod chowder was a warm starter on a foggy Oxnard eve.

The dinner entrees, which range in price from $25 to $44, include a farm-raised venison imported from the Mashgichim farm in Goshen, N.Y.; a delicate pan-seared wild Pacific king salmon with braised leeks, root vegetable Spanish tortillas and tarragon salsa; a marjoram and honey roasted chicken leg stuffed with porcini mushroom and chick pea ragout; and a pomegranate-marinated roasted lamb with sautéed broccoli rabe and fresh fava beans. Hannibal Lector eat your heart out. (A more modestly priced menu of soups, salads and sandwiches is available for lunch.)

Desserts like orange almond flan, a warm Mexican chocolate cake with caramel frozen custard and churros y chocolate are simple, inexpensive and delicious.

And, of course, the food can be accompanied by a dazzling selection of kosher wines — by the glass or by the bottle — from winemaker Joe Hurliman.

Already Tierra Sur, which also offers a wine-tasting menu, has been discovered by the Ventura dining cognoscenti and its private dining room has become a popular spot for everything from award dinners held by the Ventura’s Jewish Federation and its various offshoots to dinner celebrations for local corporate heavyweights such as Camarillo’s Amgen.

And the Orthodox are coming from miles around. There is always a fair sprinkling of men in kippot and women in wigs lining up to wash their hands at the small stainless steel sink hidden discreetly in a corner of the dining room.

On the night we went, customers included a couple who had driven up from Hancock Park, a family from the San Fernando Valley headed by a lady who doubles as the Jewish chaplain for the Los Angeles womens prison and a grandmother from Leisure Village in Camarillo who was treating her grandson and his wife from Philadelphia to a wedding anniversary dinner.

And in all cases, their food reviews were a unanimous thumbs up.

Tierra Sur Restaurant is located at 3201 Camino Del Sol in Oxnard. The restaurant is open everyday but Saturday for lunch, and Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday for dinner. For more information, call (805) 983-1560 or visit for links.

Sally Ogle Davis is a Southern California-based freelance writer. Ivor Davis writes a column for The New York Times Syndicate.


Glimpses of Jews’ Past in Andaluc­a

Spain’s Andaluc­a is romance. It’s orange blossoms perfuming the air. It’s golden drops of sherry sliding down your throat in a smoky bodega. It’s fingers dancing on the strings of a flamenco guitar.

This southern wedge of the Iberian Peninsula, known for whitewashed villages skirting the Mediterranean Sea, was once the center of a vibrant Moorish kingdom whose link with Jewish history is bittersweet.

When this Muslim region was known as al-Andalus, it was home to thousands of Sephardic Jews, who settled here after the fall of the Second Temple. Jewish and Islamic cultures entwined to produce a legendary golden age beginning in the 10th century, during which time Jews thrived as diplomats, physicians and poets. After Christians conquered Moorish realms, Jews found themselves expelled from Spain in 1492; the ordinance was not officially rescinded until 1968.

A tour of the region offers some tantalizing glimpses of the Jewish past, set against Muslim and Christian landmarks of incomparable splendor. But traces of modern Jewish life in Andaluc­a are harder to find.

At the heart of historic Cardoba, Spanish architectural traditions overlap and blend in impressive fashion. The huge Mezquita (mosque), built between the eighth and 10th centuries, is pierced at its center by a soaring gothic cathedral, added in the 16th century once the Christians had consolidated their power.

Not far away is the tourist-friendly La Judera quarter. A modern statue representing Maimonides, the great 12th-century scholar and physician who was born into a distinguished Cardoban rabbinical family, stands guard outside one of Spain’s few medieval synagogues, its stucco walls still etched with Hebrew phrases.

Seville, Andaluca’s largest city, is known for its enormous cathedral, flanked by the graceful Giralda bell tower that was once a minaret. Preserved in the cathedral’s treasury are, quite literally, the keys to its Jewish past. Two intricate iron objects on display are the ceremonial keys to the city’s Judera, as presented in 1248 to the conquering Ferdinand III of Castille by his new Jewish subjects. An inscription in both Hebrew and Spanish reads: “The king of kings shall open, the king of all the earth shall enter.”

Public buildings in Seville are painted in brilliant shades of yellow and red. After a visit to the opulent halls and lush gardens of the Alca¡zar palace, the traveler can slip through a narrow covered passageway into the quaint Barrio de Santa Cruz. Despite its very Christian name, this is Seville’s old Jewish quarter, now home to fine restaurants and the city’s best flamenco show. Where once Jewish scholars swayed over sacred texts, you can now hear the staccato beat of high-heeled boots on wooden floors, punctuated by shouts of “Olé! ”

Granada can boast one of the world’s architectural masterpieces, the breathtaking Alhambra. This hilltop fortress and palace complex covers a variety of styles, but its crown jewel is the 14th-century Nasrid Palace, a fantasia of vaults, domes, graceful columns and stucco friezes embellished with elegant tile work and swirling Arabic calligraphy.

Interlocking patios reveal a series of enchanting vistas. None is more delightful than the Courtyard of the Lions, whose central fountain is rumored to have come from the mansion of a powerful 11th century Jewish courtier, Joseph ibn Nagrella.

Off the Courtyard of the Lions is one of the palace’s most exquisite rooms, the Hall of the Ambassadors. Standard guidebooks don’t mention that this was the site where on March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella signed the decree banishing all Jews from Spain. Some commentators believe that the tragedy of that edict continues to haunt the Spanish people, many of whom have long-denied Jewish roots.

It’s heartening that King Juan Carlos, who ascended the throne in 1975 after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, has been a staunch defender of religious tolerance. He freely displays his fascination with Spain’s Sephardic heritage, and his wife, Queen Sophia, attended a well-publicized service at Madrid’s modern synagogue.

Most visitors to Andaluc­a travel from Madrid by car or by rail, a trip of about three hours. A worthwhile stopover between Madrid and Cardoba is the magnificent walled city of Toledo, which contains two of Spain’s best-preserved synagogues (see sidebar). These historic landmarks, however, have not functioned as Jewish houses of worship since the time of the Inquisition.

Of functioning synagogues, Spain has only a handful, but Andaluca can claim two of them. One is in Ma¡laga, the seaside capital of the Costa del Sol. The other, a charmingly decorated building that includes its own mikvah, is just down the coast in the upscale resort town of Marbella.

Jaén, a small Andaluc­an city that calls itself the olive oil capital of the world, contains no synagogue. But in a quiet square far off the tourist route, the traveler to Jaén will stumble onto an unexpected sight. Atop a square column stands a seven-branched menorah, erected to commemorate the Jewish families dispersed from Spain after 1492. Below is a plaque, written both in Spanish and Ladino. Its message is poignant: “The footprints in which they walked together can never be erased.”


Jews Thriving on Peace of the Rock

Long before there was a State of Israel, there was a state of the Jews. Its name was Gibraltar, and it was ceded to Conversos — Spanish Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism — in 1474 at the urging of Pedro de Herrera of Cordoba, himself a Converso.

Herrera convinced the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who had led the recapture of Gibraltar from the Moors in 1462, that special taxes and costs born by Conversos to build homes and maintain a cavalry on the rock would make it worth his financial while to give the Conversos control, as is detailed in a small book devoted to the subject published in 1976. For two years, 4,350 Conversos lived in Gibraltar, until the duke decided he would rather run the show and forced them to return to Cordoba and, ultimately, to the clutches of the Inquisition.

Although Jews were later tortured and expelled by the Spanish, the Jewish Gibraltarian population later flourished under British colonial rule to such an extent that the first and longest-serving chief minister, Joshua Hassan, was Jewish. The saying goes that when he took the helm in 1964, Gibraltar and Israel were the only two places where the heads of state were Jews.

In addition to a strong Jewish history, Gibraltar shares many similarities with Israel. A sheer limestone rock jutting out of the sea, tied by history’s label as a “Pillar of Hercules” to classical tradition, the tiny peninsula has been a continental crossroads and hotly contested epicenter. Taken over by the British, claimed by the Spanish, coveted by everyone, Gibraltar, as local newspaper editor Dominique Searle quipped, is “a bit pre-Copernican. We tend to view ourselves as the center of the universe.”

Such constant traffic also gave it a healthy dose of representation of the three monotheistic faiths and Eastern-Western identity confusion. As in Israel, the cultural melange might best be described as Mediterranean. But unlike in Israel, with its own rocks, traditions and politics (and pre-Copernican attitude), in Gibraltar, multiculturalism has thrived.

Three religions have lived happily, rather than uneasily, side by side. Although the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht — which delivered the enormous rock to England much to the eternal angst of the Spanish — contained a Spanish stipulation that Jews (and Moors) not be allowed to dwell there, by 1721, England had signed an agreement with Morocco, stating that both Jews and Moors be allowed to engage in trade.

Gibraltar takes its name from the Arabic Jebel Tariq (Tariq’s Mountain) in honor of the governor of Tangier who conquered the strategic point in 711 C.E. to kick off the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula, which they held until the Spanish Christians ultimately regained it.

By 1749, the ability of Jews and Moors to live there legally was guaranteed. That same year, the first rabbi arrived. Also pouring in were Geonese ship-builders, Maltese and Portuguese traders and, of course, British officers.

The Spanish were outraged by the violation of the Utrecht Treaty terms, using such unwelcome hospitality as a pretext for one of their sieges of the strategic fortress over the course of the 1700s. Not only did the British prevail, but a sense of solidarity and group identity was forged among the various inhabitants, which has persisted to this day.

Only the recent arrival of Moroccan laborers, who live in lower socioeconomic standards, has given rise to some racial tension. Religious parochialism certainly didn’t factor into the political success of Hassan, who has been called the “Father of the Gibraltarians.”

The president of his synagogue, Hassan was elected for a total of 10 terms as chief minister. Twenty years ago, the chief minister (Hassan), the mayor and the head of the chamber of commerce were all Jewish.

Hassan — and Jews generally — didn’t just excel in the political realm. His law firm, established in the 1930s, has become the largest on the rock. Haim Levy, the current president of the Jewish community, is a senior partner at his late uncle’s firm.

Offshore banking has contributed to a financial boom in Gibraltar, despite the removal of nearly all of the British military presence in recent years.

But British culture and language linger on, with the population increasingly speaking English as its primary language, despite a deep attachment to Spanish.

While the colonial power of the UK has often put the country at odds with the local population, that’s nothing compared to Spain’s pretensions of power — largely viewed as illegitimate by the population. People still refer to a 1967 referendum in which 12,138 voted to maintain ties with the United Kingdom, while only 44 favored Spanish control.

“There’s a love-hate relationship [with the British],” Searle said. “There’s not really a love relationship with Spain at all.”

The tension with Spain, looming large just over the border, contributes to active identification with Israel on the part of Gibraltarians, according to Levy.

“They identify with Israel,” he said. “They see Gibraltar as a small place surrounded by neighbors that are not entirely friendly.” n


Mizrachi Options to Liven the New Year

While apples and honey are de rigueur among Ashkenazim for celebrating the New Year, Middle Easterners turn to the more exotic, like dates, quinces or pomegranates during the High Holidays. So if you’re looking for some unique recipes this High Holiday season, you might want to turn to Faye Levy’s latest cookbook, "Feast from the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible" (HarperCollins, $29.95).

Levy lived in Israel for nearly 12 years, where she met and married her husband, Yakir. A cooking novice until her mother-in-law took her in hand, she soon developed a love for the varied, bold flavors of her adopted home. She went on to train at the renowned La Varenne in Paris and to produce more than 20 cookbooks and writes with authority and passion on the cuisine of the Middle East.

"It is amazing how all these people who can’t get along eat the same things," observed Levy, whose cookbook highlights cuisines of over ten countries.

"Eating together and discussing food and recipes is a great way to bring people closer," Levy continues. "Arabs and Jews share a lot of the same food. The Islamic rules of halal are similar to our laws of kashrut. We both don’t eat pork. Arabs do eat shellfish, and they don’t have a problem mixing milk and meat, but they hardly ever do it.

While the book explores the foods of all faiths and nationalities of the region, so many of the dishes are perfect for Rosh Hashanah because of the Middle Eastern fondness for incorporating local fruits, a perfect way to wish guests a sweet New Year.

"Sephardic Jews begin the Rosh Hashanah meal with dates, just as we do with apples and honey," Levy noted. "And in Greece, Turkey and Morocco, all around the Mediterranean really, quinces are really important for Rosh Hashanah. Moroccan Jews do dip apples in honey, then dip them in sesame seeds, symbolizing our wish that our people be numerous. Pomegranate seeds are traditional for the same reason."

Chicken in Pomegranate Walnut Sauce, a classic dish of the Persian kitchen, is appropriate for the holiday, Levy said.

"Pomegranate juice and paste are available in Middle Eastern and gourmet markets, because a lot of American chefs, like Bobby Flay, have suddenly become very excited about them. It has become trendy," she said.

If you can’t find either, Levy advises using pomegranate juice, now readily available in supermarkets, and adding less water.

Traditional holiday foods vary from country to country and from family to family. Some people avoid sour tastes for the holiday, like lemons and vinegar.

Persians, however, favor tart over sweet and love a splash of lemon juice on many dishes, Levy noted.

"In fact, I have a friend from northern Iran who says that the pomegranate paste available in this country is too sweet, so he asks his relatives from Iran to bring some from home when they visit." Some people avoid black ingredients for the New Year, so they use golden raisins instead of dark and do not serve eggplant. Since the word for leeks in Hebrew means "destroyed," many serve leeks to convey the wish that our enemies be destroyed.

Some people will not eat walnuts, but will use almonds; others eliminate nuts altogether.

"In our family we always have rice with toasted almonds and dried fruit for Rosh Hashanah," Levy said. "Middle Eastern cooks have so many delicious ways to do rice, and some, like Almond Apricot Basmati Rice, are so good you could consider them a dessert, a side dish or a main course.

"Sweetness for Rosh Hashanah is more of an Ashkenazi thing," she said, "though certain Middle Eastern Jews do it, too. Moroccans often serve vegetables sprinkled with sugar, but sometimes instead of making food sweeter, they might just tone down the spiciness."

For example, fish is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, particularly served with the head.

Moroccans might make Foil Baked Trout with Red Pepper and Garlic, but omit the jalapeño and lemon for Rosh Hashanah.

"It really depends on your family’s tradition," Levy said.

For Ashkenazim, Rosh Hashanah would not be complete without honey cake, but Sephardim of the Mediterranean may choose Citrus and Spice Quinces with Cranberries or Date Pinwheel Cookies. Honey isn’t found necessarily in desserts in the Middle East, Levy said, though some might use it as syrup on cake. Fruit with Honey, Figs and Dates will appeal to both camps as a sweet ending to the Rosh Hashanah dinner.

"It’s perfect for the season and really easy. And it goes well as a topping for traditional honey cake, too."

Dja’jeh b’Ah’sal (Chicken With Prunes and Honey)


2 cups pitted prunes, soaked in 1 cup cold water for 15 minutes

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


5 to 5-1/2 pounds chicken pieces (white and dark meat), skinned

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onions

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Three 3-inch-long cinnamon sticks

2 cups cold water

Prepare the sauce. Place the prunes and soaking water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the honey and cinnamon. Mix well and simmer until the prunes absorb some water and soften (they should be soft yet retain most of their shape), about five more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Prepare the chicken. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onions, stirring, until golden and soft, three to four minutes. Add the chicken pieces and brown, cooking for two to three minutes on each side. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon sticks and water, stir well, and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for one hour.

Uncover the skillet and cook until some of the excess liquid cooks off and the sauce has thickened to a gravy-like texture, an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve on large platter, garnished with one cup blanched whole almonds, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden.

Ka’ikeh b’Ah’sal (Honey Cake With Sesame Glaze Cake)

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder


2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon tahini

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare the cake. Combine the beaten eggs, tahini, honey and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add to the wet mixture and mix well.

Pour the batter into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan or 9-inch Springform pan and bake until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes.

When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 45 minutes. With a knife, loosen the edges of the cake. Place a large plate on top of the cake pan and flip the pan upside down.

Prepare the glaze. Combine the honey and tahini in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until blended to a smooth consistency, four to five minutes. Add the sesame seeds and mix well. Remove from the heat and immediately pour the hot glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to soak in. Let cool for 30 minutes.

Cut into diamond shapes about two inches long and one inch wide and serve at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Faye Levy will be signing "Feast from the Mideast" at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.

For more information or to R.S.V.P., call (323) 761-8648.

Judy Bart Kancigor, author of “Melting Pot Memories,”
can be found on the Web at

Political Fight Wages Over Abbas

The capture of Mohammed "Abu" Abbas may advance the U.S. war on terror, but it also could set off a political time bomb.

Less than a day after U.S. Special Operations Forces in Baghdad nabbed the mastermind of the infamous 1985 Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking, parties ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to Italian authorities to PLO officials fought to influence his fate.

On Wednesday, the ADL called on Attorney General John Ashcroft to bring Abbas to the United States to stand trial for the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled American Jewish passenger who was shot after the ship was hijacked. Klinghoffer was then dumped in his wheelchair into the Mediterranean.

The United States should be the country to bring Abbas to justice because "it’s an American citizen who was murdered," argued Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director. "We urge the Department of Justice to seize this moment to strike another blow in this nation’s war on terrorism."

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority demanded that Abbas be freed, saying his arrest violated the Oslo peace accords and subsequent interim deals.

"We demand the United States release Abu Abbas," Palestinian Authority Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat told Reuters. "It has no right to imprison him."

According to Erekat, the Israeli-Palestinian peace pact, brokered by the United States, said PLO members should not be detained or charged for any terrorist attacks they committed before Sept. 13, 1993.

With apparent American and Israeli approval, Abbas was allowed to return to Palestinian areas several times starting in 1996, and even lived openly in the Gaza Strip for a time.

Israeli officials in the United States could not be reached for comment Wednesday, the eve of Passover.

Meanwhile, Italy — which let Abbas leave the country immediately after the attack rather than fall into U.S. hands and then, in 1986, tried him in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison — pledged to seek his extradition.

"We will have to clarify some legal questions as to whom to request the extradition, which we’ll do as soon as possible," Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli told The Associated Press.

Abbas, 54, head of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), a PLO faction, planned the 1985 hijacking of the Italian luxury liner. Four terrorists seized the ship with 410 people aboard off the Egyptian coast.

Abbas later called the killing of Klinghoffer a "mistake," though he also claimed that Klinghoffer was "provoking" other passengers.

Though Abbas was said to have renounced terror, he told the Jerusalem newspaper Al Quds in 1998 that the "struggle between us and Israel does not stop at any limits."

The hijackers shot the wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer, 69, in the head and chest as his wife, Marilyn, watched, then dumped his body overboard.

Abbas initially won a deal calling for him and his men to be flown from Egypt to safe haven in Tunisia. But Col. Oliver North, an aide to then-President Ronald Reagan, ordered U.S. Navy fighter jets to scramble the EgyptAir flight, and Abbas was forced to land at an airport in Sicily.

A standoff between Italian and U.S. soldiers ensued, with both sides demanding custody of the terrorists. Reagan and then-Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi negotiated a deal in which Italy would try the PLF members.

Two days later, however, Italy said it lacked sufficient evidence to hold Abbas and — arguing that he also held an Iraqi diplomatic passport — let him go. He quickly fled the country.

Abbas reportedly spent much of the 1980s and early 1990s living in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. He moved to Iraq in 1994, one of several terrorist leaders — including the infamous Abu Nidal — for whom Saddam Hussein provided asylum.

After Baghdad fell last week, Abbas traveled to the northern city of Mosul and on to the Syrian border, but Syrian authorities turned him away, the AP reported.

Someone tipped off U.S. officials to Abbas’ whereabouts, and U.S. forces were led to a safe house on the Tigris River south of Baghdad. Special Forces raided the house. Abbas had fled, but they found Lebanese and Yemeni passports, thousands of dollars, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and some documents.

Abbas later returned to the city and was captured along with several others.

The White House said it would review the situation, while U.S. military officials signaled they were likely to interrogate Abbas about terrorism.

"Justice will be served," Marine Maj. Brad Bartelt, a Central Command spokesman, told the AP.

A Feast From Jewish Tunisia

Imagine a Rosh Hashana table adorned with fruits and vegetables galore. Ruby-red pomegranates beckon; their jellied seeds symbolize your good deeds in the coming year. A bowl of crunchy sesame seeds promises that your virtues will be as numerous as the seeds themselves. You partake of pumpkins and squash for protection; you nibble on olives and fava beans, too. To keep enemies away, you sample spinach and beet greens. You taste tantalizing dishes seasoned with garlic and leeks, believed to cancel your bad deeds. And to guarantee a sweet year, you delight in figs, quince, dates — and apples soaked in honey.

Pinch yourself. You are not dreaming. This fantasy could become a reality. With a little know-how and a lot of spices, you could dine this Rosh Hashana on traditional Tunisian cuisine.

"I am crazy about Southern Mediterranean Jewish food," says Joyce Goldstein, chef, author, teacher and Mediterranean cooking expert. "I love dishes that combine spices, fruits and nuts … with meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, and that play with heat and lemon, sweet and sour and sweet and hot. This is the food I cook quite often at home and served constantly when I owned Square One [in San Francisco]."

In "Saffron Shores"(Chronicle Books, 2002), her most recent cookbook, she celebrates the exquisite flavors and arresting aromas filling Jewish kitchens throughout North Africa and the Judeo-Arab world. More than a collection of recipes, "Saffron Shores" is a historical document that opens a window onto the customs of Jews from these exotic lands.

Tunisia is a small country wedged between Algeria and Libya. While Jews have come and gone in waves over the centuries, it is believed that Jewish life there dates back to the Roman Empire. Except for a few notable outbreaks of hostility in this Muslim country, Jews have lived under relatively tolerant conditions as merchants, interpreters, diplomats, and government officials. Today many are jewelers, butchers and carpenters; some run boutiques and restaurants.

However, since 1948, when 100,000 Jews lived in Tunisia, the Jewish population has dropped to 2,000. Many Jews immigrated to Israel after the founding of the Jewish State — or to France when Tunisia won independence in 1956. More Jews left following anti-Jewish riots during the 1967 Six-Day War. Although few in number, Jews tenaciously thrive, retaining a lively but observant community, complete with Jewish schools, synagogues and kosher food. Countering a downward trend, in the past several years their population has edged up by 200.

Among the mix of Tunisian Jews, people from the island of Djerba (north of mainland Tunisia) form a unique community with mysterious origins, Goldstein says. Djerbans may have come from Ancient Israel, arriving after the fall of the first temple in 586 BCE. More than observant, they are pious. They live in Jewish villages known as haras. Local leaders emphasize that the word "hara" is not synonymous with ghetto, because Jews have never been walled in.

Hara Seghira is home to the Ghriba Synagogue, the oldest in continuous existence in the world. This synagogue, with its Arabic-style entrance shaped like a keyhole, made headlines in April when a gas truck explosion damaged the building and killed at least 16 people, including 11 German tourists. Al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the bombing.

This was not the first time Tunisian Jews faced trouble. During the 16th century, pirates took Jewish hostages. To arrange their release, a small group of Marrano Jews — Jews who hid their religion to escape the Spanish Inquisition — traveled from Livorno, Italy. Many of them stayed, and others followed from Livorno. Their descendants are easy to recognize because they speak Italian, avoid intermarriage with native Jews and educate their children in Italy. They keep their own traditions and cuisine, a mixture of Italian, Tunisian and Portuguese.

Indeed, many Jews from Spain, and later Portugal, settled in Tunisia to escape the Spanish Inquisition. It didn’t take long for them both to adopt and influence local cooking.

"While not purely Sephardic, as much of this cuisine existed before the arrival of Jews from the Iberian peninsula in 1492, the taste interplay between North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula is evident in many a bite," says Goldstein, explaining that established Portuguese and Spanish Jewish communities were already in Tunisia from earlier migrations before the expulsion from Spain.

She claims that local ingredients and the use of specific spices create signature flavor profiles in each part of the Mediterranean world. But North African Jews play with the fullest spice spectrum, infusing foods with garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne, coriander, hot pepper and caraway. And tweaking tastebuds further, they also sprinkle mint, cinnamon, and dried rose petals into recipes, along with complex homemade spice mixtures.

Goldstein used cookbooks as source material for her research and experimented with recipes that excited her. The cookbooks she studied were written by women who probably possessed the talent of world-class chefs, except their world was centered in the home.

Women customarily worked in teams in the kitchen: grandmothers, aunts and cousins; mothers and daughters; mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law; and neighbors, too. Marketing and cooking filled their days, especially before holidays. Although food was prepared by hand, the old-fashioned way, there was joy in the team effort and satisfaction from nimble hands gathered around a table.

Women chatted and gossiped as the elder generation of experienced cooks passed on their skills to brides, who watched how to stuff vegetables, grind nuts and spices and trim fruit.

Today in America, the land of microwave ovens, low-fat frozen entrees and fast food, this lifestyle is hard to fathom. Although American women are busy, Goldstein highly recommends team cooking, because it’s more fun than you can imagine. She discovered this while teaching cooking classes in the San Francisco Bay area.

Teamwork or not, her recipes are easy for one person to master. "Students love the food and can’t get enough of it," she says, touting Tunisian Rosh Hashana dishes. She raves about the scent of cumin and cilantro wafting from a whole grilled fish. Its head represents rosh, the head of the year. While chicken soup with eggs is a must on erev Yom Kippur, it is also popular at New Year’s meals like Ashkenazi-style chicken soup. The bean and beef stew is often served with homemade semolina bread, the equivalent of challah. The sweet and sour nuance of the squash and apricot puree is enhanced by couscous.

When you cook this beautiful food and share its sensual and vibrant seasoning, you’ll know why this cuisine tastes better than practically anything else, Goldstein explains. "It’s infused with a wide range of flavors and the most spicy surprises." Surprises as layered as Jewish life in Tunisia, surviving over 2,500 years.

Recipes from "Saffron Shores” by Joyce Goldstein

Samak al Kamoun

Broiled Fish With Cumin

  • One 31¼2 to 4-pound whole fish, such as striped bass, snapper, or rock cod
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Rub fish with 2 teaspoons of salt inside and out, then rinse. Cut diagonal slits in both sides of fish, so marinade can penetrate.

2. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, spices, garlic, pepper and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk in olive oil. Rub this paste into fish, and if baking, wrap in aluminum foil and bake until opaque throughout, 25-30 minutes. Unwrap and serve sprinkled with coriander. If broiling or grilling, there is no need for foil.

Yield: 6 servings.


Squash and Apricot Puree

  • 1 1¼2 cups (1¼2 pound) dried apricots, cut
  • into small pieces
  • 1¼2 cup sugar
  • 1¼2 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded,
  • and cut into 1¼2-inch cubes)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1¼4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt to taste
  • Couscous (optional)

1. Soak the apricots in hot water for one hour to soften. Drain.

2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the sugar and oil over high heat until the sugar is melted and pale caramel in color. (Don’t worry if some sugar solidifies. It will melt as the onions cook.)

3. Add the onions, reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the squash and water, and cook until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Add apricots, lemon juice and cinnamon, and cook until you have a slightly chunky puree. Test for salt. Serve warm or at room temperature as an accompaniment to couscous.

Yield: 3 cups.


Chicken Soup With Eggs

  • 1 large stewing chicken or 2 broilers, cut
  • into pieces (about 5 pounds chicken parts)
  • 1 lemon, halved, plus 6 tablespoons
  • fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 turnips, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 leeks (white parts only), cleaned and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
  • Bouquet garni (satchet of herbs):
  • 3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, 2 bay
  • leaves and 3 cloves, tied in a
  • cheesecloth square
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 pinches ground cinnamon
  • 6 eggs
  • Minced fresh mint, optional

1. Remove excess fat from chicken pieces, then rinse. Rub each piece with lemon halves and sprinkle with salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Put chicken in a large stockpot and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and skim the scum from broth. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the vegetables, saffron and bouquet garni. Cook for about two hours longer. Using a skimmer, remove the solids and discard.

3. Pour the broth through a sieve lined with wet cheesecloth into a large bowl. Chill the stock, uncovered, in an ice bath in the sink until cold. Spoon off fat. Pour the broth into a pot, bring to a boil, and cook at a low boil, skimming if needed, until reduced and flavorful. Add pepper and cinnamon.

4. Beat the eggs with the lemon juice and stir into the soup. Simmer for eight to 10 minutes. Garnish the soup with the mint.

Yield: 6 servings

T’fina aux Epinards

Tunisian Bean and Beef Stew With Spinach Essence

  • 2 1¼2 lbs. spinach, stemmed
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed
  • 1 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight
  • and drained
  • 2 veal bones
  • 1 pound beef brisket, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon harissa paste (purchase
  • commercially or see recipe below)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh mint, or
  • 1 tablespoon dried
  • 3 quarts water

1. Rinse spinach and cilantro well. In a large covered pot, cook spinach and coriander over medium heat until wilted, about three to five minutes. Drain well and return to pot. Cook over low heat, turning with a wooden spoon, until dry and browned, 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Add beans, veal bones, beef, garlic, onion, cinnamon, harissa, dill, mint and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the oil comes to the top of the dish, about three hours. Add more water if the dish becomes too dry while cooking.

Yield: 6 servings.


Tunisian Hot Pepper Condiment

  • 4 large red bell peppers, seeded, deribbed,
  • and cut into pieces
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, toasted
  • and ground
  • 1 1¼2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil, as needed

In a food processor or blender, grind or puree the peppers. Strain, pressing on the solids with the back of a large spoon. You should have about 3/4 cup puree. Stir in garlic, spices and salt. Add oil for spoonability.

Yield: about 1 cup.