For Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day, I wanted to share a recipe that is a bit different from your typical falafel or shawarma. Don’t get me wrong — I could eat lamb shawarma or kofte daily and never get bored, but it’s nice to share a dish that readers may not be aware of.
Sabich is commonly served for brunch on Shabbat, but it’s enjoyed in Israel every day. Iraqi Jews brought this amazing food with them to Israel when they had to flee in a mass exodus for their safety. I thought it was fitting for Yom Ha’atzmaut to honor both those who perished in the Farhud and those who suffered from the aftermath living in what is now Iraq. About a million Jews from Muslim lands were forced to flee their ancient and beloved communities when the state of Israel was created. New waves of immigrants came back to their homeland and they brought a rich culture with them.
This holiday is important as a recognition of why the state of Israel is necessary for all of us, whether we would choose to live there. Israel may not be perfect but we’re blessed to have her.
I don’t typically write about anything but food, but the context is important when considering our Jewish independence. Many of us have parents and grandparents who were forced to leave their homes due to violent antisemitism. My generation overall has had a more peaceful upbringing — which is a blessing — and we don’t always step back and thank God and those who risked everything to create a state for us, giving us a place of refuge should we find ourselves in need.
Sabich is served on Shabbat because its ingredients can be cooked the day before and served at room temperature. It’s a light meal in a pita consisting of fried or baked eggplant, boiled eggs and the usual Israeli pita add-ins like hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, cabbage salad and, if you’re open to something new, amba. Amba is a pickled mango condiment popular in the Middle East and also in India. It reminds me of hilba (fenugreek). You either love it or hate it right off the bat, but I suggest trying it once to see if it’s something new to add into your Israeli-style cooking. This makes a great meal any day of the week, and a very special dinner to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.
1 large eggplant
Olive oil or olive oil spray
Boiled eggs — hard- or medium-boiled to your liking
The rest of the ingredients are quickly made or easily purchased; buy or make as much as you please.
Fresh parsley to garnish
You can pan-fry the eggplant if you prefer, but eggplant inhales oil, so I recommend my baked version that’s healthier and easier to make.
Wash and cut the eggplant into ½-inch slices, making circles. Lightly sprinkle with salt and let sit on the counter for 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 375 F.
Place a sheet of parchment paper over a large sheet pan for easier cleanup. Spray the parchment liberally with olive oil spray, lay out the eggplant and generously spray oil over the top, or brush olive oil on both sides before baking.
Eggplant browns better if the oven rack is placed toward the top of the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes then put the broiler on high and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the eggplant is golden brown. If preparing this low-oil version, give the eggplant an extra spray of oil right before you put the pan under the broiler.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
You can serve sabich warm or at room temperature. If you made it ahead of time, simply warm the eggplant in the oven before serving. You can buy hummus, tahini (the condiment, not the paste) and pickles at any store. Kosher stores often sell amba, and I’ve seen it at Arab markets and even at Trader Joe’s.
For Israeli salad, chop tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley if you wish, and season with fresh lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Cabbage salad is basically the same recipe; you can use purple cabbage to add some color to the plate. Traditional cabbage salad has minced garlic, lemon juice, salt and a little mayonnaise. If you’re avoiding mayonnaise, you can add a little olive oil to the cabbage.
Peel and slice the eggs that you pre-cooked.
Slice the pita across the very top so that the pocket is as large as possible. Add 2 pieces of eggplant, a few slices of egg and the other items, to your taste. I prefer the works, so that means a large spoonful of hummus and the vegetable salads, followed by tahini and a drizzle of amba. If you’re trying amba for the first time, prepare a small dish on the side and try it over one bite to see what you think. My husband likes to add pickled onions, a dash of cumin and some zhug. Have fun and play with the delicious flavor combinations.
I’m praying for peace and posterity for our beautiful Israel. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.