A Taste of Traditional Arab Food
Camla Musa is an Arab Chef from the Galilee, Israel. She lives in Dir El Asad, an Israeli Arab village in northern Israel. She takes great pride and joy in cooking traditional Arab food for Israeli diners. In her cooking, Camla regularly uses natural ingredients that she herself prepares or picks from a nearby field. She avoids cooking with milk and eggs, not out of health reasons, but simply because these are not necessary ingredients for preparing her healthy and delicious dishes.
Although Camla started cooking at the age of twenty, following family recipes that were passed on from generation to generation, she only kicked off her career as a chef at thirty. “I’d been working as a cleaner for seven years when one day the chef of a rural resort asked me to help him prepare a few of the dishes on the menu. I gradually started cooking more and more of my family’s authentic Arab dishes. The people who came on vacation to the resort were very enthusiastic about my cooking. To increase the number of dishes I prepared, I started calling my mother to ask for additional recipes.”
Many may think that both the Israeli and the Arab cuisine are similar, but Camla points out that the latter is unique and quite different than the former: “Both kitchens are completely different as they use very different spices and ingredients. Each kitchen regards health issues differently and that affects the elements used in the cooking as well as the outcome.” She also explains that there are differences in the palate preferences of both cultures. For example, the Israeli palate is accustomed to eating something sweet at the end of a meal while the Arabs don’t have much of a sweet tooth.
Arab cuisine is made up of a rich diversity of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and even Indian food. It was originally based on vegan cooking with no eggs, plenty of olive oil, no yeast, and very little butter. On the other hand, Israeli cooking is very much based on milk, cream, and butter. “We do not avoid eggs because we think they are not healthy, but simply because we have no need for them. In addition, we do not deep fry, except for one dish called Kibbeh (a torpedo-shaped fried bulgur croquette stuffed with minced beef or lamb). However, these days some modern Arab recipes use non-typical Arab ingredients such as mayonnaise, but these trends did not originate in the Arab cuisine.”
Israeli cuisine in comparison is a blend of local dishes created by native Israelis together with dishes brought to Israel by the Diaspora Jews. Over the past decades, it has also adopted many aspects of the Arab cuisine: “The Arab salads are definitely a big hit in the Israeli kitchen — take the Tabbouleh for example (an Arab salad traditionally made of bulgur, tomatoes, cucumbers, finely chopped parsley, mint, onion, and garlic and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt). In addition, different leaf salads and stuffed vegetables are very popular in the Israeli kitchen these days.” Camla adds that she has noticed that over the past several years there has been a shift in the Israeli cooking. “I now see that they are starting to follow recipes that resemble the original Arab cooking techniques and ingredients.”
Camla specializes in preparing dishes that are a delightful combination of Israeli and Arab cuisine, specifically dishes made with the local Galilee leaves. “I also enjoy making a dish called Maqluba; a dish you may say represents the Galilee cooking. I prepare it with whole grain rice, meat, and vegetables. This is a completely balanced meal. No one leaves the table hungry!”
Camla goes to great lengths to make sure that her ingredients are fresh and organic. She picks her own leaves from the fields because they are not sprayed with pesticides, even though the leaves are smaller and she must pick more to have enough for a dish. “If I cannot go and pick the leaves myself, I buy them from the local shops.” Camla also makes her own bulgur and freekeh (a cereal food made from roasted green wheat). “My sister and I take wheat from the field and cook it in the yard for 6-7 hours in large barrels. After that we put the barrels on the roof for the wheat to dry. Then we wash and clean the wheat and send it to be ground for the different types of dishes.”
Camla takes great pride in being an Arab Chef who specializes in Arab-Israeli cuisine: “I am lucky to be able to pass on to my daughter my recipes so she too can continue the authentic traditional Arab cuisine, the kind that is not mainstream. There are recipes and menus that can be adjusted to the liking of a specific audience and yet still preserve the qualities of the Arab kitchen.”
We hope you will get the chance to meet Camla on your next Israel journey!
Try cooking one of Camla’s favorite recipes:
Maqluba with chicken or meat
• 3 glasses of Jasmin rice
• A whole medium-sized chicken
• 0.5 kg cauliflower (split into pieces)
• 8 small onions
• 3 cut carrots
• 100g of pine-nuts
• 2 liter of oil for frying
• A mixture of Ba’ha’rat (cinnamon, Cardamom and Bay leaves)
• Fry the chicken on all sides and strain the oil well
• Fry the onions, cauliflower, and carrot till they turn brown and strain the oil
• Lay the chicken in a cooking pot and stack the vegetables around it.
• Mix the rice together with the pine-nuts, season it and add salt, then add to the pot over the chicken and vegetables. Pour 1 liter of water over it all and cover the pot.
• Place on the stove till it boils and then lower the fire and cook for 45 minutes on a low fire.
• When ready, turn the pot over on a large serving dish and serve for everyone to enjoy!