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!

Haifa – More Than Meets the Eye

By: Brennan Caruthers Photos: Aaron Hoffman

Brennan Caruthers, Puzzle Israel’s intern from San Diego, spent a day learning more about Haifa and the surrounding areas with his fellow interns. Here’s what he recommends to do in the city that he’s living in this Summer

The waves of the Mediterranean Sea swayed, acting as a visual for Aaron, Geoff, Jon, and myself as we listened to Tamar from Puzzle Israel tell the story of the Dakar Submarine. The INS Dakar was purchased from the British in 1964, and when it didn’t return back from its first voyage, the search for the Dakar and its crew became the nation’s greatest mystery. Fifty years later, we admire the INS Dakar in Haifa and hear its story: how Israel grieved at the loss of their boys, how the country searched relentlessly for 31 years, and how the Dakar was finally found at the bottom of the ocean. You can now find the Dakar in the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum at the base of Mount Carmel, alongside Af-Al-P-Chen, a ship that brought illegal Jewish immigrants to Israel when Israel was under British rule and many other amazing findings explaining the role of the sea in the founding of the Jewish state.

Halfway up the Carmel Mountain lies the Baha’i Gardens, where we travel to next. The Baha’i religion is grounded in symmetry. If you visit the famous Baha’i Gardens, a mausoleum for the Bab (the founder of the religion) in Haifa, the focus on symmetry will become expressly clear. Nine ridges rest above the mausoleum and nine ridges lie below, which add up to a total of 19 ridges (19 being a holy number in the Baha’i religion). If you were to stand directly on the line-of-symmetry in the Baha’i Gardens, you would notice that the symmetry continues down Ben Gurion Street, all the way to the ocean across. Also, if you look closely at the gardens, you will notice that the center is well manicured and the further sideways you look, the vegetation becomes wilder, with plants representing the natural flora of the Carmel. Baha’i played a large part in developing Ben Gurion

Street and the surrounding German Colony in order to capitalize on the effect of the symmetry displayed in the Baha’i Gardens. Not coincidentally, the neat line-of-symmetry points directly at the Baha’i’s holy city of Akko, which lies directly across the bay from Haifa.
If you enter The Baha’i Gardens from the top on Yafe Nof Street, you will get a view of the Eastern side of Haifa, which makes the Baha’i Gardens a prime location to learn some Haifa history. You can see the changes made by Daher El Omar, the autonomous Arab leader that moved Haifa into a safer location in order to decrease the number of pirate attacks and protect the city from invasions. You will also be able to see the German Colony in the context of the surrounding areas, which provides perspective into how the German Colony developed in relation to the rest of the city. The terrace will also provide you with a perfect viewpoint of the lower city if you’re interested in finding fun locations to eat and drink.

When climbing further up the formidable Carmel Mountain, we arrive at the most West Northern tip of the mountain, at the site of the breathtaking Stella Maris Monastery. The entire compound belongs to the Discalced Carmelites who decided to build it in this specific place based on the belief that this is where Elijah the prophet visited and in fact is buried. At the entrance to the church, stands the monument to Napoleon’s soldiers who have been said to have been sick with the plague and left there to rest while Napoleon ceased Akko in 1799. Unfortunately, these soldiers were slayed by the Turks but their story is not forgotten.

In terms of food, you will find the most authentic dishes close to the large, rocket-shaped government building (you can’t miss it). Shwarma and falafel shops litter the streets, meaning you can’t go wrong when it comes to which stand you choose (just for reference, note that if you’re wrapping your main food in a pita, then falafel should never cost more than about 20 shekels and shwarma should never cost more than about 30). If you’d like a nice sit-down restaurant and an easy-going atmosphere, just head down to the German Colony and roam around Ben Gurion Street until you find an outdoor eatery that interests you.

Finally, we come to the nightlife. Us Americans here in Haifa usually take the two-pronged approach on the weekends. Our main event is usually this bar called Ha Sifriya, or “The Library.” The Library feels reminiscent of a college spring breakers trip, with loud, mixed American/Israeli House music blasting out of the corner, shots being poured off the bar into patrons’ mouths, bartenders frequently interacting sexually with customers and each other, and a carbon dioxide gun that shoots white compressed air into the crowd. Technically, Ha Sifriya is a bar. But The Library feels like a club. Oh, did I mention that you pay a fixed price for unlimited alcohol?

Our final stop is Barki, a medium-sized bar in downtown Haifa, halfway in between the rocket-shaped government building and the German Colony. Barki operates out of a dingy alleyway and provides a relaxed, secluded atmosphere that makes it a great place to cap the night, hang out with friends, swap stories, or just relax on a weekday. Try the half-liter of Barki! Barki proudly brews their own beer and affordably sells half-liter glasses for 25 Shekels.
There is so much more to do and see in Haifa and this is no doubt just a little description of what this beautiful and interesting city has to offer.
If you want to learn more about the city, just wait for the next article…

About the Author:
Brennan Caruthers, Puzzle Israel’s intern from San Diego, lived in Haifa for 2 months with his fellow in-terns and has worked for Puzzle Israel during that time.