A green and pleasant lunch: Sabich

A memorable dining experiences of ours was at a restaurant called Four Tables, in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Not because the food was particularly outstanding (though it was very good) or particularly terrible (it wasn’t), but simply because of the unmatched quirky nature of the place. Having had some nibbles, breads and dips before taking our seats, we were greeted with an enormous salad entrée (in addition to our starters). As for the menu of main dishes, it looked fairly standard until you gazed up at the ‘exotic’ meats offering on the specials blackboard: think animals like crocodile, camel and zebra. Portion sizes were huge, and that was before the totally eclectic mix of side dishes made their appearances. Roast potatoes, roasted baby aubergines and giant onion rings were just the beginning! Neither of us is accustomed to leaving food on the plate, but even we couldn’t make it through this marathon.

Our visit was in honour of Miranda’s birthday which meant that we were also offered another treat: a complimentary signed copy of the proprietor’s cookbook, Elaborate Cooking Uncovered. It is full of recipes from all around the world, but it is primarily our go-to book when we want to make hummus. As hummus is an element of today’s dish, and so are aubergines, we couldn’t help reminiscing about that dinner nearly 5 years ago, which is why we’ve described our visit as a precursor to our Israeli recipe.

This week, we’ve opted for a lunch dish instead of a dinner one. Apparently there is no real ‘national dish’ of Israel, as its cuisine is so influenced by neighbouring countries and Jewish immigrants, but the sandwich known as sabich seems to be accepted as unquestionably Israeli. This is no ordinary sandwich though: this is a substantial meal and shouldn’t be attempted if you’re also planning a large dinner! The recipes for most elements of the dish come from I Will Not Eat Oysters, with the exception of the hummus, which is courtesy of Four Tables’ Ali Javaheri as mentioned above. Apparently a key feature of the sabich is amba, a pickled mango sauce, but despite an hour or so spent traipsing around our local ethnic food shops, we couldn’t find any, so we substituted it with mango chutney… which seemed to work!

Sabich

Ingredients
1 large eggplant/aubergine
A small amount of oil for brushing
2 hard boiled-eggs
Amba (or mango chutney!)
2 good-sized pita breads

For the tahini sauce:
1/4 cup tahini
3/4 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp chopped parsley

For the Israeli salad:
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 a cucumber, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp salt

For the hummus:
1 450g can chickpeas
Juice of 1 large lemon
35ml olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
75ml tahini
Salt and pepper

For the schug:
1 1/2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3/4 cup mild-medium chillies
1/2 cup coriander, roughly chopped
1/6 cup oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt

Method
For the eggplant/aubergine:
1. Peel away strips from the aubergine lengthwise, about half an inch apart (the aubergine should look striped). This helps to bite through it later!
2. Slice the eggplant into half inch rounds.
3. Brush with a little oil and cook on a griddle pan until golden brown and softened. (Apparently they should actually be fried in oil, traditionally, but we’re not big fans of that cooking method as they go so greasy.)

For the hummus:
1. Drain the chickpeas and put in a food processor. Gradually add the lemon juice while blending to bring it to a smooth texture.
2. Add the tahini, oil and garlic and blend again. Season.

For the tahini sauce:
1. Mix the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt together in a small bowl.
2. Add the warm water and parsley and mix. It will seem like it’s not going to come together at first, but it will!

For the salad:
Mix all ingredients together.

For the schug:
Mix everything together in a food processor until it turns into something of a paste.

To assemble:
1. Toast the pita over a low flame to get a little char on it (watch it carefully – it’ll burn easily!)
2. Put a bit of everything inside, with the aim of getting a bit of each flavour with every mouthful.
3. Enjoy!

Grilling aubergine

Sabich elements

Sabich

Sabich
It didn’t all fit in the pita!

As you can probably gather by all the different elements there, this was a little more complex than your average sandwich, and it did take us about an hour to put it all together – but it really was delicious, and worth the effort. The ingredients are all so simple and fresh, and they really do combine to make an incredible flavour. Having just typed up the recipe, I’m now realising just how much salt was recommended, so it’s fortunate that we did scale the salt down through habit without even realising, otherwise I expect it’d be pretty salty. The other obvious bonus is that all of the little elements will go with other dishes – we’ll definitely make that tahini dressing again, for example.

Next time, Saudi Arabia – so there are more Middle Eastern delights on the way!

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