By: Danya Weiner
My husband and I spent our wedding anniversary this past weekend in Nazareth. We heard it’s like going abroad, without the passports.
We stayed at The Fauzi Azar Inn, a 200-year-old Arab mansion turned guest house. The inn is located in the heart of the Souq (Market) Quarter of the Old City and is walking distance from The Basilica of the Annunciation, the White Mosque and St. Gabriel’s Church. The inn has become a haven for backpackers and off-the beaten track travellers who now fill the city.
Oded (my husband) and I rediscovered the backpackers we were ten years ago, even if it was just for two days. We met people from all over the world; Germany, Unite States, Holland, Brazil and Israel. We got lost even with a map in hand (and an iphone with gps in the other). We spoke English, went to an intimate concert of an East Jerusalem singer, singing grunge music for a crowd of 15, and we went on a tour of the old city with an American guide.
Obviously food is an important part of my travels. Nazareth provided me with many exciting culinary moments. I drank coffee ground right on the spot. I bought fresh grape leaves from a seller, selling them from a pile on the ground. I found heirloom tomatoes which I’ve never seen in Israel. The seller of the tomatoes gave me quite a strange look when I set the tomatoes up for a mini photo shoot on the spot. Our coffee break consisted of traditionally Arab black coffee and Atayef (a Syrian pastry filled with cheese). Our last meal was eaten at the locally famous, Diana Restaurant, which completely lived up to its name.
Here’s a list of things I brought home with me:
Black Coffee, with and without cardamom
1 pound fresh grape leaves
1 pound heirloom tomatoes
2 pounds cucumbers
½ pound fresh Sumac
1 pound Atayef (without the filling)
1 pound goat cheese preserved in salt
To sum up my vacation: to travel to the Middle East is super trendy now, and since we live here, and can’t participate in the trend, we (Israelis) end up going to the Far East or South America. Luckily I found a local backpacking haven in Nazareth which I highly recommend to locals and foreigners alike. Especially foodie travellers.
With all of my new produce, I got home on Sunday and prepared a delicious heirloom tomato salad with sumac, dried zaatar, goat cheese and green chili pepper. It was so fresh and so tasty.
Grape leaves are hands down my favorite food. I’ve been making the same stuffed grape leaves recipe for about 10 years now and I’ve always used canned grape leaves, which you find here in the supermarket all year long. This is the first time I used fresh ones, and the difference is incredible. The fresh ones literally melt in your mouth like butter.
This recipe takes time; it’s not one of the fast and easy recipes I usually make. But it is 100% worth the effort.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Ingredients for 60-70 stuffed grape leaves:
½ pound fresh grape leaves
1 tablespoon salt
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
For the filling:
1½ cups short-grain rice
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sumac
1 tablespoons salt
For the sauce:
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and fresh ground pepper
- Soak the grape leaves in a large pot filled with boiling water and one tablespoon salt for five minutes. Remove from water and strain.
- Line a large deep skillet with grape leaves and cover with a layer of sliced tomatoes.
- Prepare the filling: place the rice in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, uncovered and then strain.
- In a large bowl, mix together the rice, onion, tomato, mint, sumac and salt.
- Place a leaf, shiny side down on a clean working space. Place about one teaspoon of filling in the center of the leaf and roll from the bottom to the top. Fold in the sides of the leaf. Repeat with remaining grape leaves. Place the prepared leaves tightly on top of the tomatoes, leaving no gaps between them.
- Evenly sprinkle the sliced garlic over the grape leaves. Mix together the remaining sauce ingredients and pour over the grape leaves. Place a plate over the leaves, cover the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1½ hours.