This recipe is part of The Open Kitchen Project where cooks who were evacuated during the war are invited to a home in Tel Aviv to cook a dish that they miss from their own home.
“It’s been 51 days since the Black Shabbat, and it’s been just as long since I last cooked for myself,” shares Sharona Dahan, an evacuee from Sderot who is currently living with her family in a Tel Aviv hotel. “Even though all of my family members are safe and together, we are all yearning for the aroma and taste of our home-cooked dishes.”
In early December, she joined Asif’s Senior Director of Content Matan Choufan at his home as part of The Open Kitchen Project, which aims to connect displaced families eager to cook for themselves with host families willing to open their kitchens. “Hotel food is industrial, and there’s a limit to how much one can eat in restaurants or order takeaway,” she explains. “I wish they would let us cook… regular pasta, or even the simplest omelet — but the kind we like to make.”
During normal times, Dahan, a Sabra of Moroccan descent, always has seven or eight pots gently simmering on her hot plate for Shabbat dinner like her Iraqi kubbeh soup with beets, a favorite of her children. Perhaps even more than cooking, Dahan loves hosting her kids, their partners, and friends. But her true passion in the kitchen lies in baking. On the eve of Simchat Torah, she prepared three cakes for Saturday morning, October 7, but they are still in her refrigerator at home, untouched.
When deciding what to cook for the first time in so many days, Dahan chose her mother’s Moroccan fish stew with potatoes and chickpeas, which is a staple on her Shabbat table. After just a few moments in Choufan’s kitchen, she already felt at home. So when he presented her with his widest pot, she jokingly pointed out that in her kitchen it would be considered a “small pot.” As she started slicing and frying vegetables, she remarked, laughing: “I’m careful with the level of spice, because my daughter in law is Ashkenazi.” Dahad develops the flavors of the dish gradually. “It’s not a recipe where you mix all the ingredients together and that’s it,” she explains. The final touch — her secret — is toasting paprika in oil before pouring it over the fish. After cooking, she insisted on washing the dishes herself saying: “I even miss this part.”
The meeting, which began with a handshake, concluded with a warm hug and an invitation to Choufan, his partner, and their children, for a Shabbat dinner in Sderot when she is back in her home.
10 sea bass filets (150 grams/5oz each), skin removed
2 tablespoons coarse salt
3 red bell peppers
1-3 hot green chili peppers (to taste)
2 garlic heads, separated into cloves, peeled and halved
¾ cup neutral oil, or a mild olive oil
1 can (400 grams/ 14 oz) crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 flat tablespoons fine salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 5 mm (¼-in) thick rounds
500 grams (3 cups) cooked chickpeas (if canned, drain and rinse)
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
¼ bunch cilantro, washed well and finely chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
- Wash the fillets and place on a tray. Squeeze the juice of 2 lemons on top and sprinkle the coarse salt. Set aside.
- Remove the stem and seeds from the peppers and slice into long strips, about 5mm (¼-inch) wide strips strips.
- Heat half of the oil (¼ cup + 2 tablespoons) in your widest pan (that can fit all of the filets without overlap) over medium heat. Add the peppers and garlic cloves and saute for about 5 minutes, until the garlic is golden and the peppers are browning, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- Mix in the crushed tomatoes and 1 cup water. Add the turmeric, cumin, salt and black pepper and mix well.
- Arrange the potatoes in the pot in an even layer.
- Add the chickpeas, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
- Rinse the filets and arrange in the pan in an even layer — you can also easily halve this recipe if you don’t have a pan that’s large enough. Optional: peel the remaining lemon, cut into rounds and place between the filets. Add the halved cherry tomatoes.
- Sprinkle the cilantro over the fish, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
- Pour the remaining oil (¼ cup + 2 tablespoons) into a bowl, add the paprika and mix well. Pour the mixture evenly over the fish and shake the pot gently to mix. If the sauce is too thick, add 1 cup of water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Serve hot.