When Jews from across the Diaspora move to Israel, there’s a difficult period of acclimatization. Olim have to learn a new language, get accustomed to a way of speaking, and living under the scorching sun in high humidity. And, no less important, their palates and stomachs have to acclimate to the new foods and flavors on their plates.
In “Shishlik. Sum-Sum. Zif-Zif,” a sketch from the book “Lo No’rah” (“It Could Be Worse”), Hungarian-born author Ephraim Kishon shares a story in his signature humorous manner of how his stomach begs for paprikash while he tries to convince it that black olives are just as good. He describes an arduous journey that begins with the transfer of the newspaper office where he works to a new location, and as a result the need to adapt to the new canteen that serves Iraqi cuisine. Motivated, he and his stomach experiment with a variety of dishes and stews which Kishon calls by made up names. One of the dishes he orders he humorously calls “couscousoul” — meat with eggplants served with rice in “fantastic quantities.”
As a tribute to the sketch by Kishon, we’re sharing this recipe for ingriye, an Iraqi eggplant stew with meatballs and a sweet and sour sauce from the book “Ashtidek: The Iraqi Jewish cookbook” published by Lunch Box Press and written by Shoshi Oren and her sister-in-law Loren Ravid. It is interesting to note that Loren—as she reveals in the book’s introduction—grew up eating Hungarian food. It was only after she got married that she became aware of and fell in love with Iraqi cuisine, and learned all its secrets through her mother-in-law. This symbolic connection is as heartwarming as the recipe is delicious.
For the eggplants:
½ cup oil
3 tomatoes, sliced crosswise
For the filling:
500 grams (1.1lb) ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons oil
2 onions, finely chopped
5 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried mint
5 tablespoons sugar
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup water
Steamed white rice
- Cut the eggplants into 1cm/ 0.4-in thick slices. You should end up with about 14 slices. Sprinkle coarse salt on top and transfer to a colander for 30 minutes.
- Use a paper towel to pat the eggplant slices dry. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat and partially fry the eggplants on both sides so that they slightly soften. Lightly salt and transfer to a tray lined with parchment paper. Lightly fry the tomato slices in the same skillet for about 30 seconds on each side. Season and set aside.
- Prepare the filling: Using your hands, mix all the ingredients until they come together into a paste (using your hands will help). Divide the mixture into 14 round balls and flatten them slightly.
- Build the sauce: Heat the oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold all the eggplant slices in an even layer. Add the chopped onion and fry slowly over a medium heat until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, mix, and fry until golden brown. Then, add the water and stir until a smooth sauce forms. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Arrange the eggplant slices on top of the sauce in an even layer. Place a slice of tomato and a meatball on top of each eggplant slice. Sprinkle in the dry mint and sugar, pour the lemon juice over everything and cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Cook over a low heat for 30 minutes.
- Serve with a fantastic quantity of rice.
Alternatively, roast in the oven: preheat the oven to 180C/350F fan (or 190C/375F in a conventional setting). Transfer the sauce to a roasting pan, arrange the eggplant slices on top in an even layer and repeat the same process with the tomato slices and meatballs. Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 45 minutes.