Belihat: The Haim family Egyptian patties

Left to right: Assi, Zohar, Shirit, Yahli and Doron. From Tel aviv to Givatayim

WHO ARE WE?

Assi Haim

Born in Netanya (1972). Journalist, photographer and senior editor at the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. Creator of ‘Hamordim’ (The Rebels), a blog documenting dozens of longtime shop keepers determined to keep their outdated shops running in a fast-changing world. Assi is also the co-creator of the widely acclaimed bestseller “communal dining: stories and recipes from the kibbutz” (LunchBox Press, 2012), a cookbook celebrating legendary dishes from the dining rooms of kibbutzim across the country. On the book’s back cover it said that Assi loves home-made food made with love. Assi still stands behind this statetment, adding that he also likes to cook such food, “mostly what I learned from my mother, the real cook”.

Shirit Saks-Haim

Shirit was born in Jerusalem (1972) and grew up in Rishon Lezion. She’s an organizational consultant and a mental coach. She works mainly in the business sector coaching businesses, managers and private individuals. In the family’s kitchen, Shirit is responsible for the salads and desserts and serves as Assi’s sous- chef (“I have no choice”) when cooking large meals for family and friends.

The children:

Yahli, 17½ years old, recently graduated from high school. He’s active in the Israel Scouts, and has an impressive collection of shoes which he designs with great talent. Lately he has also taken to designing shirts. Yahli eats everything and has been an adventurous taster of food ever since he was a baby. The first word that came out of his mouth was not ‘dada or ‘mama but ‘cake.

Doron, 13½ years old, recently graduated from the 8th grade and is looking forward to high school. Like her older brother, Doron is an active Scout but unlike her brother, she is a picky eater. This, however, does not prevent her from venturing into the kitchen in order to experiment with cooking and tasting. Her father, Assi, sees this as a clear sign and passes on to her the family’s culinary heritage whenever possible. Most of all, Doron likes to bake, but Her father is trying to convince her to give cooking a try.

Zohar, 9½ years old, loves to sing, play and dance. For her, food is a low priority and her parents believe this is probably why she eats everything.

The Haims. Meat plays a central role in their kitchen

WHERE WAS THE PHOTO TAKEN?

We live in Givatayim in a 5-room rental. We had to rent out the beloved apartment we own in the city as we had outgrown it. Our current kitchen is now larger with more work tops and it makes a world of difference. We have lived in Tel Aviv for years and with Tel Aviv out of our economic reach, we chose Givatayim which is the closest alternative, both physically and mentally. In recent years, the city has seen a cool awakening and now boasts a buzzing restaurant and bar scene, which is great fun, but we also try to keep up with all the new recommended restaurants opening up in Tel Aviv. After all, they are only a 10 minute motorcycle ride away.

OUR FAMILY KITCHEN

Shirit comes from an Argentinian family, and meals at her parents’ house focus heavily on meat. Shirit’s father is the king of asado, and he works his home grill overtime. Recently, we decided to reduce our meat intake, and heaven forbid, give veganism a try, but this is proving very hard with Shirit’s father working his magic on the grill with some marvelous cuts of meat.

Meat also plays a central role in Assi’s side of the family; His mother emigrated to Israel from Kurdistan and his father arrived from Egypt, both bringing with them grand culinary traditions which have taught and inspired Assi greatly.

Assi and Shirit steering it up in the kitchen

The Kurdish cuisine consists mainly of semolina or rice dumplings, stuffed with meat and cooked in soups. in Assi’s family, they call it Kifteh. In fact, every holiday and special event has its own particular Kifteh; on weekdays, Kifteh Chelia is served in a basic red soup, while on Fridays Kifteh Humsa is served in a rich sour vegetable soup. During Passover Kifteh Arza, rice dumpling stuffed with meat, is served in a clear broth (substituting the chametz semolina dumpling), and on the Sabbath every person is served one large Kifteh that has been slow cooking on a hot plate all night.

“The only problem is, it’s a grueling task” Assi says, “I learned the secrets of preparing the Kifteh from my mother. When we lived in Miami and I missed her dumplings I became an expert at preparing them and still, it’s really hard work. I remember Grandma Narges sitting on a small stool over a huge round stainless-steel tray, rolling one dumpling after another and gradually filling the huge tray until the last Kifteh was placed in the center. Once that was done, she would proceed to prepare the soup as we all sat, eagerly awaiting and drooling from the smell alone. The current pace of life makes it quite difficult to incorporate them into our family kitchen, and we rely on my mother to occasionally surprise us with a large pot of kifteh goodness”.

OUR HOUSE RECIPE: BELIHAT 

“Luckily, the food on the Egyptian side of the family is a lot simpler to prepare and stars in our kitchen. The kids’ favorite dish, which we have a least once a week, is Belihat: fluffy meat patties poached in a seasoned tomato sauce”. Assi’s grandmother, Bella, was born in Alexandria and emigrated to Israel in the 1950s. She explained the patties are named after the Egyptian name for dates, ‘Balah, as they are shaped like them.

As soon as the patties are ready, serve as a starter a crusty white bread, to soak up the all the sauce. Alternatively, serve as a main course with white rice.

Ingredients (Serves 4):

For the sauce:

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 hot chili pepper, chopped (you can use dry chili instead)

1 teaspoon sweet paprika (or 1 tablespoon spicy paprika, if you like the heat)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds

3-4 ripe tomatoes finely chopped (or substitute with a can of chopped tomato)

2 cups water

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

For the patties:

500 grams minced meat

1 egg

2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ cup bread crumbs or matzah meal

½ teaspoon hot paprika

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds

Salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

Oil, for frying

  1. Prepare the sauce: Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, chili pepper and paprika and mix well.
  2. Add the tomato paste with ½ cup of water and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, cumin and coriander seeds and mix well.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the remaining water and bring to a second boil.
  4. Reduce to a low heat, add the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  5. Prepare the patties: place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  6. Using wet hands, roll date-shaped patties from the mixture.
  7. Heat the frying oil in a pan over medium heat. Fry the patties about 1 minute on each side, until lightly brown. Place the fried patties in the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add water to cover the patties and mix gently.
  8. Cook over a low heat for about 30 minutes.
  9. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, mix and serve.

Edited By Ofer Vardi, Photography By Assi Haim