Khubzh: Cohen-Levran Family’s Tunisian Home Bread

Family girl power. Right to Left: Talya, Yaarit, Shoshana, Michal, Ilanit, Sigal, Sharon

Who are we?

Shoshana (Shoshi) Cohen-Levran

Shoshi was born on the island of Djerba in Tunisia in 1947 and made aliyah to Israel with her parents, Aziza and Khdeir Cohen, and her older brother, Hawathi, In 1948. The family arrived in Tiberias, the burial place of Shoshi’s great-grandfather, Raphael Cohen, who built Rabbi Meir Baal Ha-Ness ’tomb Raphael, and his wife, Miriam, both of whom had made aliyah in 1924. Several weeks later, the family moved to the city of Lod.

Shoshana’s daughters are Talya (Una) Cohen (53), Ilanit Cohen Fridman (50), Sigalit Aviram (49), Michal Gur (47), Sharon Ben-Zvi (44), Yaarit Cohen Clapouch (40).

In 1964 Shoshi studied practical nursing at the Mental Health Center in Be’er Ya’akov. In 1966 she married Nissim Cohen and in 1967 their first daughter, Talya (Una), was born. In 1968 they moved to Nahariya, where Nissim’s family resided, and had five more daughters. In 1992 Shoshi and Nissim separated, but they maintained a warm relationship, and continue to celebrate holidays together to this day.

Talya (Una) Cohen

Mother to Amit. Lives in Kibbutz Negba. Talya has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, economics and management and has a master’s degree in business administration. Her thinking is sharp, but she is also very sensitive and has excellent taste. She recently discovered she has a sensitiviy to gluten and is now the queen of gluten-free cooking. Her specialty is delicious desserts.

Ilanit Cohen Fridman

married to Lior and mother to Itay, Omer, and Yonatan. Lives in Ness Ziona. Ilanit is a graphic designer, has studied curation and produces concept events. She was a wonderful child, her mother Shoshi says, she just didn’t like to eat.

Sigalit Aviram

Also known as Sigal, Sigi, or Sigush, is married to Aviv, and mother to Tamar and Noga. Lives in Bat Shlomo, a Moshav on the southern slope of Mount Carmel. Sigush owns a studio for sewing atelier and designs clothing and accessories for children. She has always helped her mother patiently, especially when making cookies.

Michal Gur

Married to Dotan and mother to Alon, Uri, and Ophir. Lives in Pardes Hanna, beyond Kibbutz Alonim in the Jezreel Valley. Michal is a science teacher and a teaching instructor for science and technology. In her youth Michal studied theater and does excellent impressions. She is the connection to Grandma Aziza and to Grandpa Khdeir; every Wednesday, at six in the morning, she prepares pots of food for the entire week.

Sharon Ben-Zvi

Married to Amir and is the mother to Ido, Uri, and Naama. Lives in Kibbutz Shomrat in the west Galilee. Sharon is an art teacher and hosts food & wellness workshops. She is the bridge connecting the past with the present: Her cooking is health-oriented, building on the foundations she received from her mother. Her meatballs, for example, are made of lentils instead of meat, and they are baked rather than fried.

Yaarit Cohen Clapouch

Married to Yonatan and mother to Hallel, Noam, Shiloh, and Yuval. She lives in Sdei Avraham, a Moshav in the Eshkol region. Yaarit is a nurse by profession and is studying to fulfill her dream of becoming a midwife. She cooks just like her mother and father, and can cook for 100 people without breaking a sweat. In addition to cooking traditional food, she is also drawn to Italian cuisine and makes fantastic pasta dishes.

Spices with certain aromas that fit certain foods and that tied into certain stories

Where was The photo taken?

‘For my 70th birthday my six wonderful daughters gave me a truly special gift: a cookbook in which they recreated the flavors of their childhood ’Shoshana tells. This photo was taken in my daughter Ilanit’s house in Nes Ziona during a photoshoot for the cookbook, which later went on to become a bestseller and even won the 2018 Gourmand world Cookbook Award, also referred to as the ‘Oscars ’of cookbooks. From right to left: Talya, Yaarit, mother Shoshana, Micha, Ilanit, Sigush and Sharon.

When we wrote the book we had many different ideas. I searched within myself for spices with certain aromas that fit certain foods and that tied into certain stories. It was as if I was reading forgotten entries in an encyclopedia inside me. I went over the spices one by one, the raw ingredients, the memories. Parts of the stories seemed as if they had been erased.

The search within myself, the conversations with my daughters and the visits to my Aunt Miriam, my mother’s youngest sister, all brought back many memories.

Mother always said that the mood determines how well the dough will rise

Our family kitchen

Mom liked to cook at night, when it was quiet. She would divide the labor of cooking into two parts: the first part was the preparation of salads and main dishes; and the second part was the baking of bread. The salad-making would begin on Thursday night: cooking carrots, potatoes, beets, and pumpkin; frying eggplant; roasting peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes on the grill. The smells filled the house and the yard. Perfectly calm and with impeccable neatness and inner peace that comes with undertaking a task in which every step has been planned well in advance, Mom fried, roasted, peeled, sliced, chopped and mashed.

On Friday morning Mom prepared the dough for the bread. She always said that the mood determines how well the dough will rise and that all the energy in the body goes into the dough. There were very few times when Mom’s dough didn’t rise or come out as it should.

The amount of time it took the bread to rise was the same amount of time Mom needed to finish making the salads: There was a fresh green salad seasoned with lots of lemon, dill, celery, and caraway; this salad was for Friday lunch, when we returned home from school. Also, she always made a mshiyer salad, mshiyer with carrot (which wasn’t spicy, for the kids), and tirshi. The other salads varied. All the elements that Mom had prepared the previous night merged together to create fantastic flavors. Mom mixed, tasted, and added more lemon, a bit more salt or a drizzle of oil. By the end of the morning there would be stacks of boxes filled with salads in different colors and perfectly seasoned with cumin, caraway, paprika, lemon, garlic and parsley.

Then she would prepare the best couscous in the world, and the soup for the couscous, full of coarsely chopped fresh vegetables, and of course the kiftot- meat and vegetable patties. These were also made for Friday lunch. We, the girls, followed our noses home from school and the memory of those dishes always sends us back to our childhood. Friday lunch was the most delicious and the most fun of all the meals. The plates were steaming as we ate soup and couscous in the same bowl. Dad ate his couscous and soup from separate dishes.

After lunch came the time to finish preparing the dishes served on the Shabbat. It was often one of two types of slow-cooked stew (called khamin in Hebrew, or dfina in Arabic), bkeila (mangold stew) or arisa (wheatberry stew) served alongside kuklot (semolina pancakes). Finally, Mom would bake the bread. To this day Mom uses her own bread dough for the Sabbath blessing on the challah.

When she was done with all the preparations Mom took a shower, put on a comfortable robe and finally sit down, holding the roller hairbrush that was commonly used in those days to create a bouffant hairstyle, or abu agila. She brushed her hair with long rolling motions and then covered it with a thin hairnet. It was time for her pre-Shabbat nap.

She would prepare the best couscous in the world. Sharon and Mother Shoshana

Khubzh: Our house Bread

In our home there was only one type of dough to prepare several types of bread: a braided loaf, like the challah for Shabbat, the traditional Tunisian loaf, called bouchouka, an oval shape with pointed ends and a fat middle, and Grandma would bake kishlaya- a long dough cylinder scored at even distances with a sharp knife and rolled to a spiral, creating the shape of a flower.

Ingredients for 8 small loaves:

8 cups (1 kg) all-purpose flour + extra for kneading

1 Tbs salt

5 Tbs (50 grams) fresh yeast or 2 Tbs instant dry yeast

2 Tbs sugar

2 ½ cups lukewarm water

½ cup oil

1 egg yolk, beaten with a few drops of water

Sesame seeds

Flatten a dough ball using the palm of your hand until you feel air bubbles popping

Instructions:

  1. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl.
  2. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, place the yeast, sugar, and 1 cup lukewarm water and mix well.
  3. Add the flour mixture, the remaining water, and the oil, and knead to a smooth, elastic dough, about 10 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise until the dough doubles in size, about 1 ½ hours.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead 4-5 minutes. Divide into 8 balls of equal size. Flatten a dough ball using the palm of your hand until you feel air bubbles popping. Form the dough into an oval-shaped loaf and pinch the edges to create an elongated loaf with pointed ends. Use scissors or a sharp knife to score the surface with several diagonal cuts (see image on page xxx).
  5. Transfer the loaf to a baking tray lined with parchment paper and repeat with the remaining dough balls.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180 °C (350 °F). Cover the loaves and let rise for 15 minutes.
  7. Brush the loaves with the beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  8. Bake 40-45 minutes. The loaves are ready when they are golden and make a hollow sound when you knock on the base.

VariationFor a vegan bread, brush the loaves with 1 tablespoon flour mixed with 4 tablespoons of water and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.

Ready when they are golden and make a hollow sound

 

Edited by Ofer Vardi. Photography by Yasmin & Arye Photographers, taken from Ya Amna- From Djerba to Israel: A Tunisian Family Kitchen (Lunchbox Press 2018)