On Sunday, I watched the documentary film In Search of Israeli Cuisine as part of a celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. Afterwards, a friend and I followed our grumbling stomachs to a nearby Israeli restaurant for an early dinner. (And, of course, dessert.) If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have a lot of wonderful things to say about Michael Solomonov, the film’s guide through the country and its restaurant and home kitchens.
Unable to get the food porn out of my head, I made a late lunch today inspired by sabich, an Iraqi sandwich often sold in Israel alongside falafel and schwarma. It’s a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, chopped vegetables, hummus, and tehina, all drizzled with amba, a pickled mango sauce seasoned with turmeric and fenugreek.
Before we go any further, there’s some fun etymology to discuss – and you know how I like my etymology. First off, sabich. There are a few theories about the origins of the name of this sandwich introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews who fled anti-Semitic violence in the 1040s and 50s. It may be a variation on sabah which means morning in Arabic and refers to the fact that Iraqi Jews eat cold eggplant and eggs and the mezze on shabbat morning. Or perhaps it’s a Hebrew acronym for the main ingredients – salat (salad), beitzim (eggs), chatzilim (eggplant). Or even the first name of an enterprising gentleman who opened a sabich stand soon after immigrating. As for the word amba, it is Sanskrit for mango and the ingredient is thought to be a version of mango chutney brought back from India by Baghdadi Jewish merchants.
For my sandwich, I used what I had in the house. A hunk of rye. A small eggplant that I sliced and broiled. A few hard-boiled eggs that I guillotined with my newest gadget. Some tehina that I picked up at Seed + Mill. (Have you been yet? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Unless you don’t like fresh tehina, funky flavors of halva, and goat milk soft serve.) And a jar of amba. I ate it open faced and call it a tartine because I’m fancy like that.
For more history on sabich, read what Saveur published a few years back. For a more authentic recipe, see what Yotam Ottolenghi has to say on the topic. And if you live in New York and just want to eat, head over to Taim (kosher).
Not really a recipe, here are some guidelines to make a simplified sabich-style open-faced sandwich.
In my experience, sabich always makes a mess – probably because it’s usually served in over-stuffed pita – but a particularly damning one since amba stains whatever it drips on. Though a bit precious, I ate one of my tartines with knife and fork. The second one I folded in half, wrapped in several paper towels, and ate on the run as I rushed to pilates class. Classy, I know. You can also roll the ingredients into a tortilla. To make this Iraqi sandwich more traditional, chop up some tomato and cucumber salad salad, slice a few pickles, and stuff everything into a pita with hummus.
Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches
Turn on your broiler.
Put 2 eggs in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, and then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes to cook (or just hard-cook them however you’d like). Run the eggs under cold water until cool enough to touch and remove shells. Thinly slice.
While the eggs are cooking, slice a small eggplant (mine was a petite 5-inch American/Italian variety) into ~1/4-inch rounds. Arrange the eggplant on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush each side with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 3-8 minutes (depends how close your pan is to the broiler) until starting to brown, and then flip and broil for another 3-8 minutes.
Mix 1/4 cup tehina with about 2 tablespoons cold water. It will seize up and thicken – that’s OK for now. Squeeze in half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice) and keep mixing. Stir in more cold water, teaspoon by teaspoon, until you reach the consistency you want. I wanted more of a spread (as opposed to a sauce), so I used about 3 tablespoons of water total.
Spread tehina on two slices of rye bread (I like Balthazar’s rye boule). Layer the eggs and eggplant. Drizzle with amba (I found mine at Holyland Market on Saint Mark’s Place).