Israeli, Palestinian influences in Middle Eastern cooking

January 28, 2008 9:09:49 AM PST
While politicians look for compromises between Israelis and Palestinians, our food reporter has been looking for similarities in their native cuisines.He's found two examples, both offering authentic, homemade dishes that are as good as anything from the Middle East.

Over the years, families have left the Middle East in search of a new life in Chicago. Like other immigrant groups, many of them wind up opening restaurants. Such is the case for two beloved Middle Eastern options. They may be geographically miles apart. But there are a number of similarities and delicious differences making each of them worth the trip.

The Israeli cuisine also happens to be kosher at the fantastic Taboun Grill in West Rogers Park. The emphasis is on meat, which means no dairy products.

"It has to be slaughtered a certain way by somebody who is a rabbi and a supervisor of the kosher process," said Anat Trace, Taboun Grill.

He'll also check to make sure any wine you bring in is kosher as well. While you wait, munch on crunchy pickles and beets; typical starters include spreads, such as hummus made from chickpeas or smokey baba ganoush, an eggplant salad livened up with mayo. Delicately fried falafel balls contain chickpeas and cilantro. But it's the beef and chicken that are the real stars, including thinly-pounded schnitzel.

"Well it's sort of European, Jewish-European, but they make it with veal, and we make it with chicken breast. It's like a poor version of it," said Trace.

The homemade chicken shwarma, meanwhile, is worth the drive alone.

"Yes it is chicken. Some people make it with lamb but we like chicken better," said Trace.

You want lamb? Try a Palestinian kitchen.

The best example is a world away from West Rogers Park, in Palos Hills, where, in a tiny strip mall, you'll find the most exquisite lamb dishes and more at Steve's Shish Kebab.

A fine example is in the mesaf: essentially roasted lamb that sits in a bed of rice, covered in a saffron-laced yogurt sauce and crunchy, toasted almonds.

"It originated in Jordan, you know, over there but it spread which is Palestine and Jordanian is almost the same people," said Mustafa "Steve" Adawi, Steve's Shish Kabab.

A tabboule salad is another Middle Eastern dish with a variety of interpretations.

"Everybody claimed that tabullah it's their own, you know. But the Palestinian tabullah is more like a salad, you know. You get more cucumber, more tomatoes," said Adawi.

Other Palestinian specials include musechem: a butterflied, roasted chicken laying on a bed of puffy sesame bread, doused in sumac and caramelized onions, or the "upside down": a mound of saffron-flavored rice loaded with bits of cauliflower and eggplant.

Stuffed grape leaves and squash are also important, but Adawi says it's the lamb his customers crave.

"Lamb it's in everything almost," he said.

One additional note: Taboun is closed on the Sabbath - from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.

6339 N. California Ave.

Steve's Shish Kebab
10719 S. Roberts Rd., Palos Hills