Growing up, all of my parents’ friends were Polish Jews. As immigrants, they wanted to surround themselves with people who had similar experiences and backgrounds, people who shared common customs, language, and food. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I met Jews who looked different, spoke Hebrew or Ladino (as opposed to Yiddish), and ate foods that I had never heard of, prepared with spices that had exotic names like turmeric, cardamom and fennel.
My children had a completely different experience growing up in Los Angeles. A city with a strong Persian presence, Persian food was introduced into their diet early on. They also have Jewish friends and acquaintances whose families were originally from Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco. Our family has eaten Aloo-m-Kalla in the Sukkah of a friend who is from India, watched an Egyptian friend prepare Bamia, and have eaten many meals in my friend Rachel’s house, whose family immigrated to Israel from Afghanistan. I am so proud of the fact that my daughter just prepared a traditional Ashkenazi Rosh Hashana dinner for her friends, but I love knowing that she can just as easily make Tabit or Shakshuka.
A great cook, my friend Rachel’s food is full of flavor, but her appetizers and salads are particularly outstanding. Here is a recipe that she shared after returning from her most recent trip to Israel.
Rachel’s Eggplant Salad
2 eggplants, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
5 Tbs olive oil
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small green chili pepper, thinly sliced
1 small red chili pepper, thinly sliced
1 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
Take diced eggplant and toss with 3 Tbs of the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Roast on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven till tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a large pot, combine 2 Tbs olive oil, green and red chilies, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and sugar. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes. Add prepared eggplant and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes over a low flame. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature, with a handful of chopped parsley on top.