Anyone who's ever lingered over a table long after the serving bowls are empty knows that sharing a meal is one of the most beautiful ways that people connect. A small, multicultural congress of chefs called Chefs for Peace has taken that concept to heart, illustrating through their work that nourishment extends to a level far deeper than satisfying mere hunger. Founded in 2001 and based in Jerusalem, Chefs for Peace uses food and cooking to demonstrate that peaceful coexistence is a choice possible to all, regardless of religion or heritage. The group of 25 includes Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, who work side by side in mutual trust and respect as they prepare meals for special galas and culinary competitions. Their common love of food transcends historical barriers of race or creed.
"If you separate people with walls, you make the world an ugly place," says member and award-winning chef Moshe Basson. "Sitting together at table, we are no longer just individuals from different countries, but rather a family, a community, sharing this simplest of all things, a meal. This, I believe, is how to diminish the amount of violence in the world."
When he isn't cooking or traveling the world teaching the merits of peaceful, slow, and local food to others, Basson can often be found gathering wild mallow and fresh herbs from the sloping hillsides surrounding Jerusalem. His famed Eucalyptus Restaurant, located in a historic neighborhood, specializes in dishes that celebrate local ingredients and the region’s rich history for peoples of all faiths. Enjoy his recipes here, and may your season be peaceful.
Fresh Figs Stuffed with Mushrooms and Pecans
Makes 12–14 / Vegetarian / Figs are common in many Israeli dishes, lending sweetness and texture to soups, main dishes, and desserts. Ingredient tips: Tamarind paste is an extremely tart, dark brown condiment favored in Middle Eastern cuisine (it's also the key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce). Look for it in jars in the ethnic-foods section. Adding a bit of mascarpone cheese helps balance tamarind's acidity; cream cheese may be substituted in a pinch. Prep tips: You can also make this with dried figs. Cover with boiling water to allow figs to soften; drain. Use a small knife to open and slightly enlarge a hole at the tips; then stuff. Serving tip: Serve alone as an appetizer, or over white rice or couscous as a side dish. View recipe.
Baked White Fish with Tomato and Dill
Serves 4 / Gluten-free / Fish from lakes and the Mediterranean have been important food sources throughout Israel's history, and this simple preparation is typical of the region. Prep tip: Traditionally, fish such as St. Peter's fish (tilapia), found in the Sea of Galilee, would be used, but you can choose any firm white fish of medium thickness. View recipe.
Saffron-Scented Chicken with Rice, Eggplant, and Cauliflower
Serves 4–6 / Chef Moshe Basson describes this dish as the embodiment of what Chefs for Peace stand for. "Together, the ingredients taste better than each does standing alone. Each ingredient keeps its identity—just as people of different faiths and backgrounds can retain their own identity, yet still work together to create something beautiful and strong." View recipe.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Serves 4–6 / Vegan / Ingredient tip: A member of the sunflower family, Jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes) are sweeter and nuttier than regular potatoes, and exert less effect on blood sugar. Prep tip: Like potatoes, sunchokes don’t always need to be peeled, but do scrub well. View recipe.
Street Vendor’s Vegetable Salad
Serves 8 / Vegetarian / A staple throughout Israel and the Middle East, this cool, colorful salad is often offered by street vendors and food stands for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Serving tip: Serve as a side dish, or use to stuff whole-wheat pita breads. View recipe.
Watercress Salad with Dates, Cranberries, and Orange
Serves 8 / Gluten-free / Vegan / Named Tu B’Shevat Salad, for the Jewish holiday that translates to “New Year for Trees,” this salad features festive, seasonal fruits. Prep tip: It’s key to use a good-quality olive oil for the dressing because it’s an essential flavor element. View recipe.
Tahini Butter Cookies with Seasonal Fruit
Serves 4–6 / Fresh fruit, dressed with a yogurt-honey blend (both traditional Middle Eastern foods) and accompanied by these delicate cookies, adds a sweet, not-too-heavy ending to any meal. Prep tips: Substitute favorite or seasonally available fruits for those listed. A thick Greek yogurt works especially well. View recipe.
Minty Sage Herbal Tea
Serves 4 / Vegetarian / Teas and herbal tisanes are popular throughout the Middle East. This blend of fresh spearmint and sage is particularly tasty, and provides the soothing and cooling benefits of mint with the medicinal properties of sage, including its ability to ease indigestion. Prep tip: For variety, substitute other fresh herbs, such as lemon balm and thyme. View recipe.