An Unpretentious Passover Seder Inspired by Tel Aviv's Iconic Levinsky Market

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Chicken breasts with lemon and roasted baby gem lettuce.
Chicken breasts with lemon and roasted baby gem lettuce. Credit: Dan Perez
Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered

I love the Levinsky Market. I love to wander the Tel Aviv streets near the area where there was once a flourishing and crowded food market, because you can still find  small, rundown-looking stores that specialize in one kind of item, and behind the counters the same familiar sellers have been standing for decades: the brush man – with a selection of brooms and feathers – cuddles his little nephew; or the man with the jars and glass dishes, hushing the incidental buyers when  the transistor radio broadcasts the daily horoscope.

>> Delicious Passover Recipes - Right Here >>

I love the Levinsky Market because there you can see actually see the layers and strata from which local cuisine was constructed (even if it sometimes seems as though all the spice shops, delicatessens and stores selling nuts and seeds are the same). The delicatessens of Haim Raphael and Yom Tov are evidence of the neighborhood’s Balkan past; anyone looking for Persian lemon and pomegranate concentrate makes a pilgrimage to the Shai Baradarian’s spice shop; and anyone in search of Golda Meir’s favorite coffee blend, or the spice blend typical of Georgian cuisine, come to Georgette Raphaeli’s roastery.

I love the Levinsky Market, because despite the accelerated processes of gentrification and the constant declarations to the effect that it is a popular culinary complex, new small business owners have had the sense to maintain its modest and simple character. One example is Ouzeria, a small bar-restaurant opened by chef Avivit Priel-Avichai and built in her image, which seems as though it has always been in the market.

Dishes like moussaka and yogurt ice cream with apricot leather, pistachios and honey, hint at the Middle Eastern and Greek inspiration. Other dishes, which change with the seasons, are prepared from local ingredients and items gathered every day in the nearby market shops.  Everything is pervaded by a pleasant feeling, effortless and unpretentious. Simple, in the best sense of the word, but not simplistic. A restaurant that manages to connect to the spirit of the place and the area where it is located, but maintains its unique flavor. The same is also true of the recipes we asked Avivit to prepare for Passover.

Green garlic and asparagus soup with poached egg.Credit: Dan Perez

Green garlic and asparagus soup with poached egg

When the markets are full of fragrant stalls of green garlic, with their lovely white and purple bulbs, it’s a sign that spring has come. Green garlic has a more delicate taste than dried garlic, and it can be cooked whole, including the heads and part of the stalks (from which you can also prepare a wonderful garlic pesto). The softness of the young cloves gives the soup a surprising creamy texture, which doesn’t require butter or cream. (The poached egg can be replaced with a splash of dairy or vegetarian cream.)

Ingredients (serves 6)

For the soup:
2 bunches of asparagus
2 bunches of young green garlic
3 medium-sized onions
1/2 cup olive oil
2 liters vegetable or chicken stock
10 spearmint leaves
salt
pepper

For the poached eggs:
6 fresh eggs
1/4 cup vinegar
salt

For the soup: Remove the woody bottom part of the asparagus stalks. Remove the tips and save for garnishing the soup, and chop the rest.

Rinse the garlic stalks well, remove the top third and chop the bulbs and stalks.

Peel and chop the onions.

Heat the oil in a pot and steam the onions, garlic and asparagus in it until they become transparent. Make sure they don’t become colored.

Add the vegetable stock and cook on a low flame for 40 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft. Add the spearmint leaves to the pot and grind with a mixing stick or in a blender, and season with salt and pepper. The vegetables should be strained to obtain a smoother texture.

Prepare a bowl with ice water. Boil water with a little salt in the pot, and scald the asparagus tips for 30 seconds. Remove and immediately transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking.

For the poached eggs: In a wide, shallow saucepan boil a liter of water with vinegar and a pinch of salt. Lower the flame so that the water doesn’t bubble, and carefully break the eggs into the water. With a wooden spoon and circular motions make sure that the egg white covers the yolk and that the egg doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook for 3 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon into a plate lined with absorbent paper.

To serve, pour the soup into serving bowls, add the poached egg and decorate with the asparagus tips.

Fish and ful (fava bean) kebab on skordalia.Credit: Dan Perez

Fish and ful (fava bean) kebab on skordalia

Skordalia is a Greek garlic spread usually prepared with bread. This recipe comes from Stella, a Greek cook who has a small hotel and restaurant on the island of Pharos. The absence of bread lends the spread a pleasant creamy texture. 

Ingredients (serves 6)

For the skordalia:
5 medium-sized potatoes
1 tsp. salt
 5 garlic cloves
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of the cooking liquids
For the green ful dish:
2 1/2 cups of green ful (about 1 kilogram of ful pods)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion cut into thick slices
3 sliced garlic cloves
4 small fennel bulbs, sliced
5 dried sweet peppers cut into 3 parts
3 Maggie tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 chili pepper, cut into rings
salt
pepper
1 tsp. crushed caraway seeds

For the kebabs:
1 kg. ground saltwater fish (red drum, sea bream or gray mullet)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped coriander
2 tbsp. chopped spearmint
1 tsp. chopped chili
zest from one large lemon
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 level tbsp. salt
pinch of black pepper

For the skordalia: Peel and cook the potatoes in lightly salted water. Keep them hot. In a food processor place half a cup of the cooking liquids from the potatoes, garlic and vinegar. Gradually add the hot potatoes and olive oil and process until an emulsion is formed; season with salt and pepper.

For the ful dish: Cook the beans in water with a little salt until soft. Strain.

Heat olive oil in a wide pot and brown the onion, garlic and fennel in it. Add the peppers, tomatoes and cooked ful, add 1/2 cup water, season with salt, pepper and caraway and cook for several minutes until the sauce thickens.

For the kebabs: Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and form flat 4-cm. patties. Fry on a lightly greased, very hot grilling skillet.

To serve, spread skordalia on the serving plate, pour the ful over it and arrange the kebab on top.

Chicken breasts with lemon and roasted baby gem lettuce. Credit: Dan Perez

Chicken breasts with lemon and roasted baby gem lettuce

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 crushed garlic clove
2/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped rosemary
1 tbsp. chopped thyme
1 tsp. Atlantic salt
6 pieces of chicken breast, with the skin
3 Meyer lemons, or ordinary lemons
3 well-rinsed baby gem lettuces, cut lengthwise into quarters
1/4 kg. broccolini, scalded in boiling water for one minute (and cooled in ice water)
unpeeled cloves from one garlic head 
2 purple onions, cut into quarters lengthwise
a few branches of rosemary and thyme

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Mix 1/3 cup of the olive oil with the crushed garlic, chopped herbs and salt, and rub the mixture thoroughly on the chicken.

Cut the lemons into thin slices. Insert 2 lemon slices under the skin of each piece of chicken and place the pieces in a baking pan. Roast for 10 minutes in the oven.

Place the lettuce, broccolini, garlic and onion in a bowl, add the remaining olive oil and mix. Season with a little salt and pepper. Remove the baking pan from the oven and add the vegetables, the remaining lemon slices and the herb branches. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Glazed carrots.Credit: Dan Perez

Glazed carrots

Traditional tzimmes, a sweet dish of carrot slices and prunes, appears on the family table once or twice a year, but is barely touched. Young carrots, glazed in goose fat or butter and very flavorful, could definitely bring about a change.

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 bunches of small carrots
2 tbsp. goose fat (or butter)
2 garlic cloves
juice of one orange
1 level tbsp. honey or date syrup
salt and black pepper
3 thyme branches

Peel the carrots and remove stalks, leaving only 1 cm. of each stalk.

Melt goose fat in a wide skillet big enough to contain all the carrots in one layer. Mash the garlic cloves and chop them coarsely. Add to the skillet, and fry for a few seconds. Add the orange juice, honey, salt, black pepper and thyme branches, and cook until it bubbles.

Add the carrots and shake the skillet so the carrots float in the liquid. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes on low heat. Remove the lid and continue to cook until most of the liquids evaporate and the carrots are slightly browned and shiny. Serve immediately or heat for a few minutes in the oven before serving.

Compote of red fruits with ‘floating islands’.Credit: Dan Perez

Compote of red fruits with ‘floating islands’

Fresh strawberries and citrus juice lend the compote of dried fruits a fresh balance and a wonderful red color. The Habshush family shop, Ouzeria’s supplier of spices and dried fruits, is my private Aladdin’s cave. There’s always something new, exotic and surprising to taste there, and the family members are among my favorite people in the market. Credit for adding the wonderful hibiscus to the compote goes entirely to them.

Ingredients (serves 12)

For the compote:
2 cups of fresh strawberries, without leaves and halved
1 package (sheet) of dried apricot leather
1 cup dried cranberries 
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup sugared hibiscus
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup fresh lemon juice
juice of one orange
2 cups sugar
2 liters water
For the floating islands:
5 egg whites 
1 cup sugar
2 packets vanilla sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
6 tbsp. ground pistachio nuts

For the compote: Dissolve the apricot leather in a glass of boiling water. Place all the compote ingredients except the strawberries in a pot, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes.

Add the fresh strawberries and cook for another 15 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator overnight.

For the floating islands: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Spread the lemon juice in the mixer bowl and beat the egg whites, add the sugar and continue to beat under you obtain a stable, shiny meringue.

Grease a silicon muffin pan and scatter a teaspoonful of ground pistachios in each muffin space. Place the muffin pan in a deep baking pan. Transfer the meringue to a pastry sleeve and squeeze into the muffin pan. Place in the oven and carefully pour water into the deep pan up to about a centimeter less than the height of the muffin pan.

Bake for about 8 minutes, chill and carefully remove the meringue from the tins.

To serve: Pour the cold compote into small serving bowls and add a “floating island” to each bowl.

Generations of spice merchants

On Fridays the line begins to form at 7:30 A.M. The city has yet to open a lazy eye, the streets are empty, but in Habshush’s shop, where they sell herbs, legumes and dried fruits, regular customers are already awaiting their turn. In the long, narrow space – full of sacks and packages from floor to ceiling – you can wait a long time until you win the full attention of one of the family members, but angry customers are rare. The fine fresh merchandise – pods of smoked cardamom from India, Barhi dates from Neot Smadar, licorice from Turkey and dried mulberries from Uzbekistan – justify a long wait, and the charming Habshushes know how to calm even the angriest people with their relaxed manner.

Arie Habshush, with his quiet dignity, sits behind the counter. His two sons, Uri and Itamar, fill bags and serve the customers. “James, do we have mustard oil?” Uri asks his father (“At work I call him James. It’s not easy to work with Father, and if I call him Dad that already places us in a problematic situation, so James. Here’s to a shot of Jameson whiskey”). It is rare to find family businesses in the market in which members of the third generation – born in the 1970s and 1980s – choose to follow in their fathers’ footsteps; the veteran Habshush family business is one of them.

The story begins in Sana’a, Yemen. Arie Habshush estimates the family has been trading in spices and legumes for at least 150 to 200 years. “The Habshush family were among the biggest merchants in Sana’a,” he says. “Before they turned to commerce they were ironmongers who specialized in producing nargilas. One of our ancestors started the business, largely thanks to a commercial ship that was shipwrecked and was sold to the family with all its contents.

“The family business covered an entire street – on the ground floor were the stores and above them lived the extended family – and it included trade in spices, fabrics, perfumes and dried fruits. They prayed in the morning, ate breakfast at 9 or 10 A.M. and then conducted a day of business in a relaxed manner. Not like here,” he adds sadly, looking at the busy line in the store in Eretz Israel.

In 1927 several family members – including Arie’s father Elazar – were sent to scout out this country. “They returned and reported on a desolate and disease-ridden place, but in 1931 part of the family immigrated anyway, including my father. They came with a lot of money, opened a shop in the Carmel Market, but after a year moved to nearby Jaffa to the warehouses of the port. In 1947, when the [Arab] riots began, the warehouses burned down, and they moved here, to 16 Hahalutzim Street. The halutzim [pioneers] of Hahalutzim Street. The shop was on the ground floor, the family lived on the top floor and I was born here into the business.”

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