I have fond food memories from the semester I spent abroad in Israel, but back then I wasn't the eater I am today and didn't take full advantage of all of the incredible cuisine around me. While I was left with shawarmas, falafels, schnitzels, bourekas, and so much more to reminisce on, if I were to return today, I would certainly have a totally different eating experience. For one thing, I wasn't much of a consumer of vegetables then, and I would have steered cleared of something like sabich, which is a fried eggplant pita of Iraqi origin that's overstuffed with a myriad of toppings that I could have easily acquired in Tel Aviv. So today I'm left with hopes to one day try all that I failed to experience before, and doing my best in creating things at home based on other people's recipes and how I imagine they would taste.
While eggplant serves as the central focus of sabich, it's the sum of the whole that really matters here—how that plethora of ingredients all come together. This recipe is primarily taken from what I read on Serious Eats, but has some of my own touches thrown in. One of those is the tahini sauce, which I have never been totally in love with until I made this version that's so incredibly bright and creamy and with a great roasted sesame flavor that's in the forefront, but not overpowering.
The next topping—amba—might be the hardest to procure, but it's worth the effort. Amba is a spicy pickled mango that's found in at least a few Middle Eastern countries, and in Israel it is commonly a sauce. I could not find the Israeli variety in my neighborhood, but the closest Middle Eastern market to me did have a couple versions of the sliced mango variety. To turn it into a sauce, I merely spooned some out into a blender and pureed until it was as smooth as it was going to get.
Israeli salad is something I've been serving alongside schnitzel for Friday night dinners for many, many years now, and my recipe hasn't really altered from when I first made it. It's hard to change something so simple—it's a mixture of diced cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, and red onion tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, za'atar, salt, and pepper. This stuff is equally great as a side dish or a topping for a variety of pita sandwiches.
Hardboiled eggs also get a space in sabich, and I've found Kenji's method has left me with perfect eggs every time—never had any discoloration or overcooking at all. I start the eggs in boiling water and let them cook for 30 seconds before lowering the heat, covering, and simmering for another 11 minutes. I then place the eggs in an ice bath that stops the cooking and I think helps make peeling them a snap. Once peeled, I cut these particular eggs into slices to prep them for the sandwiches.
The original recipe also called for some seasoned cabbage, so I made that as well by first slicing cored green cabbage thinly on my mandoline. I then placed it in a bowl and dressed it white wine vinegar and salt to taste.
And finally we get to the star ingredient—the eggplant. A traditional sabich uses fried eggplant, which I assume is probably both a little crunchy as well as creamy. This is the Meatwave though, so I was set on grilling, and not frying. I've done a lot of eggplant recipes in the past and have found that with the extreme heat outputted by the grill, there's no real need to pre-salt to draw out moisture—the fire does that well on its own. The thickness of the slices does matter though since so much water is extracted from the eggplant that it dramatically reduces in size. Unless I want to end with super thin eggplant I can use for rolling, I usually like to start with slices about 1/2-inch thin.
On the grill, the oiled and seasoned eggplant cooks pretty quickly. It can take only a few minutes per side for it to brown nicely and become very tender. It also can go from golden brown to burnt in no time, so I always try to keep a watchful eye and flip the eggplant often to ensure they don't become a dry, charred disappointment.
I'll pull them off the grill when they're almost completely soft, but not quite 100% yet. I find they'll continue to cook a little bit off the grill, softening completely. I'm looking for brown and tender eggplant that doesn't fall apart and isn't over mushy, like what I got in the photo above.
Once I had all the eggplant done, I utilized the still very hot fire to quickly toast the pita. A soft, pillowy pita can make all the difference between a good sandwich and excellent one, so this isn't a step I ever skip.
Finally, I had all the ingredients prepped and was able to build the final product by first spreading a line of hummus along one side of the warm pita. I then placed in a couple slices of the eggplant followed by slices of egg, Israeli salad, cabbage, and Mediterranean pickles. I then squeezed on both the amba and tahini sauces and served. I feel like it's hard to imagine how this all comes together until you've actually tried it. The creamy eggplant and hummus melded a bit and then was contrasted by the crunchy cabbage, salad, and the tang of the pickles. The eggs provided a heartiness while the amba added a spicy, fruity flavor I loved and the tahini lent a roasted and citrusy complexity. Even though I did all this work to make the sabich, I still can't say whether or not it's how it should actually taste, and the fact that I spent half a year in Israel and came home not knowing is something that will always bother me until I can return and really eat to my fullest.
- Yield 8 servings
- Prep 40 Minutes
- Cook 5 Minutes
- Total 45 Minutes
- For the Tahini Sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup tahini paste
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice from 2-3 lemons
- 1/4 cup cold water, plus more as needed
- For the Israeli Salad
- 2 medium roma tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 English cucumber, diced (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium red pepper, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 medium red onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon za'atar
- For the Cabbage
- 1/3 head cabbage, cored and thinly shredded
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 pounds Italian eggplant (about 2 medium), sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 8 pocket pitas
- 10oz of hummus
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
- Mediterranean pickles, cut into 1/2-inch slices on a bias
- Amba (spicy pickled mango) sauce
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To make the tahini sauce: Place garlic and salt in the bowl of a mortar and pestle and work into a paste. Place tahini paste, lemon juice, and garlic paste into the workbowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. With the motor running, add in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until sauce reaches desired consistency. Transfer sauce to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the Israeli salad: In a large bowl, mix together tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, onion, and parsley. Add oil, lemon juice, and za'atar and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To prepare the cabbage: Place cabbage in a medium bowl and toss with vinegar. Season with salt to taste, set aside.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Brush eggplant slices with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill eggplant slices until well browned on both sides and softened, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a large tray or cutting board.
- Place pitas on grill and toast until warm and pliable, about 30 seconds per side. Slice an opening at the top of one pita. Spread a layer of hummus along the inside of one side of the pita. Stuff pita with eggplant slices, cabbage, egg slices, Israeli salad, and pickles. Top with amba and tahini. Repeat with remaining pitas. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Serious Eats