By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem
COOKING FOR PEACE
The Seven Arches Hotel is an unspectacular building in a spectacular location.
Chefs for Peace are hoping to cook up a feast for Abbas and Olmert
I arrived a little early for my 5.30pm appointment. When I stepped out of my car, the wind blew a polyphony of calls to prayer around my head.
Then I turned round.
On the promenade below the driveway, there was an uninterrupted view of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, gleaming beneath the grey-pink clouds.
Inside, down a corridor and down a flight of stairs, lay the hotel's kitchen.
Here, two men in tight white chef's coats were sniffing and stirring and tasting a cauldron of lentil soup.
They were cooking for a small party from the printing company HP.
If the group liked the food, there was the promise that they would return with a further four parties of 150 people each.
The kitchen was surprisingly calm, despite the prize that was on offer, and despite there being two chefs, of equal stature, poring over the food.
Maybe, though, that was the reason for the smiles, and the quiet voices.
One chef was Palestinian, one Israeli. They were members of Chefs for Peace.
There are now 45 Chefs for Peace, drawn from Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis and Palestinians.
The group sprang out of a visit, 12 years ago, by four chefs - two Jewish Israeli, one Christian Arab Israeli and one Muslim Palestinian - to a slow food festival in Italy.
Nabil Aho, the Head Chef Instructor at the Pontifical Institute in Jerusalem, was one of the four.
To him the progression was obvious: "We use the same ingredients. If you can't work together in the kitchen, then where can you?"
Moshe Basson agrees.
When it comes to cooking, he says, "Palestinian, Jewish, Greek, Turkish - we all take from each other".
I was speaking to him a week after our first meeting, this time in his Eucalyptus restaurant, near the Old City.
The small kitchen was filled with fellow board members of Chefs for Peace teasing each other, squeezing shoulders.
Moshe was cooking for them all, food which he describes as "biblical".
His lentil soup, he says, echoes from the pages of Genesis which tell how Esau sold his birthright for a bowl.
That is the grandiloquent part.
Moshe is happy to add: "My best teachers are Palestinian mothers."
The board meeting is regularly interrupted by toasts in Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic.
RECIPE: STUFFED FIGS
500g chicken breast, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
100g tamar hindi paste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 glasses water
Slice the top of the figs, leaving a hinge to replace the "lid". Remove the flesh. Fry the onion. Add the chicken breast. Season and add the sumac [spice].
After the meat has cooked through, use it to stuff the figs.
After three miniature bowls of soup, we eat figs stuffed with chicken and maklubeh (an upside-down chicken and rice dish).
Presiding is the tall figure of Kevork Alemian, the Maitre d'Hotel at the American Colony in East Jerusalem, dressed immaculately in a black three-piece suit and cream tie.
He is alternately solemn and emotional.
"In the kitchen, we use the most dangerous utensil, the knife," Kevork opines. "But here all of us - Muslim, Christian, Jew - we use it to make beautiful food."
As the evening winds on, some of the board members wax about offering to cook a "meal of peace" for Tony Blair, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert.
It was an idea that Nabil had talked about to me earlier in the day, as he and Moshe had tramped around the wonderful alleyways of the Machane Yehuda market, searching for ingredients for that night's meal.
I asked Nabil what he would offer the politicians, should he receive the call. Nabil did not break a beat. "Bread and salt," he said. "The food of peace".
Your comments on Tim Franks' latest diary - and your favourite Middle Eastern dish:
This is by far the most peaceful middle-east share-your-say opportunity! Actually I love all food in general, but stuffed vine leaves are among my favorites with tabouli, a Lebanese salad-like dish great before, with and after main dishes. But the list goes on, what about cheese sambousa ("triangular" cheese "rolls"), with slight thym leaves inside!! And ohhh the sweets!! How come no one mentions the sweets?! I love "atayef" with cream or crushed walnuts and sweet sugar syrup...
Zak, Beirut, Lebanon.
MANSAF! The Jordanian national dish. A mouth-watering, gut-busting, dish consisting of a LARGE bed of 'Khubz Shrak' which is a very thin Jordanian bread cooked on 'Saj', topped with a MOUNTAIN of Rice, topped with Chunks and Chunks of meat (beef and camel are the most traditional), drenched with 'Jameed' (a salty and slightly sour yogurt sauce made from dried/salted yogurt chunks), and lots of almonds and pine nuts. Typically served with many condiments such as olives, green onions, regular onions, pickles. The dish is eaten standing up, or kneeling over the dish, and only with your right hand. I miss home :(
Fayez, Ottawa, Canada
It is called Man'aosheh, or Mana-eesh (for many). And Tommy Rowlands, London, UK, it is Warak Enab or Yabrak. Come on people, stop insulting our language. The all time ultimate dish that is well-known across all Arabian countries is Kebbeh which is made from minced lamb mixed with bugler wheat shaped like cones and filled with fried lamb and onions. Sometimes it's cooked in yoghurt and tarragon (Kebbah labaneah) and sometimes eaten uncooked (kebbeh nayeeh) with a drizzle of olive oil. Awh, I miss you mum.
Abid Alshamat, Oslo
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Lebanon, being of Kashmiri origin this was a very exciting trip. One of my favourite Middle Eastern dishes has to be "Fooul". It was two kinds of chickpeas mashed and mixed, you ate it with fresh mint, lots of olive oil and onions! It was just divine!
Sara, London, UK
My favourite dish is called Mughrabieh! It's cooked with like semolina balls, whole button onions, chicken, chickpeas, and a mixture of herbs including cumin, carraway, cinnamon. It's served hot with gravy made from boiling the chicken. Sahtain!
Edmond Khoury, Beirut, Lebanon
My favourite has got to be Quoozi! A traditional Gulf Arab dish that combines amazing rice with boiled egg and mouth watering lamb that melts in your mouth. The rice contains cashew nuts and sweet raisins sometimes but it is always served warm and with an even warmer smile.
A. Rahman , Montreal/Manama
I am surprised that no-one has praised the virtues of shwarma. beef or lamb is roasted and flaked, served in pitta or laffa -like pizza base. Unbelievably tasty!
Avi, Israel, Beth Shemesh
Chulent is very difficult to prepare and is not a universal Jewish dish, and certainly not a Middle Eastern dish. It is predominantly an Ashkenazi dish, and very difficult to prepare; furthermore I don't think it is very ideal for the warm climate here. Hummous Abu-Goush is my favorite.
Mordechai, Jerusalem, Israel
One of my favourite dishes is a traditional Lebanese one called "Shish Barak" which consists of small patties stuffed with meat and onions, cooked in rich yoghurt sauce with a little mint and some garlic, just yummy. The other favorite dish comes from my mother's country, Iraq, called "Kobbi Hamob" which consists of lumps of mince meat and rice powder stuffed with meat and garlic, cooked in tomato sauce with a lot of lemon juice.
I was surprised to see no one mentioned anything about koshari! An Egyptian dish made of rice, macaroni, lentils, tomato (/meat) sauce, garlic, vinegar, and hot sauce with fried onions and chickpeas sprinkled on top. It's the best and I've never seen it in any country but Egypt.
Zack G, Vancouver, Canada/Cairo, Egypt
My favourite Lebanese dish is Warah Anib which translates to vine leaves. They are stuffed with rice and lamb and cooked for 24 hours. The thought has me salivating. I hope to be able to eat it with my mother in Lebanon this year.
Tommy Rowlands, London, UK
I agree with Dalila Mahdawi: manouiche in Lebanon is the best. I ate it quite a bit. I enjoyed having it with tabbouleh or fattoush, along with a glass of Arak.
John Paul Rosario, Alexandria, Virginia
Debatable on it's Middle East origins, but the Armenian food Hariseh. Chicken and bulgar slow stewed over a day until it is all falling apart into a deliciously bland mush. Served with a lump of butter on top.... great winter food. It reminds me of oatmeal porridge in the West or rice porridge here in Korea.
Bedros, Seoul, Korea
Any/all the below, but one thing we miss from Egypt is the humble "Aish Baladi", i.e. rustic or peasant bread. It was similar to the commercial pita we get here, but almost always whole grain, denser, chewier, moister, and with a bit of a sourdough taste. It was good with anything and cost next to nothing. I'd like to find out how to make it since I've never seen it anywhere except Egypt.
Dave, Calgary, Canada
Most well-cooked Middle Eastern dishes are mouth watering. Kofta, ground lamb with Tajini sauce, is very good. I find it worth noting that the so called "Israeli" popular dishes are almost always Palestinian, Moroccan or Yemeni dishes (S. Frantzman of Jerusalem? take note.)
Najad, Nablus, Palestine
Anything Palestinian really. I spent time in Jerusalem, and I must say that the sesame bread "caik" baked by the Palestinians is THE BEST bread in the world, by far. Their humus is immaculate, a la Abu Shukri's in the Old City. Their dishes (tabeekh) can only be compared to the Syrians. I consider Lebanese dishes somewhat bland primarily because there is a lack of ingredients, they're too simple! Also, the Armenian "sfeeha" in Jerusalem cannot be beat.
Two favourites besides the usual BBQ'd meats. First is Fatet Magdous which is a watery tomato sauce with fried pitta bread topped with yoghurt and tahini and small aubergines stuffed with mince meat and all sprinkled with chopped parsely and cashewnuts..... MMmmmmm and Hummus, but not from the middle east, from Tescos in the UK. One of the best I've eaten and better than Lebanese and Syrian!!!
Maz, Damascus, Syria
It has to be dolma, the Iraqi/Greek/Turkish dish of stuffed vine-leaves. The versions which use pomegranite juice in the seasoning are the best.
Dr. Haider Al-Najjar, Swindon, UK
Probably the Taboli which is like salad but more Middle Eastern, I don't know if they have it in Palastine. But it is popular in Lebanon.
Mohamed Barakeh, Sidon, Lebanon
I am originally from Lebanon. Hummous, Shish Tawook, Molokhiya, Mkanik, Shawarma, Siyadiyi and Stuffed lamb are supposed to be great dishes. But no one has mentioned "TABBOULI" . Tabbouli is the best salad dish of all time. Bulgur, finely chopped parsley, mint, tomato, scallion (spring onion), and other herbs with lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning, generally including black pepper and sometimes cinnamon and allspice. In Lebanon, where the dish originates, it is often eaten by scooping it up in Romaine lettuce or cabbage leaves. Tabbouli is by far superior especially in summer when it's hot.
Nick H, London, UK
My favourite Middle Eastern dish is Mansaf, which happens to be the Jordanian national dish. I'm a big fan of rice and curries and haven't come across something that is so distinctly strong in taste and yet such a pleasure to eat.
Aasiya Versi, UK
Everything except baba ghanous. Not a big fan of eggplants.
Judy Kassees Parag, Wilmington Delaware, USA
I don't think the issue is 'Muslims, Jewish and Christians' rather it is Palestinians and Israelis...the conflict, as we know, is not along religious lines...also, I would ask 'Arab Israelis' if they like this term before I start using it. One might find that they might, perhaps, prefer Palestinians of '48 for example!
Akram al-Khatib, Oxford, UK
Just pointing out, a note on the stuffed fig recipe; tamar hindi is also known as tamarind in regular English.
Raza Siddiqui, Toronto, Canada
Pita and humus are the best munchies in Israel. We used to eat them right out of the plastic container, scooping the humus out with a practiced curving motion of the bit of pita. When we had guests, we'd warm it up and add a bit of olive oil and paprika. Pine seeds also go well with humus; they sell it ready-made in a dozen different styles. It might be called a food of peace because everyone eats out of one dish (or plastic, as it might be), preferably in a circle.
Marc Trius, Minneapolis, MN / Haifa, Israel
Too many to list. Msakhan is on the top of the list- diced onions drenched and cooked in olive oil, add sumac, spread mixture on taboon bread and sprinkle toasted pine nuts. Delicious!
In Lebanon I like manooshi, which is a dried thyme pizza-like dish with sesame seeds and olive oil. Cook in the oven the oven, add some vegetables, fold like a sandwich and enjoy a little slice of heaven. For only 30 pence! Palestinians like stuffed vine or cyclamen leaves, or stuffed courgettes. I do like those dishes but my father cooks them too often!
Dalila Mahdawi, Lebanon, Palestine, UK
I have many, but must agree with Taahir about Mansaf.
Vladimir, Ariel, Israel
Wa3ra arish, shish taouk and among appetizers hummus tahine, and baba ganoush.
Nothing beats Molokhia, the native Egyptian dish served over rice with meat on the side.
Fatteh is one of my favorites - fried pita bread with yoghurt sauce, pine nuts, chickpeas - it is divine. And any of the mezza - hommos, baba gnouj, motabel, tabbulah. I miss it very much after living in Jordan before the DR!
DD, Santo Domingo, DR
Mjadarah, without a doubt. A lentil and rice based dish served with fried onions on top and eaten warm or chilled from the fridge, with salad and lettuce leaves or khobz bread (like flat pitta). Thankfully, my mother makes this dish throughout the summer which is another reason I cannot wait for the sun to shine.
Lee, London, UK
Stuffed lamb with rice, pine nuts and almonds.The meat is very tender, melting in your mouth yummee.
For me the best Middle Eastern dish has to be Kunafe (as it's made in Nablus). It's a pastry that's more like a hot sweet lasagne full of melting cheese and sugar. Best place to eat this is 'Arafat's Sweets'. Otherwise it has to be the ubiquitous 'caik': long sesame coated bagels baked only in Jerusalem and best eaten with za'atar: a mixture of thyme, salt and sumac.
Alison, Bristol, UK ( formerly Jerusalem)
Being of Turkish descent, stuffed vine leaves (Yalancı Dolma in Turkish) are my favourite, closely followed by Iraqi-style Kibbeh (semolina dumplings stuffed with spiced minced meat and cooked in tomato sauce). Falafel would be my favourite choice for fast food, as it is so much more flavoursome than any burger meal!
Moshe Franco, London, UK
Hallelujah finally a well-balanced sensible article from the BBC. After last week's taxi driver article I thought he would write that Israelis won't eat in the restaurant if they think the chef is Arab.
Jason, Jerusalem, Israel
Franks misses several important details. The Seven Arches was built by Jordan atop the famous Mount of Olives and is a blight on the Jerusalem skyline. It would have been interesting had the Israeli chefs at least contributed Jewish cuisine to the competition, perhaps something Morroccan in a Tagine, or some Chulent or Cugul. What exactly does the Christian Arab chef contribute that represents his culture? This was a half-baked article. My favorite Middle Eastern food is the Ethiopian Tibse served over cold Injera bread. That is a dish that would bring peace to the stumachs of many.
Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem, Israel
I really enjoyed this article. My favorite dish would have to be, Palestinian Humus with homemade bread.
Mia Khatib, Great Falls United States
I wish more coooperation between the faiths made articles and made a bigger splash on the world headlines.
Barry, Bridgetown, Barbados
Hummus from Mahmoud's restaurant in car-workshop street, Khafji. Falafal made from 'horse beans', Arabic bread from Mohammad's bakery nearby, and olives in their own oil from Mahmoud's uncle's trees somewhere in Jordan. With just a little of that home-made chilli sauce. And the tea in those Arcoroc glasses, fifty per cent condensed milk to finish off with. Could never be beaten!
Pete Porchos, Stratford on Avon, England
My favorite Middle Eastern dish has to be Koushari. It's an Egyptian dish like myself (I am Egyptian, not a dish mind you). It is a dish made of lentils, macaroni, rice, and chickpeas. Sometimes you add tomato sauce or hot pepper or vinegar. Its very good, you'd know when you've had it. Falafels are over-hyped :)
Mohammed Shaker, Saint Petersburg, Florida, USA.
My all time favorite is the Palestinian dish Makloubeh (healthy and good). Also the famous Palestinian Shawirma, Kabob and falafel - fresh and unique
I love Hummus. Of course the hummus one buys in America or rather any country outside of the Middle East is a gross misrepresentation of the freshly made delight that exists within Abu Hassan's in yaffo or in the Syrian/Israeli humus in the yemenite neighborhood next to the Tel Aviv Shuk HaCarmel.
Shaul, Israel-Tel Aviv
A large spoon of tahine paste - juice of a lime - salt - crushed clove of garlic - teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander - mix with water (working with your spoon in the bowl) - until you get a thick cream. Keep adding water. Even if it looks a bit thin - it will thicken on standing. This is the Egyptian equivalent of tomato ketchup. Goes with all savoury food - especially fish - and tastes wonderful.
Tahina, Aberdeen UK
Has to be Mansaf. A beautiful rice dish made with lamb (but can be made with chicken) and pine nuts and almonds and served with a yoghurt/stock sauce. This dish, native to Jordan is simple, yet delicious.
What does one do with the pomegranate and two glasses of water in the above recipe? What about the flesh of the figs, is that incorporated into the chicken mixture?
Justine, Washington, DC
Definitely have to agree with Jonny from Oxford - falafel is the way forward, and brings everyone in the middle east together, regardless of race. Coupled with delicious pitta and salad - hummus is also nice.
Nicol Caplin, Portsmouth UK
Stuffed grape leaves with meat and rice. Kibbee but please no cumin.
Definitely stuffed vine and cabbage leaves!
My favourite Middle eastern dish is Meloach? Not sure of the spelling but it is like pancakes and is from I believe a Yemeni background. This is served with chopped tomatoes and a particularly hot spicy sauce called Harif. You all sit around and tear the bread and dip it in the sauce. Warm evening, smell of jasmine in the air - Perfect.
Nick Cree, Kolding Denmark
Without a doubt, falafel, especially from Moshiko's on Ben Yehuda Street, with loads of hummus and pickles!
Jonny M, Oxford, UK/Jerusalem