Most of the Jewish immigrants came to South Africa from Lithuania and nearby Latvia, Poland, Russia and Belarus, home to the Ashkenazi Jews, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sephardi Jews came later from North Africa, Rhode Island and Turkey – and from the 1950’s onwards from Egypt, the Belgian Congo and Zimbabwe. Sephardic food reflects the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food of the countries Sephardi Jews had lived in.
One of the most respected Sephardic cooks in Cape Town was the late Donna Benatar. Born in Israel, a 10th generation sabra, she came to Africa in 1954 to visit friends in Zimbabwe. There she met her husband-to-be, Egyptian-born Baruch, who at the time was living in the Belgian Congo. They married in 1955 and returned to the Congo, but had to leave in 1974. After a stay in Belgium, they chose to live in Cape Town.
Chraime is considered to be the kings of Libyan food, and the dish that really characterizes the Libyan Jewish kitchen. There are many ways to prepare it and many versions. The fish must be firm and it must ‘float’ in the sauce – that is there must be plenty of sauce. It’s served with white bread and lemon is squeezed over it as you eat. This recipe is from our cookbook of the week – South Africa Eats.
For the fish use kabeljou, Cape salmon or yellowtail, cut into cutlets on the bone, with the skin on, to about thumb thickness, either a smallish fish or the tail part of a bigger fish – this will give some small pieces which is perfect for those people who prefer a smaller portion.
12 pieces of a firm fish – see above
3 large lemons
oil for frying
1 large head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tins (115 g) tomato paste
1T ground cumin
1T ground coriander
a generous pinch of cumin seeds
1t cayenne pepper (or chilli powder)
a pinch of salt
- Rinse the fish and lightly salt on both sides.
- Marinate the fish in lemon juice for a while or at least for the time it takes to make the sauce. Have a colander and two plates ready. Place fish in a colander over the first plate and squeeze lemon juice over the fish. After a while move the colander to second plate and pour over the drained liquids from the first plate. Repeat by moving the colander back to the first plate and pouring over the drained liquids. Do this about three times while making the sauce. Discard the liquid that remains.
- Cover the base of a wide frying pan or casserole, about 29 cm in diameter, with a 5 mm layer of oil. The casserole must be big enough to hold all the pieces of fish in a single layer. Over medium heat, sauté the chopped garlic.
- Add the tomato paste in the centre of the pot, top with the spices and salt and mix. Cook for a minute or two.
- Add enough boiling water to create a good sauce consistency.
- Add the fish and cook on each side for 2 – 3 minutes. Remove fish to a serving dish and pour over the sauce. Serve at room temperature with a generous portion of sauce (to mop up with kitke) and with lemon wedges to squeeze over the fish.
Wickedfood Cooking School runs cooking classes throughout the year at its purpose-built Johannesburg cooking studio. Cookery classes are run in the mornings and evenings 7 days a week (subject to a minimum of 12 people). The venue is also popular for corporate events and private functions – teambuilding cooking classes, birthdays, kitchen teas, and dinner parties with a difference.
Our cooking lessons are hands-on, where every person gets to participate in the preparation of the dishes. They are also a lot of fun where you not only learn new skills, but get to meet people with similar interests. For corporate groups and team building cooking classes these events are a novel way of creating staff interaction or entertaining clients.