At some point in their lives, every Israeli will spend a lot of time at the central bus station. Unlike the Greyhound Bus Depot of North America, where some people will never go, the typical Israeli central bus station is a happening, bustling place, full of noise, life, and scents most discerning people would rather pass. Commerce of all kinds takes place here, most of it legal, some of it less so. Beggars and sellers of trinkets line the aisles, peddling their wares to the weary and wary passengers. Soldiers crowd the benches, some with big rifles, others with sleek and shortened ones. Mothers cuddle screaming babes, attempting in vain to soothe them and distract them from the crowds. And teenagers in ripped jeans wait to skip school, their heads cocooned by the sounds emitting form their ipods.
And as they wait, at one point in their lives every Israeli will buy some food at the central bus station. Whether it is done to pass their time, or to quell their aching stomachs, they will wander aimlessly towards the many stands and shacks lining the path. They may purchase a cold chocolate milk in a bag, a bottle of coke, or some freshly squeezed juice. But most often, they will reach for a dough-wrapped bite of nirvana: some fast food.
But Israeli fast food is nothing to scoff at. While North Americans can choose between a greasy hamburger or soggy fries, Israelis get falafel in a pita, shwarma in a baguette, bourekas, or a chocolate croissant. Despite the fact that all of these are quite fattening, and far from being gluten-free, they are, for the most part, extremely tasty. Some days, a bite into a warm pita, filled to the brim with pickled vegetables, dribbling hot sauce, and tangy hummus is all it takes to bring joy and peace to the world. Other days, it’s all you need to get a severe stomach ache… but we won’t go there.
My personal favourite fast food sandwich is the sabich. A unique creation that was likely thought up by a ravenous madman, the sabich sandwich is a weird hybrid between moussaka, falafel, bourekas, and a breakfast sandwich. It incorporates layers of fried, delicious eggplant, creamy tahini, starchy potatoes, zesty pickles, and sharp, spicy smear of harissa. In its traditional form, the sabich also includes a hard boiled egg, but I just don’t swing that way. I see it as a perfect marriage of flavours, and I can’t get enough of its layered goodness. The only downside is that I usually steer clear of eating at bus stops.
But there’s nothing stopping you from making this at home. Get a chunk of your favourite bread (I used a sourdough focaccia, but a baguette will do as well, or a crusty gluten-free bread), spread a generous layer of tahini (or even hummus), and layer on the eggplant, potato and pickles. If you’re feeling adventurous, tuck in some slices of hard-boiled egg for a complete meal. A drizzle of hot sauce on top will seal the deal, and your taste buds will thank me.
- For two sandwiches:
- One large focaccia, a long baguette, cut in half, or any 2 portions of your favourite crusty bread
- One eggplant
- Two potatoes
- Four pickles
- 2 teaspoons tahini paste
- 2 teaspoons of water
- Harissa, or your favourite hot sauce
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 450 on the grill/ broil setting. Slice eggplant into one-inch-thick slices. Cover a baking sheet with tin foil, and drizzle it lightly with olive oil. Arrange eggplant slices neatly on baking sheet, ensuring none are covered by other slices. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill in oven for 15-20 minutes, until slices are golden and browned. Remove, and turn slices over, drizzling with more olive oil and sprinkling a bit more salt. Return to oven for another 15 minutes, and check for doneness; slices should be nice and browned.
- While eggplant is cooking, peel and cook potatoes. I use the microwave approach I mentioned (here http://immigrantstable.com/2014/02/17/russian-root-salad/#.UxP0-bvhdVI), but you can cook them the old-fashioned way, in a pot of water.
- Slice pickles thinly. When potatoes are ready, let them cool and slice them thinly as well. Mix tahini paste with water in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt and whisk together until creamy and blended together.
- When ready to assemble the sandwiches, slice bread in half horizontally, ensuring the two halves are about even in thickness. Spread tahini sauce on one half. Add a layer of eggplant slices. Spread potatoes slices on the next level, and sprinkle a pinch of salt and drizzle olive oil over the potatoes layer. Follow by a layer of pickle slices. Spread harissa on the inside of the last bread slice, or drizzle with your favourite hot sauce, and cover. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow sandwich to rest overnight, cutting it into two halves (or four quarters) the next day. Or cut in half and eat right away, wiping smears of tahini off your face.