By Doreen Wachmann
COOKERY author Dahlia Abraham-Klein has named her first Jewish
cookbook Silk Road Vegetarian (Tuttle Publishing) because her family
was always travelling the ancient trading route, the Silk Road,
which linked China with the Mediterranean.
She said: "My family was typical of Jewish families weaving in and
out of countries like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran and the
Dahlia's mother, Zena Abraham, was born in a Bukharan jail in
Soviet Uzbekistan. Dahlia's pregnant grandmother had been imprisoned
after the KGB failed to catch her diamond merchant husband, who
managed to escape to Afghanistan.
Dahlia's grandmother was released from prison when Zena was six-months-old
and mother and daughter joined Dahlia's grandfather in Afghanistan.
Zena lived in the Muslim country till she was 16 when her family
made aliya, travelling to Israel on a mass migration from Kabul
by camel, bus and plane.
Dahlia's father, Yehuda Abraham, was also born in Bukhara and
left for Afghanistan when he was young. His family later moved to
Pakistan and then India.
Aged 30, Yehuda left Bombay for Israel to find a wife, whom he
took back to Bombay where his family owned a large jewellery business.
Yehuda went with his wife and children to New York to set up an
American branch. But the travelling did not end there.
Dahlia said: "My father and I hardly lived together. My parents
moved to New York, but my father opened an office in Thailand. My
father lived six months of the year in Thailand.
"He opened Bangkok's first synagogue in his home and he built
its only mikva. He would go back and forth to New York. My mother
would go to Thailand for a couple of months at a time and leave
me with a nanny. Until I was 26, my father was in Thailand. Because
my family travelled so much I travelled with them."
Dahlia inherited her family's wanderlust, becoming a travelling
antique jeweller. But the travelling impacted greatly on her digestive
She said: "Maybe twice a month I would be on a plane to Thailand,
Hong Kong, Italy or Israel. As a result of all the travel and living
a single life in Manhattan, my diet was atrocious. I developed an
Dahlia went to a gastroenterologist who told her to eat bland
food, dairy and boiled chicken and gave her medication. But her
condition worsened. Her sister introduced her to a holistic nutritionist
who told her to remove sugar, dairy and wheat from her diet. She
noticed a marked improvement.
Dahlia said: "I had a food sensitivity. Celiac and gluten were
not catchphrases then like today. I was extremely sick and debilitated
when I had the ulcer. I became so much healthier as a result of
how I was eating."
Dahlia was so impressed by the change in her diet that she studied
to be a naturopathic doctor and opened up her own practice to help
others eat more healthily.
She said: "That was when my cookbook, Silk Road Vegetarian -Vegan,
Vegetarian and Gluten Free Recipes for the Mindful Cook first started
She described her journey towards cookery as a "slow blooming
She said: "I had not cooked as a girl. I grew up in a very traditional
home with a lot of cooking. But my mother had help with her constant
cooking. As my father had so many international offices all over
the world, we were constantly entertaining.
"There were always 20 people at the Shabbat table. It was very
But most of the traditional dishes with which she had grown up
were naturally gluten-free because her family came from a rice-eating
culture. Then one Shabbat, Dahlia decided to become vegetarian.
She recalled: "My son, Jonah, was an only child. Instead of a
sibling, I got him a dog. I had made roast chicken for Shabbat.
My dog was sitting at my side at the table. I was looking at the
dog and at the chicken and my conscience struck me that I couldn't
live with and love an animal and eat one."
So she adapted her ancestral dishes, which were made with meat
to vegetarian. Then, she said: "It was just a natural progression
to source my food locally."
She opened up a Community Supported Agriculture in her Long Island
A local farmer brought weekly produce to her garage and CSA members
would come to pick up freshly-picked organic produce.
Dahlia said: "It was 2008 when the economy was very bad. One of
the ways that I wanted to support the economy was by supporting
my local farmer.
"Most of the people who signed up for the CSA did it for ideological
reasons. But no-one knew what to do with a lot of the stuff that
they received every week. So I started to write recipes for the
Silk Road Vegetarian is an outgrowth of that first book for CSA
members. Dahlia is now writing her second cookbook, Spiritual Kneading
through the Jewish Months - Building the Sacred through Challah.
While Silk Road Vegetarian is full of historical allusions to
her family's eastern gastronomic heritage, Spiritual Kneading is
replete with spiritual inspiration.
With her roots in eastern cultures, it is not surprising that
Dahlia was attracted to meditation, which she has adapted to Orthodox
She told me: "Meditation was always practised in Judaism, but
it got lost. The Amida was originally a Jewish meditation. It was
supposed to be mouthed very slowly.
"Repetition is mediation. But it became very rushed. Meditation
has become a lost art because we pray so much.
"The theme of my book is to stop, slow down, and bring divinity
The book does this by providing a challa recipe for every Jewish
For example, the challa for this month of Sivan is shaped like
a wheat sheaf and topped with Parmesan cheese to represent the dairy
aspect of the festival.
She said: "Sivan was originally an agricultural festival. The
theme of the month is the divine partnership between God and His
people. God gives us the wheat. We finish the process by making
the dough and baking it. Sivan is the start of the wheat harvest.
"The challa takes the shape of a wheat sheaf. When you bring the
wheat sheaf-looking challa to your Shabbat table, it starts a conversation
about the theme of the month.
"This is a way to engage the entire family in the Torah."
PREPARATION time is 30 minutes plus 12 hours for soaking the
beans and one hour for soaking the rice. Cooking time is two hours
plus 90 minutes for the beans.
Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain and pour the rice
into a large bowl with one teaspoon salt and pour boiling water
over it. Mix well and let it soak for one hour. Drain and set aside.
In a small bowl, plump the raisins in warm water. In a large saucepan
set over medium-high heat, heat four tablespoons of the oil. Sauté
the onion, stirring, for seven minutes, or until softened. Then
add the kidney beans, season with a teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon
pepper and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Pat down
the mixture with the bottom of your spoon to form a fairly even
Make another layer with the carrots and season with remaining
salt and cardamom. Make sure not to combine the carrots with the
onions. Spoon the rice over the carrots, distributing it evenly
all over the top.
Bruise the cardamom pods: Place the pods on a flat surface,
place the flat blade of a large chef's knife on top of them and
press down on it with the heel of your hand to crush them lightly
until the outer husk cracks. Poke some holes into the rice and place
the bruised cardamom pods into the holes. Pour 750 ml water and
remaining oil over the rice in a circular motion. Drain the water
from the raisins and season with cinnamon.
With a spoon, form a pocket in the rice around the side of the
saucepan, and place the raisins into the pocket. In the centre of
the saucepan, firmly push into the rice, the whole head of garlic.
Place a paper towel large enough to cover the pan on the surface
of the rice. The ends will extend outside the pot. Cover tightly
with a lid. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for two hours or
until the rice is fully cooked. (The towel will absorb the steam,
preventing the rice from getting too sticky). Check the rice periodically
to make sure that the rice did not dry up. If the water has dried
up during the cooking process and the rice is still not done, add
When the rice is done, use a skimmer to gently transfer each layer
onto a serving dish. First, remove the garlic and set to the side
of the platter. Then transfer the rice, then the carrots, and finally
the beans. Scatter the raisins over the top for a sweet accent.
ADAPTED from a chicken curry dish introduced to Dahlia by her
South African mother-in-law. A large population of Indian slaves
were taken to Durban and influenced South African cuisine. The toppings
of banana and coconut are typically South African.
Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with plenty
of cold water. The following day, drain and rinse. Place in a large
saucepan and cover the chickpeas with cold water, an inch above
them. Bring to boil and simmer, skimming off any foam, for about
an hour or till tender. Drain, rinse and skin the chickpeas (optional).
Heat coconut oil in a frying pan over a medium flame, add mustard
seed, turmeric, curry powder, ginger, chilli and chilli powder.
Stir for two minutes. Add onions and garlic, stirring to stop onions
browning. Cook until onions are translucent, about seven minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook until they have liquified, about 10 minutes.
Add the cooked chickpeas and let simmer, covered for 30 minutes
over a low heat. When cooked, add chutney. When ready to serve top
with sliced bananas and shredded coconut with a side dish of basmati