128 South 12th Street
Authentic Middle Eastern Kosher Fare in Center City
-- Lisa Tuttle
One approach to dining out is to ask the owner to bring the dishes he or she would most recommend. That’s what I did at the Maccabeam restaurant in Center City Philadelphia,
and my dining partner and I were rewarded with a culinary treat.
Tucked in a small storefront on South 12th Street, Maccabeam offers itself as the city’s only Glatt kosher restaurant (certified by Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia),
but it doesn’t stop there. Benefitting from the decision of owner Victor to bring the talented Israeli chef Armand Farhi to the States, Maccabeam represents the best of Israeli
cuisine, providing kosher diners with a delight for the palate.
Falafel with hummus.
Before any of the main courses were brought out, we were given the traditional Israeli "salad bar" with fresh-made pita and laffa bread: although the tahini, babaganush,
Moroccan carrot salad, Israeli salad, and jalapeno salads were as good as anything we tasted during our trip to Israel this summer, we were especially impressed by the truly
superlative eggplant salad. (Victor confided to us that he is almost envious that his Italian fellow restaurateurs can make their eggplant in a matter of minutes; Maccabeam's
eggplant salad takes hours to prepare . . . but the results match the extra effort!) Also a standout was the lemony cabbage salad, with just the right touch of sour salt
(citric acid; variously called "lemon salt") used to flavor a good many Israeli vegetable salads. We also loved the creamy, smoky flavored babaganoush. All the offerings had a delightful
blend of herbs, spices, and lemon. Salads can be ordered separately ($4.50 for a small portion; $7.00 for a large one), as well as in an assortment in the Middle Eastern Combo
Platter ($7.00 for a small combo; $9.00 for a large one).
Another highlight just among the appetizers was the falafel: light, not greasy, fresh, crispy and very tasty. Anyone who has traveled to Israel knows that it is possible to
have too much falafel, and certainly too much heavy falafel. The Maccabeam certainly succeeds in offering an excellent presentation of that Middle Eastern specialty.
There are several meat entrees to choose from: beef, lamb, chicken, and turkey shish kebobs; Kefta Kebob, as well as more traditionally western dishes like Lamb Chops,
fish platter, and even ‘Philadelphia Steak.’ We ordered Shawarma: a nice sized portion of thinly sliced barbecued turkey served with warm pita and a side of flavorful rice
and beans. Other side dishes from which one can choose with an entrée are French fries, salad or okra.
Our vegetarian entree was the Chumus & Tahini, which was very tasty and the portion was enough for sharing. Two other options for vegetarians are the Falafel and Babaganush
platters (all are $9.00).
Maccabeam offers a variety of soups - bean soup, vegetable soup and a soup of the day, made fresh daily ($3.00 for a cup and $4.00 for a bowl). Side orders include French fries
($3.00), condiments ($2.50), rice with beans or okra ($4.00 for a small portion, $6.00 for a large one).
A very good value is the Business Person 'Lunch Special' served Monday through Friday only, 11 am to 4 pm: a choice of soup and the special lunch entrée of the day. I'll definitely
have to go back for lunch to try one of these, as well as to sample some of my other favorites — such as the Shakshuka (eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce; $4.50), Kefta Kebob
(beef, parsley, onions and spices ground together and "char-broiled to perfection"; $14.95), and Maccabeam's kosher version of a Philly steak sandwich (thinly sliced beef with grilled
mushrooms, onions and red peppers stuffed into pita bread with salad and tahini; $10.00).
We ended the meal with a delicious baklava, that was pleasingly sweet, but not overly so, filled with pistachio nuts and scented with orange. As with the other items on the menu,
the baklava was made on the premises.
The Maccabeam has a long history: 20 years as a kosher Philadelphia restaurant. But it has been under new ownership for about the past 4 months. Although lunch is the meal that
sees the most business, Maccabeam serves dinner, hosts parties, and provides kosher catering in the area. Victor let us know that he also owns the restaurant Eden in Cherry Hill.
If your kids aren't into Middle Eastern fare, fear not. Maccabeam's children's menu features the tried-and-true hotdog, chicken nuggets, and hamburger. Beverages include Turkish
coffee, tea, lemonade, juices, black beer, sodas and an assortment of Israeli drinks.
So if you're hankering for an excellent Middle Eastern meal in Philly that's kosher to boot, Maccabeam is a great choice.
Until we eat again,
Lisa Kelvin Tuttle has professional experience in the gourmet, catering, and health-food fields, as well as being an experienced kosher camp cook. Her greatest pleasure, though,
is cooking Shabbat dinner for family and friends. She is Communications Director for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and resides with her husband, Alan, and sons Adam and Jeremy
Lemony Cabbage Salad
This recipe is adapted from one in Joan Nathan's excellent The Foods of Israel Today,
which she reports received oohs and ahhs from, of all people, Julia Child.
- 1 medium green or red cabbage, thinly sliced or grated
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated
- 1/4 teaspoon sour salt (citric acid or lemon salt)
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar or agavé nectar
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Peel any dry or discolored outer leaves from cabbage and discard. Slice cabbage in half, lay on cutting board and with a sharp knife, slice into thin strips.
Alternately, cut cabbage into wedges and process in a food processor using the grating attachment.
- Grate the carrot and place vegetables in a large glass bowl. Sprinkle with sour salt and toss to combine, then cover the bowl and set aside.
- In a small bowl combine lemon juice, olive oil , sugar or agave, and crushed garlic. Beat with a small whisk or fork until well combined and pour over the cabbage.
Toss well so that cabbage and dressing are incorporated. Recover and chill, ideally overnight, to let flavors develop. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
This flavorful Israeli eggplant dish made by the Jews of North Africa, from The Diverse Israeli Table, a publication of the Israel Information Center,
is first fried and then mashed with seasonings and then fried again.
- 1 very large or 2 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds total)
- about 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- harissa sauce for serving (recipe follows)
- From each eggplant, cut out 3 vertical strips of skin, leaving it with a striped effect. Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch thick slices, salt and let drain in a colander
for 1/2 hour. Rinse well and squeeze gently. Pat dry using paper toweling.
- Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and fry the slices, several at a time, until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper toweling and then mash the eggplant, garlic and
spices together. Return this mixture to the skillet and fry until all of the liquid evaporates and only oil and vegetables remain. Stir often during cooking.
- Pour off the oil and season with the lemon juice. Correct the seasoning with salt to taste and let come to room temperature. Serve with the harissa sauce.
(Serves 6 to 8).
This sauce may be purchased at many ethnic markets. Those who want to make it themselves will find it a simple operation.
- 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon each ground cumin and salt
- olive oil as required
In a blender or with a mortar and pestle grind the peppers finely. Add the garlic, spices, tomato and salt. Crush until well blended. Scrape the mixture into a jar,
pour over just enough olive oil to cover, cover tightly and refrigerate until needed. (Yields about 1/4 cup. Considering how hot the sauce is, this quantity should last for quite a while.)
The recipe that follows and its descriptive note are from The
Complete Guide to Traditional Jewish Cooking. This Middle Eastern pastry made of crisp phyllo, filled with crushed nuts and drenched in fragrant syrup, is famously doted
on in Greece and Turkey, and is as much a favorite of the Sephardic Jews as it is of Arab communities.
For the syrup
- 3/4 cup butter, melted
- 1 14-ounce packet phyllo pastry, thawed if frozen
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons clear, thick honey
- 1/4 cup superfine sugar
- finely grated rind of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 3/4 cups (7 ounces) blanched almonds, chopped
- 1 3/4 cups walnuts, chopped
- 3/4 cup pistachios, chopped
- chopped pistachios, to decorate
- 1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
- 1/2 cup clear honey
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 strips of thinly pared lemon rind
- 1 teaspoon orange flower water or rose water, or to taste
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Brush the base of a shallow 12" x 8" loose-bottomed pan or jelly roll pan with a little of the melted butter.
- Using the tin as a guide, cut the sheets of phyllo pastry with a sharp knife so that they fit the pan exactly.
- Place one sheet of pastry in the base of the pan, brush with a little melted butter, then repeat until you have used half of the pastry sheets. Set the
remaining pastry aside and cover with a clean dish towel.
- To make the filling, place the lemon juice, honey and sugar in a pan and heat gently until dissolved. Stir in the lemon rind, cinnamon and chopped nuts. Mix thoroughly.
- Spread half the filling over the pastry. Cover with three layers of the phyllo pastry and butter then spread the remaining filling over the pastry.
- Finish by using up the remaining sheets of pastry and butter on top, and brush the top of the pastry liberally with butter.
- Using a sharp knife, carefully mark the pastry into squares, almost cutting through the filling. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until crisp and golden brown.
- Meanwhile, make the syrup. Place the sugar, honey, water and lemon rind in a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar and honey have dissolved. Bring to a boil,
then boil for a further 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened slightly.
- Take the syrup off the heat and leave to cool slightly. Remove the baklava from the oven. Remove and discard the lemon rind from the syrup and stir in the orange flower
or rose water, then pour over the pastry. Leave to soak for 6 hours. Cut into squares and serve, decorated with chopped pistachios.
To view previous editions of The Kosher Table, please click here.
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