Flavors of the Past | Diana in Denver
Diana Lizmi is a Texas native who loves all things food — you can find her cooking and baking for friends and winning hearts through full bellies. She grew up in a Morrocan and Lebanese household where food was always a form of love and connection. Jewish cuisine is a collaboration of many different cultures, and the Lizmis fully embrace this concept. When Diana isn’t in the kitchen, she’s climbing mountains, cycling, skiing, and outdoors adventuring.
In this blog series, we’re highlighting different Jewish cuisines from around the world.
Growing up, my mother would rush us home from school after getting off work to start preparing for Shabbat dinner. The kitchen was always a mess — a sign that we were in for a delicious feast. Grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice, kibbeh in the oven with homemade tahini sauce, tajin and couscous, borekas stuffed with feta cheese, puff pastry filled with ground beef, and a simple Israeli salad topped with sumac. Meanwhile, my dad would prepare the table, often with a strong drink of Arak in hand. He enjoyed beautifully plating the dishes and ensuring that everything was in order before my mom came in like a tornado and moved things about. Their different styles brought balance to our home.
Shabbat was a time that we came together as a family. I loved Friday nights because I knew that no matter what, I would join my mother in lighting the candles; I would listen to my father say the prayer over wine, and spend time with my brothers. Our food always came from love, and we frequently invited 10+ guests to join our Shabbats, knowing that my mom would cook enough to feed an army. My parents made the Shabbat table a safe place where we could bring new friends, generally ones that never experienced Shabbat. We could be honest, have fun, and feel connected.
My parents have a very rich culture rooted in their Moroccan and Lebanese backgrounds. My mother was born and raised in Morocco. She was one of ten siblings, and her father wrote scrolls of the Torah. They lived off the grid in a hut town in the southern part of the country, a town so remote that it is not even on a map. At sixteen, she moved to Israel.
My father, a spiritual man, was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. At fifteen, he fled Lebanon and immigrated to Israel where he became a drummer.
Both new immigrants to Israel, my mother and father took Ulpan classes to learn Hebrew where they met. One day my father invited her to watch him drum in Jaffa and from there, they fell in love.
My father became a traveling musician and they ended up moving to Milan, Italy where they lived for seven years. During that time, my brothers David and Daniel were born. My parents speak six languages, with English being their last. They eventually decided that they would have a better life and more opportunities in America, so they moved to Houston where they had me.
All of my extended family lives abroad — from Israel to Switzerland, Dubai to Hawaii. Throughout my life, I traveled to visit them and to strengthen our familial bonds. I am grateful to have so many experiences abroad, all with a local perspective that started at the dinner table. Each dish that my family members create feels familiar and yet has a special spice to it that represents all the corners of the earth that they call home.
As it is for so many of us, food is part of a foundational connection to my family. Food represents so much about who we are and where we come from. For that, I am honored to be a part of a tradition that values getting together on Friday nights to be nourished with food. I am excited to share with you three easy, delicious and unique dishes that you can add to your next Shabbat dinner–dishes from my heart and home to yours.
4 red bell peppers
1 jalapeno, deseeded and diced(optional)
1 big can of diced red tomatoes or about 6 vined tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
½ tablespoon of Spicy paprika
½ tablespoon of Cumin
3 tablespoons of Olive Oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. When ready, place the 4 red bell peppers on a tray for 30 minutes, letting each side get charred. Flip halfway through for both sides of the pepper to evenly blacken and become soft.
Once peppers are done, place the peppers in either a large Ziploc bag or container to make them “sweat” like my mom likes to say, for about 10 minutes. Once done, carefully take the peppers out of the bag and peel the skin off of each pepper. Remove the membranes of each pepper and slice into medium-small strips and set aside.
In a 3 quart sauce pan, generously oil the pan on medium low and incorporate the diced tomatoes and slivers of garlic in the pan. If you are using fresh tomatoes, mark a slit on the top of each tomato and place in boiling water for about 30 seconds. If you place any longer, the tomatoes will become mushy. Place them in a cold ice bath for about 5 minutes, then remove the skin. Cut the tomatoes into medium-small pieces and place into oiled pan on medium low. Let tomatoes cook for about 10 minutes.
Now, incorporate the red peppers, jalapeño, paprika and cumin with the tomatoes and cook on low for about 90 minutes. The liquid from the tomatoes should be plentiful here and used to cook everything down together. Stir occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. It should be ready when the liquid has gone down and it is starting to look like a paste.
4 large red beets
Heap of Olive Oil
1 pressed Lemon
2 tablespoons Cumin
Bunch of Cilantro
Salt and Pepper
Chop off the greens and ends of the beets. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and place the 4 beets in the boiling water for about 45 minutes. You will know they are ready when you can peirce a knife through them and they are no longer tough.
Drain the beets and let them cool for about 5-7 minutes. Carefully peel off the skin of each of the beets with your hands. Chop the beets in small-medium cubes and place them in a mixing bowl.
Add the heap of olive oil, 1 pressed lemon, salt, pepper, cumin, and chopped cilantro in the bowl. Mix all the ingredients together with the beets so it is all incorporated. The longer it sits, the tastier it is! So, try to prepare ahead of time for all the flavors to seep through.
6 slices of salmon
2 red peppers
2 vine tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
½ tablespoon of spicy paprika
½ tablespoon of cumin
2 tablespoon of Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Take the 2 red peppers and remove the membranes from the top. Cut them into circles or long strips. If possible, try to keep the peppers still attached. Next, take the 2 tomatoes and 1 lemon, slice them and put them to the side.
In a large pan, take the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, cumin, paprika, olive oil, crushed garlic, red peppers, tomatoes, and cook them with ½ cup of water on low heat for about 30 minutes.
Prepare room in the pan for each filet of salmon and place each carefully into the sauce. Place some of the sauce and peppers on top of each filet as well as 1 slice of lemon on top. Lastly, place a generous amount of cilantro around the dish and on top of each filet. Let everything cook on low for about 30 minutes, with a lid.
Serve with rice
A wonderful story, gracefully interweaving love, connection, food and Jewish culture–Thank you for painting a picture of your family’s colorful story! I am excited to share many more shabbat dinners together!