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Sabich -- the Iraqi Israeli sandwich


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I'm in love! This is my new favorite sandwich. And to think that I could have been eating this for the past six decades, if only I had heard of it. Does anyone else adore this? It is cooked or fried eggplant in a pita pocket along with the usual falafel suspects and some of the not so usual. Word has it that Iraqi Jews who emigrated to Israel brought some of the stuffing ingredients and adopted the pita to put them in and it evolved as a street food alternative to falafel. But I like it better, and cooking the eggplant is easier than making your own falafel.

 

Additions to the eggplant include an Israeli-type tomato and cucumber salad, tahini sauce, hard boiled egg slices, Israeli pickles,  hummus and most interesting of all an Israeli version of mango chutney or mango pickle called Amba. And to top it off, zhoug  or schug, a fiery green sauce made from cilantro, parsley, chiles, etc. We used to have a great falafel place that served zhoug on the side, but alas, no more. For lack of options I have made my own zhoug (easy and messy) but finding the Amba has been a challenge. I found a mango pickle imported from Pakistan that's pretty tasty, and I've been using that. For the record, I can live without the egg slices but my husband liked them. And I don't see the need for hummus if you have a nice tahini dressing to slather in. The extra step to grill or heat the pita is worth it. I used my comal  and treated my pita like a tortilla.

 

For the eggplant several recipes just call for frying or sautéing it without any coating, but I found the best way is how you would do it for eggplant parmesan: a dip in egg and then a light coating of seasoned flour. That way you really don't need a lot oil. Anyway, this is about the most exciting and exotic sandwich; the mango pickle just knocks it out of the park. 

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@Katie Meadow

I love sabich, but sadly very few places in Israel serve good sabich, most are serve mostly falafel, with the sabich being an after thought menu item (since it uses many ingredients also used in falafel). You can easly know this if you see a bowl of sad, over-fried eggplants seating on the counter. A good place will fry them to order to lovely brown shade.
Truth to be told, unlike flaafel, the best sabich is always home made. 

 

Here are some of my opinions about it:
Eggs are a crucial ingredient in sabich, aside from being the protein source of the dish, their flavor is important. You should try to boil them less for a softer egg. I much prefer the eggs this way.

I also think that using both tahini and hummus is redundant, I usually pick just one.

No fresh cucumber in sabich for me, only tomato, onion, pickled cucumber and sometimes cabbage.

I personally prefer to grill to eggplants, since I'm not a fan of fried eggplants in any form. If you like fried eggplants, then obviously, that's the proper way to go.

A good pita bread should be soft, fresh and fluffy. Only grill it if it already lost it's softness (same rule as with bagels - a good and fresh one should not be toasted).

Also, some people add french fries. 

Another thing, is that one can make some realy nice sabich salad: just mix or layer the ingredients and add toasted pita croutons.

 

If you have an access to a mango tree, you can make a pretty good basic amba with only some unripe mango fruits, fenugreek seeds and turmeric.

 

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~ Shai N.

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Wouldn't it be nice to have a mango tree in the back yard here in Oakland? I'm open to making my own Amba but haven't investigated sources for green mangoes. Nor have I tried yet to find a bakery that turns out good pita bread that's local; my experience of pita bread in restaurants isn't encouraging. Perhaps the toasting of pita bread is most useful for mediocre product. Love the idea of turning the ingredients into a salad--warm eggplant with cool salads and various pickles and a drizzle of tahini dressing. So looking forward to real tomatoes this summer! 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Go for it, Darienne!

 

About the mango pickle: I have now tried a couple of others, but I am liking the Pakistani one best. I found an Israeli one that is soupy and salty and another one I didn't care for either. I'm now pretty attached to the National brand peeled mango pickled in oil. Some of the jars say Kasundi, which means peeled mango as far as I can tell. I found mine in a dusty middle eastern grocery store. Amazon does sell it as well, but it's cheaper if you can find a local source or even a different on line source. I find that the flavor is good, it isn't too salty, has a medium hot factor that works well. The chunks of mango are a bit big and sometimes I just chop them up a bit. Of course the mango pickle is only one of many elements in the sandwich but the flavor is pretty forward, so it's a personal choice. 

 

I think my jar cost about $2.99. Making my own mango pickle would be nice, but that's the price of a couple of mangos right there! And I suspect it would take a lot of trial and error to come up with one that I really like. I'll wait until eG is clamoring for a mango pickle cook-off.

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I first had sabich almost a decade ago at an Israeli restaurant near me.  I got it as a plate with chopped, roasted (I think) eggplant, hummus and Israeli salad (diced tomato, cucumber, green bell pepper), a hard boiled egg and a thick, warm, fluffy pita.  I made pita sandwiches out of it and I loved it; their pitas are excellent.  The hot sauce accompanying it I judged to be harissa since I've never heard of schug but I later saw it elsewhere on the menu and found the Sabra product in  the Kosher section of a nearby grocery store.  The Sabra schug (red or green) is a thick, rather dry paste-like product but what I had at the restaurant was flowable.  I've also had it there as a sandwich on a baguette, with thick slices of eggplant plus tomato and cucumber.and hard-boiled egg  They also offer it as a pita sandwich and a wrap with malawach, the fried Yemeni bread similar to porotta but made with phyllo, I think.  I see places online giving the pronunciation as sabikh but that place said it was sah BEECH.  So far as I can recall, there was no amba.  I'll have to look for that at the grocery store.

 

I see another Israeli restaurant nearby has added it to the menu also as a pita sandwich, on a baguette and as a wrap in lafa, the Iraqi flatbread.  Their lafas are so big I probably wouldn't be able to finish one at one sitting.

 

Serious Eats did a recent feature on sabich and I agree, it's far superior to falafel.

Edited by brucesw (log)
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  • 4 years later...

Reviving this thread because I was searching to see if there were any topics on making your own Amba sauce because I am about to try it myself! (I can't find any where I live so I have to.)

 

This is one of my favorite sandwiches ever, but I've never tried amba sauce. I've found many recipes online that are so different. Some say to cure the mango by salting it and leaving it for one to five days and some say to cook the sauce. Does anyone have any experience? I'm leaning towards the cooked version because I already have my pita dough resting, my hummus made and my eggplant waiting for its final step in the preparation.  ( probably won't fry either, like Shain mentions. :))

 

TIA!

Edited by ambra
typo! (log)
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33 minutes ago, ambra said:

Reviving this thread because I was searching to see if there were any topics on making your own Amba sauce because I am about to try it myself! (I can't find any where I live so I have to.)

 

This is one of my favorite sandwiches ever, but I've never tried amba sauce. I've found many recipe online that are so different. Some say to cure the mango by salting it and leaving it for one to five days and some say to cook the sauce. Does anyone have any experience? I'm leaning towards the cooked version because I already have my pita dough resting, my hummus made and my eggplant waiting for its final step in the preparation.  ( probably won't fry either, like Shain mentions. :))

 

TIA!

Thanks for raising this subject!

 

Sabich is making it's way in these areas, but not near me so far and I have been wondering about what to do as well to make it at home.

I stumbled upon an amba spicemix, but no directions were given. Poundered about dry roasting the mix, but then got stuck on what to use as a base. Curing unripe mango might not be the best practice with the temperatures around here, although we had some untypical heat waves this summer. Also, unripe mangoes are less common at where I mostly shop nowadays.

 

I've seen some pictures that showed a very bright sauce, so I wondered if fresh mangoes were used for it. And if I could get away with using tinned mango puree. Fresh mango quality varies a lot here and I have this big can of alphonso mango laying around. It's probably delicious either way, but I'm curious what a more experienced person would advice.

 

 

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@ambra @CeeCee There are endless variations on amba, some are more like a pickle, others like chutney, some a spice centric sauce. For sabich, you want a saucy version, in which the mango plays a background role.

 

The unripe mango adds an acidic fruity flavor, not a sweet one. Fresh mango will likely get you an overly sweet result, so if you include it, only use a small amount for some fruit flavor. If you can't get unripe mango, you can use amchor (dried mango powder) for the acidity, if this is also not an option, use lemon. Actually, you should add some lemon anyway.
The bright color is from turmeric, which is important. But most important is fenugreek which should be the main flavor component for a sauce made for sabich. You can also add many other spices - chili, paprika, black pepper, cumin.

Also important, is that you must let it stand after mixing - the fenugreek powder is a natural thickener and takes ~3 hours to do so.

 

Bottom line, in sabich, the amba doesn't have to be authentic, just make sure that its bold on fenugreek and turmeric, acidic, salty and fruity, with just slight sweetness.

 

Edited by shain (log)
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~ Shai N.

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Thank you tons @Shain! 

I am not sure what it is supposed to taste like, having never had the real thing, but I did make it. From what you describe, my mango was definitely too ripe. It was a bit sweet. I will try it again using your instructions. I did use the spices you mention, plus chili. 

 

Having said that, I did like it on the sandwich. :) 

 

Here is my finished product, I am sure it is completely wrong. But I will try again soon!

 

62187582118__C170DB7D-6051-4455-9D47-A033B9101170.JPG.df38fdc20b95b07257386870fd24de3f.JPG

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SO nice to see sabich is back in the news. I've never had a sabich made by anyone but me, so I have no idea what the variety of Amba might be, although I'm sure it is wide. Probably there are local products used commonly by street vendors or restaurants if they don't make their own. I've been using the same Pakistani brand of mango pickle since my first sandwich. It is very chunky, very spicy, not runny and certainly not what I would call fresh tasting. I may very well need to rethink this since the brand I am addicted to (and also use on the side with a curry) is now very hard to source. 

 

Not a simple sandwich! To get good Pita bread I need to go to to one deli that makes them fresh all day. To get zhoug I like a different little bistro that will sell me a container of their own homemade, which is awfully good;  I am getting lazier by the day. I can read a whole novel in the time it would take to make mango pickle, bake pita bread or wash fistfuls of cilantro.  

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Sadly, I always have to make my own pita because they don't really sell them where I live, except for some weird long-life industrially prepared piece of cardboard in thick plastic packaging. 

So a seemingly simple sandwich always becomes a big production. And our pitas don't always come out well, but they are better than what I can get. 

We have thought about using  "pucce," a Pugliese roll (see below), but I never find those fresh in Milan either.

image.png.19e3ccda1128fd042e78aa80a198c77e.png

 

 

 

I thought about making the zhoug too, but decided to save it for the next time. 

 

Still one of my favorite sandwiches though! And I will keep making them! 

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@ambra Do you have a friendly Neopolitan style pizzeria nearby? If they'll be willing to bake you a few blanc pizzas, it should be a great substitute, better than most pitas in Israel. It will be large, but it should be no big issue.

The dough and method I use for making both pitas and pizzas are almost identical.

A ciabatta can also work.

Edited by shain (log)

~ Shai N.

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On 9/16/2020 at 4:29 PM, shain said:

@ambra @CeeCee There are endless variations on amba, some are more like a pickle, others like chutney, some a spice centric sauce. For sabich, you want a saucy version, in which the mango plays a background role.

 

The unripe mango adds an acidic fruity flavor, not a sweet one. Fresh mango will likely get you an overly sweet result, so if you include it, only use a small amount for some fruit flavor. If you can't get unripe mango, you can use amchor (dried mango powder) for the acidity, if this is also not an option, use lemon. Actually, you should add some lemon anyway.
The bright color is from turmeric, which is important. But most important is fenugreek which should be the main flavor component for a sauce made for sabich. You can also add many other spices - chili, paprika, black pepper, cumin.

Also important, is that you must let it stand after mixing - the fenugreek powder is a natural thickener and takes ~3 hours to do so.

 

Bottom line, in sabich, the amba doesn't have to be authentic, just make sure that its bold on fenugreek and turmeric, acidic, salty and fruity, with just slight sweetness.

 

 

Awesome directions shain, thanks! I will report back 😁

 

On the subject of pita, in my town there was only one place that had sabich on their menu. They got their pita's from a Greek bakery in a city nearby. The Greek deli here uses them as a wrap for gyros, so I'm not sure how authentic these are for sabich. But they're a lot nicer than the regular pita we get here most of the time.

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Michael Solomonov has a recipe for amba in Israeli Soul — though he calls for ripe mango and doesn't ferment it, just cooks it down with spices/onion/garlic and adds lemon juice and salt at the end. Looking at those directions, it sounds like it would produce something very syrupy, which makes me a little suspicious.

He also name drops Galil brand jarred amba, which they apparently sell at Goldie. (I think I had the sabich there — but it might have been some other sandwich with amba.)

 

The best sabich I've personally had was in Detroit, from the bakery (Naba Brick Oven Bakery) that Marcus Samuelsson visited on his PBS show ("No Passport Required"). It happened to air just before I took a trip home. The Iraqi-style sabich there is served on a diamond-shaped bread called samoon which is thicker than pita but quite light — very pillowy. Closer to Turkish doner kebab bread than pita — and I think close in thickness to the Italian rolls @ambra posted above. 

Edited by dtremit (log)
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On 9/18/2020 at 11:32 AM, shain said:

@ambra Do you have a friendly Neopolitan style pizzeria nearby? If they'll be willing to bake you a few blanc pizzas, it should be a great substitute, better than most pitas in Israel. It will be large, but it should be no big issue.

The dough and method I use for making both pitas and pizzas are almost identical.

A ciabatta can also work.

Sometimes my husband will make a white pizza to serve with similar meals (the photo is just grilled, marinated eggplant that was served along side other veg and cheese, such as mozzarella, burrata and stracchino), but I've never thought of making it into pita. I know the dough is similar, but I always though for a "proper" pita, you need that puff during cooking, which I have never really been able to master anyway. 😄

But yea next sabich, for sure! Thanks!

IMG_7142.jpg

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21 minutes ago, ambra said:

I always though for a "proper" pita, you need that puff during cooking

 

It should puff. The key is high heat and short bake - just like a Neapolitan pizza.

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~ Shai N.

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On 9/18/2020 at 2:41 AM, ambra said:

Sadly, I always have to make my own pita because they don't really sell them where I live, except for some weird long-life industrially prepared piece of cardboard in thick plastic packaging. 

So a seemingly simple sandwich always becomes a big production. And our pitas don't always come out well, but they are better than what I can get. 

We have thought about using  "pucce," a Pugliese roll (see below), but I never find those fresh in Milan either.

image.png.19e3ccda1128fd042e78aa80a198c77e.png

 

 

 

I thought about making the zhoug too, but decided to save it for the next time. 

 

Still one of my favorite sandwiches though! And I will keep making them! 


It brings a chuckle when I read you live in Milan and there's no good pita or bread substitute. 😸

That wasn't chicken

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31 minutes ago, Eatmywords said:


It brings a chuckle when I read you live in Milan and there's no good pita or bread substitute. 😸

😂😂 In reality, I guess that's not totally fair. There is a delicious (albeit very greasy) Greek on the Navigli that I go to that looks nothing like the Greek food I'm used to but admittedly it has decent pita! But it's all the way across town, like 45 minutes away. And not even sure they would sell it to me.  I have a bakery nearby that sells "pane arabo," which are puffy rolls. Look like the above pucce. I don't usually like them because they are doughy and raw tasting. 

Perhaps for something similar, there are also a few Lebanese restaurants, but the last one I went to had wrap-style breads. 

 

Someone told me to try one of the Arab butchers but alas, there isn't one of those near me either. 

 

Milan has a lot of international offerings in comparison to other Italian cities. We have some good Chinese (though nothing like American Chinese). And the Milanese are obsessed with sushi. Ramen is getting better here too.  But the things I really love aren't done well. For example, no Jewish rye (my favorite bread), or Jewish deli for that matter, no good gyros, no good Korean (a fave around here), no good Mexican (though getting better) and no good Vietnamese. My son adores Pho (my next cooking project will be to tackle making it at home!) We've found "OK" Pho, but nothing like the kind I am used to. It's OK, sometimes these places will still satisfy if you have a craving and we have other incredibly delicious things to eat. :)

Edited by ambra (log)
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24 minutes ago, ambra said:

😂😂 In reality, I guess that's not totally fair. There is a delicious (albeit very greasy) Greek on the Navigli that I go to that looks nothing like the Greek food I'm used to but admittedly it has decent pita! But it's all the way across town, like 45 minutes away. And not even sure they would sell it to me.  I have a bakery nearby that sells "pane arabo," which are puffy rolls. Look like the above pucce. I don't usually like them because they are doughy and raw tasting. 

There are also a few Lebanese restaurants, but that last one had wrap style breads. 

 

Someone told me to try one of the Arab butchers but alas, there isn't one of those near me either. 

 

Milan has a lot of international offerings in comparison to other Italian cities. We have some good Chinese (though nothing like American Chinese). And the Milanese are obsessed with sushi. Ramen is getting better here too.  But the things I really love aren't done well. For example, no Jewish rye (my favorite bread), or Jewish deli for that matter, no good gyros, no good Korean (a fave around here), no good Mexican (though getting better) and no good Vietnamese. My son adores Pho (my next cooking project will be to tackle making it at home!) We've found "OK" Pho, but nothing like the kind I am used to. It's OK, sometimes these places will still satisfy if you have a craving and we have other incredibly delicious things to eat. :)

I hear you.  We are spoiled here w our 'ethnic' options.  Milan sounds like Paris where we noticed an onslaught of chinese/thai/vietnamese/cafe takeouts specializing in cold pret a manger.  What we tried was pretty bad but the french seemed to be going nuts for it.  They were always busy.  

 

@weinoo what do you think?  You were there just before covid like us?

Edited by Eatmywords (log)

That wasn't chicken

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1 hour ago, Eatmywords said:

 

I hear you.  We are spoiled here w our 'ethnic' options.  Milan sounds like Paris where we noticed an onslaught of chinese/thai/vietnamese/cafe takeouts specializing in cold pret a manger.  What we tried was pretty bad but the french seemed to be going nuts for it.  They were always busy.  

 

@weinoo what do you think?  You were there just before covid like us?

 

Indeed - it appears they go nuts for anything not French - silly in my opinion. Hamburgers are the big thing, in my opinion; noticed them practically everywhere. One day we were having a quick lunch at a local (to our airbnb) cafe, and there was a dad with his son there. The kid had like 2 hot dogs and a big pile of frites, and dumped about half a bottle of ketchup all over everything. We were cracking up and dad just looked at us and shrugged his shoulders.

 

I think Vietnamese was always kind of around in Paris, with some of it allegedly excellent, though we've never eaten it while there. One would think with the ingredient quality available, other "ethnic" cuisines ought be great, if a cook has some idea what she or he is doing.  I believe one of our meals at Fulgarances was when a Thai chef was in residence, and it was quite good, though I wouldn't call it Thai food.

 

And @ambra - back to pita - I see you make it and I'm sure @shain can tell you that it's a fairly easy bread to make at home! And maybe even provide us all with instructions!  As for rye bread, believe me, even here in NYC, it's not like it's that easy to find great rye; certainly not as easy as it was when I was a kid and there were real Jewish bakeries everywhere. And...don't get me started on bagels!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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