By Sharon Aharoni
I am thrilled to introduce you to my newest contributor, Sharon Aharoni. She will be blogging about the rich culinary scene in Israel and abroad. Her first article covers an exciting new vegetarian restaurant in Berlin called Kanaan, and their delicious recipe for vegan Kartoffelpuffer – Potato Tahini Patties. These crispy potato pancakes are a fusion between German, Moroccan, Arab and Israeli food traditions. They are baked, not fried, as well as gluten free. Appropriate for Hanukkah, Sephardic Passover, or anytime! ~ Tori
In Berlin, a hidden beer-garden is home to Kanaan, a restaurant serving simple vegan and vegetarian Israeli-Palestinian food. The menu is inspired by the home cooking of its owners, Israeli Jew Oz Ben David and Israeli Arab Jalil Debit. The unique partnership between the two carries into the food served at Kanaan, telling a story of cultural diversity and unity in the face of conflict.
Over two years ago, Oz and Jalil embarked on a journey to create a place that not only serves delicious food, but also provides its customers with food for thought. Kanaan is a labor of love for the two entrepreneurs, and the restaurant came about in an almost cosmic way. Oz ran a PR and marketing firm in Berlin, and was hired by Jalil to work on a marketing plan for his new culinary venture in the city. During their joint work, Oz realized how connected he felt to this project, and that he wanted to be a bigger part of it. He came on board and together the two created a place that celebrates diversity and culture. The pair aims to prove that “together is better,” Ben David said of the restaurant’s philosophy.
The idea of showcasing the immense positive power of cultural diversity came about as voices of fear and uncertainty amongst local Germans were raised over Germany’s acceptance of over one million refugees. The two thought that their joint venture could be a powerful educational tool, that would show the amazing results of working together and celebrating cultural differences.
“The bond between us could teach the Germans that versatility, cultural abundance and diversity of people, cultures and history creates a stronger and better nation,” Oz said. They first opened up as a pop-up restaurant serving food in various beer gardens. “This is a win-win situation; our restaurant supported the already existing bar,” Oz said.
The menu is comprised of dishes with Israeli, Arab and local influences. The two kept the recipes as authentic and classic as can be, with recipes from Oz’s Grandmother and Jalil that have been in his family for decades. Jalil comes from a long line of cooks with a history of over 400 years in the business. His grandfather was a cook for British Generals in a military camp in Jaffa during the time of the British mandate in pre-Israel Palestine. Cooking is in Jalil’s DNA, who splits his time between Kanaan and his family’s restaurant “Samir” in Ramle, Israel. Both men have very strong food-related memories from their childhood homes and have combined their culinary traditions to create a beautiful mosaic of food and tradition.
Each dish served at Kanaan has a rich story and history that the two make sure to pass down to guests. One of their signature dishes, “Hummus Puffer,” is comprised of hummus, kartoffelpuffer (potato patties) and vegetable salad. This dish is a telling example of both authenticity and connectivity. Oz said that when he first ate kartoffelpuffer in Berlin he was reminded of his Moroccan grandmother’s potato pancakes that she used to make before Passover. The German patties are made according to Oz’s grandmother’s recipe, paired with Jalil’s hummus and chopped Israeli salad. Kanaan’s Jewish Moroccan version of kartoffelpuffer has been lauded by many and was even entered in a competition for the best German kartoffelpuffer.
This dish showcases their philosophy: “we all share so many things and have many more similarities than differences. Who would have thought that the German cuisine and the Jewish Moroccan cuisine could connect and merge?” Oz mused. The two try to unravel the first layer of “differences” and connect people through delicious food. “When we are authentic but also constantly seeking out our similarities instead of our differences, something powerful happens,” Oz said. He believes that diners at Kanaan experience not only physical nourishment, but emotional and intellectual nourishment as well.
“Our restaurant is in the hippest and youngest part of town, Prenzlauer Berg. What could be better than teaching young kids about being open and accepting? Children up to the age of 3 can eat our hummus for free; they have a backyard with a sandbox and we make sure they have a great time. They get free cookies too,” Oz adds. Kanaan hopes to help educate the younger generation to live without fear or hatred, and instead encourage positive memories from their encounters with different cultures. They also want the children to see that even people in a state of conflict (in this case the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) can work together and emerge better from it.
The music played at Kanaan, like the food served, is a testament to this embrace of diversity– from Sharif to Israeli singer Lior Narkis and Arab music legend Umm Kulthum. The restaurant is also home to a joint social rehabilitation program with the German government, for Syrian refugees over the age of 40 or for those lacking professional expertise. Refugees are trained at the restaurant as cooks and do the majority of the cutting and prepping in the kitchen. Everything served at the restaurant is freshly prepared, including doughs for the yemenite malawach and jachnun and bourekas.
Jalil and Oz have also partnered with fine dining chef Gal Ben Moshe to create a pop up restaurant that makes appearances a couple of times a month at some of Berlin’s major food and culture events, like Conductor Daniel Barenboim’s season opening gala. This pop up showcases Kanaan’s food in a much more refined way. Jalil and Oz plan on using their pop up to continue touching and connecting with people through their food. In this spirit, they have graciously shared their tantalizing recipe for Kartoffelpuffer – Potato Tahini Patties, which you can find below.
Kopenhagener Str. 17, 10437 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 17622586673
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Kartoffelpuffer - Crispy Baked Potato Tahini Patties
- 5 whole potatoes, large (about 4 pounds)
- 1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped - if you don't like cilantro, substitute additional parsley
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tsp cumin
- 2 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt, more or less to taste
- 1/4 tsp pepper, more or less to taste
- 1 cup tahini paste, or more as needed
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scrub the potatoes clean.
- Grate the potatoes into shreds. The easiest way to do this is using a food processor with a shredding disc, but you can also use a hand grater to shred by hand if you prefer. You should end up with around 10-11 cups of potato shreds.
- Combine the shredded potatoes, minced garlic, chopped herbs, tahini, spices, salt and pepper in a very large mixing bowl. Mix until it all comes together - the easiest way is with clean hands. You want to make sure the tahini is well mixed throughout the batter. Taste the mixture at this point and add additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired. If mixture feels too loose or dry, add a little more tahini.
- Form patties from the mixture, using a scant 1/2 cup of mixture for each patty. Gently squeeze out excess liquid starch from each patty before placing the patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet. They will be more like loose mounds at this point, but don't worry, they will firm up as they bake.
- Place baking sheets in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the patties have firmed up a bit. Flip the patties and gently press on them with a spatula to flatten.
- Continue cooking for 10-15 minutes longer, until golden brown and crispy on both sides.
- Kalil and Oz recommend you serve these crispy kartoffelpuffer potato patties with tahini sauce, hummus and vegetable salad. They also noted that you can substitute or add carrots, leek or sweet potato to this recipe. It is very adaptable.