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A Renaissance of All of Human History in Acre

By Noga Tarnopolsky | The Media Line

February 29, 2016

Uri Jeremias on the Effendi Hotel rooftop (Dudi Saad/The Media Line)
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The Galilee comes alive under the ministrations of a new prophet

[Acre] The Galilee is a locavore’s paradise, a lush, green region flanked by the Mediterranean Sea and basalt hills in which, according to Abbie Rosner, the author of Breaking Bread in Galilee, until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the local population “farmed pretty much exactly the way it was described in the Bible.”

They tended indigenous, unchanged foods such as chickpeas, wheat, and olives, often grown without irrigation, which results in stronger, truer flavors.

For two millennia, subsistence farmers pressed olives into oil; ground chickpeas to make hummus; and transformed whole wheat into a nutty flour much like the spelt flour many seek out today. Cooks used local fish as a principal source of protein and lightly smoked the green wheat berries to make freekeh, a grain that is sweeping high-end American eateries today.

These native crops continue to form the bedrock of the Galilean pantry.

Their champion is Uri Jeremias, a stubborn man with a prophetic beard who has singlehandedly revived the area’s Biblical gastronomic and hoteliering heritage and made it current.

His twenty-seven-year-old restaurant, Uri Buri, has become the anchor of the ancient port city of Akko’s rebirth as a gastronomic and cultural capital. His new guesthouse, the Effendi Hotel, has revived the City of Akko’s Otoman-era place as a must-stop destination for any tourist.

Now, following in the steps of his colleagues across the Galilee, the owners of Nazareth’s Fauzi Azar Inn, who established the Jesus Trail hikes, Jeremias has founded the Crusader’s Seminar, through which you are invited to relive nothing less than the “entire local history and flavor through the knowing eyes of scholars, academics and guides.”

If Acre—called Akko in Hebrew and Akka in Arabic—ever needed another prophet it has found one Uri Jeremias. “Acre,” he told The Media Line, on the hotel’s rooftop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, “has been a major stronghold for all local rulers due to its naturally protected harbor on the eastern shore, and has had strategic importance for the trade route between Africa and Europe for all of human history. The fresh water supply and fertile lands yielded cotton, olive oil and sugar, among other products, making it a major trade center in its own right. Acre has been the object of conquest by many, with rule frequently changing hands throughout history and serving, at one point in time as the capital of the Crusaders during their second Jerusalem Kingdom (1191 – 1291). These rich layers of history are what make Acre one of the most intriguing and magnificent old cities on the shores of the world. Possessing a certain timelessness, the city has managed to preserve its character while avoiding being transformed into a “plastic – fantastic” tourist attraction.”

Professor Efraim Lev, Chairman of the Department of Land of Israel Studies at the University of Haifa, and Jeremias’ partner in the seminars points out the military and medicinal riches the Crusader era offers up. The European invaders, he told The Media Line, “knew Arab medicine was better than what Europe had. When they got here, it was much more advanced, especially in terms of prescriptions and physician notebooks.”

Jeremias adds: “It was not only the medicines that they were using. There was a big difference in the philosophies of medicine. In Crusader era Arab culture they didn’t see an illness as bad or good, but simply as a fact, something that has to be treated. They wanted to treat it in the easiest and in the most friendly way. At the same time the Christians saw in disease something that you have to chase out of the body with suffering, so they were using blood, cutting and all kinds of animals that sucked your blood. This was one basis of the differences.”

Jeremias’s ambitions include everything from bringing back from oblivion Biblical-era grains to reviving the Crusader-era military codes and medical culture to breathing new life into the Ottoman inn-keeping culture.

“I don’t believe that food has a part in the understanding, but definitely the understanding that one has to others’ way of life including food and everything else and trying it and enjoying it and sitting together and eating it creates a kind of an atmosphere that is strengthening the leaders that are trying to reach these atmosphere and you can go into any humus place in Akko and you will see Jews and Arabs sitting together eating at one table, because you know the humus is not waiting until tables are available but if there is a place you can join and sit,” he explains.

The Galilee, in fact, is where Aaron Aaronsohn an agronomist and botanist discovered wild emmer wheat, believed to be “the mother of wheat, early in the 20th century.

Uri Buri is not the sort of place where people spontaneously join strangers at plastic tables. Instead, it is a place where you will be able to taste the ancient products mentioned in the Bible, grown in the same Biblical fields, created in a city of peace.

“The city cannot make peace between ISIS and Nusra (whatever) these groups, but looking at Akko as an example of the possibility of living together can encourage people to learn something out of it, and the key word is honor.”

Rainbow Trout in a Cast Iron Pot

Ingredients

For the Fish:

1 rainbow trout, cleaned and separated into two filets

generous ¾ cup milliliters whipping cream

1 teaspoon four seasons pepper

1 teaspoon fish sauce of crushed anchovy

a little scallion, finely chopped

For the rice:

1 cup rice

1.5 cups water with a heaping tablespoon of chicken soup powder (of 1.5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock)

1 scant teaspoon turmeric

1 sprig rosemary

1 heaping teaspoon good coarse salt

2 tablespoons canola oil

To make the fish:

Mix the whipping cream with the pepper blend and the fish sauce.  Heat a skillet or a heavy pot with a fitted lid, and when it is very hot, add the fillets, skin-side down, making sure that the entire fish is touching the bottom of the skillet or pot.

Pour in the seasoned whipping cream and cover immediately.  Lightly shake to prevent the fish from scorching.  Remove from the heat after exactly one and a half minutes.

Garnish the fish with the scallion and cover again.  Bring the fish to the table in the pot to serve.

To make the rice:

Fry the rice in the oil for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, boil the water together with the chicken soup powder (or the chicken/vegetable stock), turmeric, rosemary and salt.

When the water has boiled, pour it over the rice and stir well. Cover with a lid and cook for exactly 22 minutes over a very low heat.  Remove the rise from the heat, keeping it covered for another 15 minutes, and then lift the rise carefully to loosen it while preserving its texture.

To serve:

Place the fish on a plate with a little sauce.  Add some of the rice to the fish pot, mixing it well with the remaining sauce, and add to the plate.  Don’t forget bread.

Shrimp with Artichokes and Lemon

2 pounds fresh crystal shrimp, peeled

1 tblsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp fresh thyme

salt to taste

8 artichokes, cooked in salted water with a quartered lemon, peeled to their hearts and still attached to their stems

1 lemon, seeded and finely sliced

5oz butter

chopped mint to garnish

Lightly fry the sliced lemon in the butter, lemon juice, turmeric and thyme and then add the shrimp and sauté for half a minute per side, until it turns red. Remove and set aside.

Add the artichoke “bowls” to the butter and herb blend left in the skillet, to heat through and to absorb the flavors.

Return the shrimp to the skillet mix. Garnish with chopped mint and serve immediately.

 

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