Lily: “My father died in Tripoli, when I was 4 years old, and shortly after that I emigrated to Israel with my mother and two younger sisters. We were far away from our extended family and my mother, who had mourned my father for years, refused our neighbors’ invitations for holiday or Shabbat meals. My father’s absence was especially felt during the holidays, during which there was no man to fulfill the mitzvah of the holiday; I remember, for example, how I would look at the men wrapping their children in tallit during the rabbi’s blessings and miss my father. In lieu of our father or any extended family to celebrate with, what connected us to the holidays was the food – each holiday and its special dish. A day or two before Passover, for example, we would prepare bsisa – a porridge made from baked grains and dates and spices, which was reminiscent of the mortar the Jews used in Egypt.
“We prepared this chraime for every Shabbat and holiday meal, and I continue to prepare it to this day. Over the years, four children, five grandchildren, as well as brides and grooms have joined the family – they all stay with us on holidays, and I make sure to prepare everyone their favorite dish – but the first course is always chraime. Over the years, I’ve changed the recipe a little to make it more kid friendly – I use less oil, reduced the amount of hot paprika, and replaced the usual fish with boneless sole filets. You can make the chraime with other fish such as red snapper, sea bream or any other fish that you prefer. The chraime should be served at room temperature – this way the gelatin in the fish thickens the sauce.
Our uniqueness as a people is that we have managed to keep our traditions through the generations. Everyone keeps them a little differently, but we all have a common foundation. Tripolitan cuisine is my way of passing on the tradition to my children and grandchildren – my chraime is indeed a little different from the original version, but I know that if my grandchildren like it – they, in turn, will pass on the tradition.”
Ingredients for Chraime
For the Pilpelchuma
- 9 garlic cloves large (or 16 small), peeled
- 2-2 ½ tablespoons sweet paprika (you can substitute some of the sweet paprika for spicy, depending on the level of spice you want)
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon caraway ground
- 1/2 tablespoon Salt
- 4-5 tablespoons oil
For the chraime
- 1/2 cup oil
- 6-8 onion chopped
- 5.3 oz (150 grams) tomato paste
- 2 ½ cups water
- lemon juice Juice from 1 large lemon + extra for washing the fish
- Salt to taste
- 6-8 filets sole (if preparing for children) or red snapper or sea bream
About an Hour Before Cooking, Make the Pilpelchuma:
1. Crush the garlic cloves and mix with paprika, cumin, caraway, and salt. Add the oil gradually and mix until you get a shiny paste; the spices should only shine, not swim in oil. You can prepare the pilpelchuma in advance and keep it for two to three days in the refrigerator or two to three weeks in the freezer.
Prepare the Chraime:
2. Pour the oil into a wide, flat saucepan or pot, add the onion and cook on medium heat until golden. Stir occasionally so the edges don’t burn.
3. Add the pilpelchuma and cook, while stirring, until the onion is coated. Add the tomato paste and water and cook on low heat about 30 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and the sauce darkens and looks shiny and uniform.
4. Wash the fish filets in lemon juice, lightly pat dry with paper towels, and salt.
5. Add the fish to the sauce, laying the pieces next to each other, making sure they are coated with sauce. You can move them lightly with a spoon or pour sauce over them to make sure they are fully coated. Cover the pot and cook on a low flame for about 30 minutes. The stew is ready when the fish is cooked through, and falls apart easily when poked with a fork, and the sauce is thick and glossy.
6. Pour lemon juice over the pot and gently stir to incorporate. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes and turn off heat.
7. Serve at room temperature with challah.