A few years ago, signs began popping up around Tel Aviv and beyond advertising a new delicacy: sabich. This savory combination of fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, hummus, Israeli salad, and assorted condiments is stuffed into a pita and drizzled with tahini sauce and amba, a mango pickle similar to the chutneys found in Indian cuisine. The dish is now a favorite all over Israel.
But sabich isn't new to everyone: Iraqi residents, who settled in large numbers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, brought it (and amba) with them when they immigrated to Israel en masse during the early years of the modern state. There are many theories on the origins of the sandwich's name. The root letters of sabich--S-B-H--spell "morning" in Arabic, and in fact Iraqi Jews traditionally ate sabich on Sabbath mornings. However, some believe the letters stand for salat, beizah, hazilim (salad, eggs, eggplant)--the sandwich's main ingredients. Either way, the fusion of textures and flavors--crispy, crunchy, soft, creamy, tangy, and mildly spicy in every bite--is irresistible.
one 1-lb eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste for seasoning
vegetable oil for frying
3/4 lb cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 lb tomatoes, seeded and chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)--optional
fresh ground pepper to taste
4 whole pita breads
1 cup hummus
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1/2 cup prepared tahini sauce*
schug (hot sauce) to taste
amba (mango pickle) to taste**
Sprinkle eggplant on both sides with salt, place on a cookie sheet or wire rack, and let rest 30 minutes. Press eggplant slices firmly between paper towels to remove excess salt and moisture. Heat 1 inch of oil in a large frying pan until very hot but not smoking, about 375°F. Working in batches, fry eggplant until dark brown and tender, about 5-6 minutes on first side and 2-3 minutes on second side. Using a slotted spoon, remove eggplant and drain and cool on paper towels.
In a small bowl combine cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, onions (if using), and salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.
To assemble sandwiches, warm pitas in a 300°F oven for 5 minutes, or in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Spread 1/4 cup hummus inside each pita, then fill with 1 sliced egg, 3 to 4 slices fried eggplant, and about 1/2 cup salad. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons tahini and hot sauce to taste.
*To make your own tahini, combine ¼ cup tahini paste with 3 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice; add more water and lemon to achieve desired consistency.
**Israeli amba can be purchased at some Indian and Middle Eastern/Israeli markets, or ordered online at kalustyans.com.