When I was growing up, the kitchen island was the hub of our home. It’s where family conversations were had, arguments fought and memories made, usually while digging into a meal that had bubbled away on the stove all day, steaming up the windows of the kitchen. It’s where my parents, who spent a year traveling when they were newly married, shared stories of those travels with my sister and me while we dug into hummus, stuffed grape leaves and stewed okra one day, and roast brisket, mashed potatoes and cabbage soup the next. 

Their penchant for travel took us on our first family trip to Israel when I was 12. We stayed with our cousin, Yossi, in Tel Aviv. He labored over a hot stove, even on sweltering summer days, making dishes that he had grown up with. Everything he made was delicious, but my favorite dish was a spicy chraime, a fragrant fish stew of North African descent, particularly enjoyed in Libya and Morocco. To this day, I can still conjure up the meal by memory, bringing me back to his apartment during that special family trip.

Chraime is also a typical dish of Sephardic Jews—those hailing from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East. The stew classically features white fish (either whole or in fillets) in a spicy tomato broth. But in my version of chraime, I forgo the fish for one of my favorite vegetables—cauliflower. I find that cauliflower is a hearty replacement for the fish, taking on the flavor and color of the spice-laced stew, even flaking apart a bit once it gets meltingly tender, just like the fish would. I leave the sauce chunky with vegetables, and a drizzle of sweet date syrup at the end balances the acidity of the tomatoes. Sometimes, for added protein, I’ll add a can of chickpeas or cubes of tofu.

The fragrant stew is often served on Friday evenings for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. But chraime also appears for celebratory meals like Rosh Hashana and Passover, perfect for the latter for its lack of chametz, or forbidden ingredients, such as grains and leavened breads. I think it’s delicious anytime—I especially like to let it bubble away while a loaf of challah bakes. 

This vegan adaptation of chraime may not be traditional, but it brings me back to the day I tried it for the first time. When, on a sunny day in Tel Aviv, a steaming bowl of comfort fogged up the windows, just like my mom’s homemade meals did in my childhood kitchen, a sure sign that no matter where you might find yourself, the kitchen will always be a source of warmth, comfort and family, as long as you have something delicious to eat, and others to enjoy it with.

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