In the spring of 1948, at the height of Israel’s War of Independence, the Arab armies waging war against the newborn Jewish state managed to seize control of the single road leading up to Jerusalem, placing the 100,000 Jews who lived there under siege. With its supplies cut off, the community was soon starving, and its leaders set out to find edible alternatives to basic staples like flour, sugar, and rice.
They found mallow.
Bearing the unimprovable Latin name Malva neglecta, the plant, known in Arabic (and by most Israelis) as hubeiza, is second only to dandelion in the category of common pests most gardeners wish to weed out. But mallow, with its large, heart-shaped leaves, doesn’t deserve the ire: It’s rich in vitamins A, B, and C, as well as with calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Which means that even if it doesn’t taste like much, it’s still an excellent source of nutrients.
Armed with that knowledge, Jerusalem’s war-time residents took to the fields and the gardens and the backyards to look for mallow, and then fried it up in patties. Hearing about the latest culinary trend among their hungry enemies, the Jordanians rejoiced: For them, hubeiza was what chickens ate, and if the Jews were reduced to eating the foul weed, they thought, victory must be close at hand.
It wasn’t, of course, and the war soon ended and liberated the famished Jerusalemites. But the humble hubeiza was never forgotten: To this day, many Israelis mark Yom Ha’atzmaut by frying up a batch of hubeiza patties, to remind them of that dark hour in their nation history and of the resilient men and women who braved it.
If you care to join them, you could probably find hubeiza growing wild in a park nearby in many corners of America, and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with having foraged for your own dinner. If you’re not into that sort of thing, just replace hubeiza with mangold. And don’t worry about being precise when you cook it: The dish is sturdy enough to sustain variations. Here, then, is the recipe:
First, take a large bunch of mallow or mangold leaves. Wash them well, then toss them into boiling water for a few minutes, stems and all. Let them cool, squeeze as much water out as you can, and chop thinly. Again, this being a siege dish, you can use the entire thing, not only the fancy leaves.
Next, add two or three eggs, some salt, some pepper, and any other spice you fancy to the chopped leaves and mix well. Pour about half a cup of breadcrumbs into a shallow dish. Grab a handful of the sticky mallow mixture, shape into small patties, and roll in the breadcrumbs.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pan. When it’s hot, fry the patties for a few minutes on each side, until nice and golden. Dab the excess oil with a paper towel and take a bite. And if you have some wine nearby, raise a glass to Jerusalem.