One very good thing about being a shopkeeper is that you get to indulge in a degree of nosiness to which normal mortals can only aspire. The presence of a shop counter between you and the rest of the world lends you uncharacteristic bravery and seems too to inspire confidence on the part of the customers. Thus it is that I am able to ask where people are from and what they are up to without batting an eyelid. And thus it was that I was able to find out about the two Bens. And their families. And the lost tribes of Israel.
Ben and Ben and their lovely families live in South London. They stand out, even in a colourful neighbourhood such as Peckham, on account of their gorgeous, bright cotton clothing and incredibly well behaved, contented children.. Although the thing that actually prompted me to start chatting to them on their visits to my shop was the fact that it was patently obvious that they were all vegan.
The Bens, you see, are African Hebrew Israelites. Descendants of the original ten tribes of Israel. You know – remember Exodus? When they left Israel many of the tribe members migrated gradually across Africa, and travelled thence (‘courtesy’ of the slave trade) to America. In 1966 a chap called Ben Ammi had a vision in which he came to understand that it was time for the lost tribes to return to the homeland – and this is what a lot of them did. It has not been a particularly easy homecoming – but Israel does now recognise them and has given them permanent settlement rights. Many of them live in a town called Dimona in the Negev desert.
Others, like our two Bens, live as African Hebrew Israelites in the diaspora. This is not a religion that we are talking about, but rather a devout way of life. They are indeed all vegan (in America the tribesmen actually own and run a chain of vegan soul food restaurants), and only wear natural fabrics. And they are all unbelievably nice: patient and open and warm, with smiley happy offspring.
Anyway, it seemed right and proper that I should pester one of the Mrs. Bens (a very beautiful lady called Na’a) to share one of her vegan recipes. Maybe it will make you happy and content too. It is certainly healthy.
Raw Food Stew
To serve 4
The Bens eat cooked food as well as raw food, but of the soul food recipes that Na’a mentioned, this one sounded by far and away the most exciting.
It seems fair to bet that before mankind ate anything cooked, he ate it raw. And clearly not all of it proved toxic. Quite a lot of raw stuff is significantly tastier than when it is cooked (although I have to say some of it is just rank, to use the step-offsprings’ word).
Raw foodism is on the increase. I know that because an increasing number of my customers follow a raw food diet. So here’s a raw, Israelite soul supper.
for the stew:
2 courgettes, diced
200g chestnut mushrooms, diced
200g baby okra, washed and trimmed
4-5 top quality tomatoes (i.e. not the cheap ones from Sava-not that always taste of water), diced
1 red pepper, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground allspice
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lemon and 1 lime
sea salt and coarse black pepper
for the sauce:
3 tablespoons sundried tomatoes (about 100g)
1-2 green chillies
handful basil leaves
1 red onion, peeled
9-10 cheap, soft tomatoes
1 tablespoon soy sauce (raw soy sauce if you want to be authentic)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 romaine (or iceberg) lettuce, shredded
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Firstly make the body of the ‘stew’: even if it isn’t going to be cooked, it still needs to stew, in this case in a marinade in the fridge. Mix the vegetables with the garlic, herbs and allspice. Whisk the oil, citrus juice and zest together with some salt and pepper, and stir it over the other ingredients, mixing well. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours.
To make the sauce throw all the sauce ingredients in a blender and blend thoroughly. After the initial period of marinating, pour the sauce over the vegetables, mix and once again pop it back in the fridge for an hour or so.
Serve the stew on a bed of shredded lettuce, and sprinkle it with fresh parsley.