Malfoof (Palestinian Stuffed Cabbage) from Mom at Chickpea in Chicago
If mom or grandma was really in the kitchen at every "mom and pop"-style ethnic spot, I feel sorry for a lot of this world's children. Which is to say, either the mom shackled to the back of that steamy Vulcan stove can’t cook or, more likely, most proprietors are lying and carrying on the celebrated tradition of mining customers yen for family-related nostalgia for their own personal gain.
At Chickpea, a West Town Middle Eastern spot that opened last November, no one's lying, except maybe your stomach when it's full and tells you that you really shouldn't eat anymore. Co-owner Amni Suqi, mother of co-owner Jerry Suqi, sporting fresh cooking injuries like cuts and burns on her wrist, is very much in the kitchen. She's cooking a slew of daily specials like Lakhanni—collard greens stuffed with a tabbouleh-like salad—or Bathinjan Mihsgee—cored baby eggplants stuffed with herbed rice and minced lamb swimming in tomato broth—the kind of plates you're more likely to find in a Palestinian home than in your corner kebab shack.
My favorite though is the malfoof, cabbage leaves rolled with herbed rice, minced lamb, and garlic, and a touch of lemon. As a first generation polish kid, I know my stuffed cabbage, and the cabbage wrappers here are so delicate you're not sure if you’re biting into creamy agnolotti or truly a vegetable leaf.