You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: Israeli Eggplant

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, John Turturro
(PG-13, 113 min.)

"Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own." Jonathan Swift

Adam Sandler doesn’t just push the envelope; he sends it special delivery, and the result is an outrageous satire that serves up as much insight as belly laughs. In spite of its pandering vulgarity, or perhaps because of it, the film gets through to us in ways the preachy ones do not. The humor blasts through our defenses to ideas we might normally reject.

Zohan (Adam Sandler) is Israel’s top-notch counter terrorist, but he is beginning to tire of his job, especially when he learns his latest capture has been negotiated back to freedom. Even his mother’s words fail to comfort: “They’ve been fighting for 2000 years. It’s bound to end soon.” What he really longs to do is style hair, and on those nights when he can pry himself away from adoring females, he loses himself in Paul Mitchell’s magazine featuring the latest coiffures, except, like everything else in the Mid East, apparently, this is time locked in the 80’s.

After faking his own death, Zohan comes to New York and he is almost as out of place there as Amy Adams after erupting from a manhole in Manhattan in the delightful Enchanted. Zohan is a little more savvy, though, but his “cool” is at least twenty years out of date. While that doesn’t impress the staff at the Paul Mitchell Salon, the little old ladies at the less trendy beauty shop across town can’t get enough of the Zohan, who now calls himself Cocoa Scrappy, after the two canines who shared their crate with the stowaway on his flight over.

He doesn’t so much style their hair as make love to it, which would have been funny to me if it weren’t so adolescently crude. Take away the pelvic gyrations, the coarse language, and give me something more akin to The Producers’ Zero Mostel romancing the rich widows who financed his plays. We didn’t need to hear the walls reverberating with lovemaking, just the image of Mostel, hat askew, face smeared with lipstick, emerging from the shrubbery with a check in his hand. But then again, I’m not the targeted demographic here, since my “cool” is more out of date than Zohan’s.

If we are to believe its premise, Disco has never disappeared from the Mid East, the Zohan making his best counter terrorism/hair styling moves to a John Travolta rhythm. The film has a lot of fun with the job stereotypes of Mid Eastern immigrants as well. For Zohan and other Israelis, the fallback is electronics, the discount variety, where the shop’s permanent name is Going Out of Business, and the advertised Sony only appears as a higher priced surrogate. Palestinians drive cabs and run newspaper stands, when they aren’t doing phone surveys for Spiegel’s.

Salim (Rob Schneider), who actually drives his cab while simultaneously doing the Spiegel phone surveys, never forgets a face, and vows revenge on Zohan who he remembers has insulted him by stealing his goat. He and his two reluctant friends have little success with the “terrorist hotline” which has stopped distributing supplies because of peace negotiations. The answering machine, however, vows to resume service “as soon as the negotiations break down.”

Like these three stooges, who end up purchasing neosporin instead of nitroglycerin for their homemade bomb, most of the American Mid Easterners are neither adept at nor inclined towards violence. They just want to make a living in their new country. 

While neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are actually villainous, a big developer and the redneck bigots he hires to do his dirty work are the typical Hollywood patsies, humorless and completely unsympathetic. The film oozes quite a bit of Mel Gibson bile as well, more a snide insider joke than one shared by the audience.

What does stand out is the one character not stereotyped at all, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the Palestinian owner of the beauty salon where Zohan lands his job. Her gentle beauty and fair mindedness are civilizing elements for everyone around her, and under her influence, even the Zohan grows up. 

Don’t Mess with the Zohan does exactly what a good satire should. It uses humor to ridicule man’s foibles. It is a sad statement, however, that the filmmakers think subtlety is as out of date as the disco moves they lampoon

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

An ongoing joke in You Don’t mess with the Zohan is his obsession with hummus, that dip made with garbanzo beans or chickpeas. Not only does it accompany his every meal, but Zohan even brushes his teeth with it. You can find a great recipe for this healthy and delicious dip here.

For today’s featured recipe I have chosen something from Zohan’s own mother’s table, one “which can be found in virtually every Israeli refrigerator.” It is called Baba Ghanouj, and it is made with eggplant and a Middle Eastern paste called tehina. It is made from crushed sesame seeds. If you can’t find it, some people say that peanut butter is a good substitute.

Another Israeli recipe you might enjoy is Zucchini Pritti.

Israeli Eggplant

BABA GHANOUJ (Eggplant with Tehina)

In Israel, it is not unusual for guests to drop in for a visit without prior notice. In such cases, they are likely to get a light snack or impromptu meal. In anticipation of such contingencies, one such prepared dish is baba ghanouj, which can be found in virtually every Israeli refrigerator.

  • 1 large eggplant 
  • 1 medium onion 
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice 
  • 1/2 bunch parsley 
  • 1/2 cup tehina 
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
  • 2 tsp. water 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • dash of cayenne pepper

Place whole unpeeled eggplant directly on a gas burner with flame set at medium, turning as the skin chars and inside becomes soft, or bake in a pan at 450 deg F (250 deg C) until charred and tender (about 30 minutes). Let cool slightly, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out eggplant pulp with wooden spoon (the wooden spoon preserves the flavor). Chop fine in a ceramic or wooden bowl. Grate onion on largest holes of a grater. Squeeze juice from onion. Chop parsley fine and blend with eggplant and onion. In a separate bowl, blend tehina thoroughly with lemon juice and garlic. Stir in small amount of water until white in color. Add to eggplant mixture, with salt and dash of cayenne pepper. More lemon may be added for extra flavor. Garnish with parsley. Makes 2 1/2 - 3 cups.

Recipe Source: Beyond Milk and Honey