Israeli food. Can you define it? Is there any such thing?
When David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, declared the country’s independence in May 1948, writes Joan Nathan in “The Foods of Israel Today” (Knopf), he envisioned the infant nation as a melting pot that would generate a distinctive “Israeli food” as it would an “Israeli dance.” While both hummus and hora typify Israel to many, neither the cuisine nor the choreography melt into a homogeneous identity in this land, roughly the size of New Jersey, teeming with over 90 nationalities and diverse cultures and religions. Rather than a melting pot, the cuisine of Israel as a “multicultural mosaic,” as Nathan describes it.
Orly Ziv, author of “Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration,” couldn’t agree more.
“Israeli food is not one kind of food,” she said in an email from her home in Ramat Hasharon. “It’s about the abundance of freshness and flavors that reflects the melting pot. In my tours and classes, I combine foods that are originally from Yemen, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Morocco, Palestine and more.”
For the last five years, Ziv has led food tours of the markets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a unique experience for travelers, making her tours No. 28 on “Activities in Israel” on tripadvisor. “I introduce Israel through food, the melting pot, from borekas—originally from the Balkan area—through Yemenite breads, to middle-eastern falafel and hummus, to borika, a Libyan traditional food, to Druze pita, etc.” (For more information, check out her website: www.cookinisrael.com.)
Participants begin with a tour of the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem or the Carmel market in Tel Aviv. “We start the day with breakfast, visiting some authentic food places that are off the beaten track where people get lots of food tasting and shop for fresh ingredients.” A fascinating culinary history lesson on the diverse cuisine of Israel follows with a cooking class in Ziv’s home, where people can savor Israeli home hospitality up close and personal.
“People cook with me in my kitchen and sit for lunch with my family, which is the most exciting experience one can have as a tourist,” she said. “We cook together, hands-on, more than a full meal, seven to eight dishes with the fresh ingredients that we buy from the market based on local traditional Mediterranean, Middle Eastern recipes.”
Not planning a visit to Israel this year? “Cook in Israel” is second best, as Ziv is a gifted teacher (as those of you who caught her appearance at the JCC last April can attest), and she includes many of the tips she gives her students. Take a virtual tour of Israel with these 100 delicious recipes, each accompanied by a beautiful color photo, many including step-by-step illustrations.
With a background as a clinical nutritionist, Ziv writes recipes that emphasize healthy eating with the ingredients you would expect from the Mediterranean: fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, olive oil and fish. Always the teacher, she encourages you to improvise as you try the recipes. “Use them as a jumping off point and make them your own,” she wrote. “Switch up the vegetables or change the spices to create your own flavors—there’s no such thing as failure in the kitchen, only learning experiences.” As a bonus, most of the recipes take less than 30 minutes to prepare and use easily found ingredients.
Ziv draws on her Jewish-Greek heritage and includes her family favorites alongside Moroccan, Egyptian, Bukharan, Turkish, Greek, Iraqi and Arab recipes, so you’ll find her son’s favorite onion tart and her daughter’s treasured chocolate cake as well as Baba Ghanoush, Shakshuka, Bukharan Chickpea Pastry, Hashwa (Rice with Meat), Makluba (Upside Down Rice) and, of course, Israeli salad, the national dish of Israel, if one exists, this time enhanced with pomegranate and avocado.
“For me, food is an awakening of all the senses, and cooking and baking [are] pure creativity,” she wrote.
Shakshuka may have originated in Libya, but Israel has claimed it as its own. Here, eggplant is added to this comforting classic of eggs poached in tomato sauce.
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 hot green pepper, sliced (optional)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
2 tomatoes, grated
Chopped parsley or cilantro
Crumbled feta cheese (optional)
1 Grill eggplants over flame, turning with tongs until soft and evenly charred. Alternatively, roast under broiler.
2 Cut slit at bottom of eggplant and place in sieve. Leave to drain.
3 When cool enough to handle, remove peel and rough seeds and roughly chop.
4 Heat olive oil in large sauté pan and fry hot pepper, if using, until it gets dark. Add garlic and roasted eggplant and cook 1 minute.
5 Add tomatoes and sea salt; simmer over high heat until sauce thickens.
6 Break egg into small dish and gently slide it into pan over tomato sauce. Repeat with remaining eggs, spacing them evenly apart.
7 Remove from heat when egg whites are set and yolks still soft.
8 Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and crumbled feta, if using, and serve with plenty of challah or other fresh bread.
Fish Balls with Chickpeas and
The bright, bold flavors of this sauce explode in your mouth. Celeriac is the knobby celery root. If using canned chickpeas, reserve the liquid.
For the Fish Balls:
1 pound fish fillet, minced (tilapia or sea bass, for example)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/2 bunch mint leaves, finely chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
Chili flakes (optional)
For the Stewed Swiss Chard and Chickpeas:
5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
1-2 carrots, sliced
1 celeriac, peeled and diced
1 bunch Swiss chard, roughly chopped (leaves and stalks separated)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup white wine (optional)
Juice of 2 lemons
1 Fish Balls: Mix together all ingredients and knead well until you obtain uniform mixture. Let rest in fridge at least 30 minutes.
2 Sauce: Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in large, deep sauté pan; add onion, garlic, carrots, celeriac and Swiss chard stalks. Cover and simmer over low heat about 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
3 Add chickpeas with some of their cooking liquid, wine and juice of 1 lemon. Increase heat to high and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes.
4 Form fish into small balls. Carefully drop in sauce with a portion of the Swiss chard leaves. Spoon sauce over fish balls until almost completely covered; cook, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add remaining Swiss chard leaves, juice of remaining lemon and remaining 2 tablespoons oil.
5 Serve with rice, couscous, or bread.
Source: “Cook in Israel” by Orly Ziv