Despite all the dangers we faced, with stabbings and car-rammings, we just returned from a glorious five days in Yerushalayim. It was quite different this time. the streets were relatively devoid of traffic, the Old City was fairly empty, and there was no one at the famous Mechane Yehuda Market. People we passed on the streets seemed much more alert. No iPhones or texting while walking; people constantly looking over their shoulders. But it was wonderful, nonetheless. I went up to the city for several reasons: Max needed to be dropped off at Knesset Square to meet his Mechinah group; I went to sell my gift cards to different stores; do some Chanukah shopping; and had several “Rendezvous With Food.”
The Holy City was first on the list. I had several notes to put in the Kotel – Western Wall. Very few people were there, so different from the usual hustle and bustle. But I got a spot right at the wall without the usual wait and lots of time to pray.
Then, I visited some of the galleries and gift shops in the Old City to sell my hand made gift tags (I’m now in the Fifth Quarter Gallery, a beautiful art store on Chabad Street above the Old Roman Cardo) – and get in some Chanukah shopping. Don’t tell the boys, but I got my husband and son these really nifty Scottish plaid kippot (yarmulkes). Got one in a Dunbar plaid to match my husband’s dress kilt. That should be a sight!!!
On the way out, we passed by a lovely woman sitting on the ledge of a portal in Jaffa Gate playing the harp. Something special happened there…She was playing Hatikvah when I felt it. I’d been waiting eight months (has it been that long???) to feel “Israeli.” I’m a citizen now, and have learned to speak a decent enough Hebrew; set up a home; traveled the country; attended many events and celebrations; met many new friends, but never felt Israeli, whatever that means. But when this lovely young girl was playing, all of a sudden, I realized I am Israeli. Yes, American, too, but truly part of the People of Israel. It was a completely unexpected gift! Outside the stone wallls separating the Old City from the new, we passed two adorable Ethiopian-Israeli children, aged six and eleven, playing hand drums for donations. Menito, the girl, was friendly, and vibrant, and we had a nice chat – in Hebrew!
I spent the next day going from shop to shop hawking my selections of Jewish holiday and general occasion tags as well as wine bottle tags, and am pleased to say I’m also in two shops in Baka and Rechavia neighborhoods now!!! Yay!!!
Monday, we had a decision to make. I was to meet a woman at the Mechane Yehuda Market who would be using my recipes in a pretty popular American/Israeli food blog. However, the day before there was a stabbing in that location. A young fourteen year old schoolgirl turned Islamic terrorist decided she wanted to kill a Jew and if need be, die as a martyr. She entered the shuk with a pair of scissors, wildly screaming and waving, stabbing an old man. Turns out he was a Palestinian. The girl was nabbed and taken into custody, but it cleared out the shuk completely. John and I had a long talk, and decided to go that next day, despite the threat. We would be on high alert, but would not give in to fear or terrorist scares. After all, if we avoided going out in public, they would have won, so to speak. The market was nearly deserted. Every time I’ve visited this place, it has been shoulder-to-shoulder packed with vendors and customers and tourists. There’s just no other place quite like it! I was able to buy everything I needed, and tried some new foods. Besides, there’s so much you can find here that is unavailable up here in Karmi’el: berries, brussels sprouts, certain spices. John and I stopped to watch fresh tehineh being ground from roasted sesame seeds between two stones. Fascinating. I bought Chimichurri tehineh to use in the development of new recipes, silan (date syrup) tehineh for sandwiches, and a lovely pesto sesame seed paste. And as it turns out, the woman canceled our meeting on grounds that she was just to afraid to go out. Khaval!!! Pity
Towards the afternoon, it was getting chilly, and I noticed an old Chasidic Rabbi waiting in line at a cafe for his drink. The girl behind the counter was pouring this thick, white, frothy liquid from a huge urn. After chatting with the two, it turns out this is the Middle Eastern drink of winter. We have hot cocoa. They have sakhlab. I’m in love again. This is the most awesome drink… with an interesting history too. It’s popular throughout the MidEast as well as Eastern Europe, sometimes called salep in Arabic. It’s made with hot milk and used to be thickened with a powder from the orchid plant. Now cornstarch is used. I’ll include the recipe at the end. You must try it!!!! Perfect for Chanukah or Christmas with a frothy white top, sprinkled with cinnamon, ground coconut, and nuts. Salep became popular in Western Europe after crusaders brought the recipe back, and the English changed the name to Saloop. It remained popular through the early colonization of America, being called Sloop, but then went out of fashion as coffee became the drink of preference. I remember hearing of it in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. But this was beyond satisfying!!! Seriously, you MUST make it at least once. Kids love it, too. Although, I suppose the addition of a shot of Bourbon or Rum would make it a tasty bedtime treat for the adults. John stirred his up so it became almost porridge like, but I kept mine pristine to the end.
Another main reason we went up to Jerusalem was that I had been invited by my friend, Elisheva, to join the new Jerusalem Cookbook Club. It was an event I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Several really wonderful foodies and cooks/chefs were invited to my new friend, Aviva’s apartment. Our assignment: to re-create and bring a dish or two from a specified cookbook or chef.
My newest food hero, Yotam Ottolenghi was the featured chef, and we were to cook his recipes exclusively. Ottolenghi is an Israeli born chef and cookbook author now living in London. His books include The Jerusalem Cookbook; Plenty; and Plenty More. Twelve ladies showed up bringing food and wine. I loved them all – and the food, which all somehow went together, was out of this world!!! Very healthy, and incredibly delicious. You can find the recipes on the internet, Yummly, or Pinterest, so I’ll not duplicate them here. But – the menu went as follows:
Braised, Caramelized Fennel & Dill
Savory Cauliflower “Cake”
Braised Brussels Sprouts
Mejadra Rice & Lentils
Rice Noodles and Greens
Lentils & Butternut Squash
Shakshuka (the national Israeli breakfast food with a twist: this used roasted sweet peppers!!!)
Savory eggplant cheesecake (NOT a typical cheesecake!!)
Rice & Wild Grains with Dried Cherries)
Berry Pavlovas with Ginger Graham Cookies
Tiramisu a la Ottolenghi
The company was wonderful! I made several new friends, including the lady who sat next to me. Turns out her son is one of Max’s bunkmates and best friends in Mechinah!!! Small world! Our group of cooks plans on meeting in a different location once a month, and I can’t wait til our next group in early January!! Please, please, please – look up and try some of Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes!!! Even though some of them sounded strange, the flavors are incredible, and the cooking is fairly easy.
I love Jerusalem!!! It’s one of the most beautiful cities. And everywhere you look is unexpected art from the metalwork on gratings and gates, to the statues and murals. This time I found something new: it was a breath of fresh air and beauty for the soul. Suspended from light posts are lovely Hebrew poems to enjoy. Here are a couple:
In the heavens
A star shines
Like one flower
In a garden bed.
To view the universe
In one house
In the intense heat
A single fan, insuring,
In this world.
The time we spend in Jerusalem is so wonderful, that it is really difficult to head back home to Karmi’el. But I will be back next month for my Cookbook Club… here are some of my newest recipes. try them and enjoy. The eggplant is very satisfying and can be eaten as a meal or a side dish, or spread on crackers or hearty bread as an appetizer.
I’ve been really experimenting with this one. I love the way the eggplant takes on a smokey flavor, but we left our huge gourmet chef’s grill back in California for the new homeowner. So sad!!!) Instead, I broiled the eggplant and I’ve used smoked salt to approximate the taste. A tiny drop of Wright’s liquid smoke spread on each eggplant half also works well…
- 1 large whole eggplant
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Smoked salt (available at Trader Joe’s in the States)
- Freshly cracked pepper
- Labaneh, sour cream or creme frais
- Micrograms or baby arugula (rockette)
Wash an cut one whole eggplant lengthwise. Brush abundantly with olive oil on cut end. Sprinkle generously with smoked sea salt and pepper. Place on grill and roast (or in boiler/oven at 400*F/200*C). Roast until skin is slightly blackened and bubbly. Remove from oven & let cool a few minutes. Gently remove skin – it should come off easily. Place on serving platte. Drizzle more olive oil on top and sprinkle with smoked salt and pepper. Add a dollop of cream if you are not worried about serving dairy. Place some greens on top (and around the base…. Enjoy!
Sahklav (2 ways)
I’ve been practicing this recipe and have come up with two fabulous versions! One made with milk, the other for those who don’t do dairy, or who would like to serve this as an after-dinner (meat) drink, it’s incredible!
Dairy Sahklav (serves 4)
- 4 cups milk (do NOT use 1%)
- 4 Tbsp cornstarch
- 5 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp rosewater (available in MidEast stores or some grocery stores in US) or 2 tsp orange water
- 1/2 cup ground coconut (not angel flake)
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg if using orange water
- 1/2 tsp ground pistachios
Put 3 cups milk into a medium saucepan on medium heat on the stove. In separate cup, add the remaining cup of milk with the cornstarch and mix really well with a whisk. Add slowly to milk on stove while stirring so as not to create lumps. Into this mixture, add the sugar and either rose or orange water. Keep stirring on medium heat, about 15 minutes, until mixture comes to very soft, boil. Lower heat, still stirring. When liquid thickens a bit to a very loose pudding consistency, pour into mugs or glasses. Top with about 1/4 cup ground coconut and a dusting of cinnamon. I put a bit more coconut on the top and then 1/4 tsp of the pistachios. (Note:if you do decide to use brandy or rum or other spirits, leave out the rose or orange water, adding the alcohol at the very end before serving. In this case, I would add a freshly ground 1/4 tsp nutmeg.)
Coconut-milk Sahklav (serves 2)
- 1 400ml (regular small American can), about 12 oz., coconut milk
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch
- 3-4 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp rosewater (optional)
- 1/4 cup ground coconut (not flake)
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp pistachios, ground
Shake can of coconut milk well. Pour into small saucepan, reserving 1/2 cup. Place on burner of stove on medium heat. In mug, pour remaining coconut milk, and add the cornstarch, stirring with a small wire whisk until well blended. Slowly add cornstarch mix to pot of milk, stirring constantly to prevent formation of lumps. Add the sugar and rosewater, which in this case is optional. Continue stirring, until the milk comes to a very gentle boil. Immediately remove from heat, still stirring as mixture thickens. Pour in glasses or mugs and top with ground coconut, cinnamon, and pistachios.
(I can’t believe I’m taking these lovely photos and sharing these recipes with you. It’s another dream come true!! Next week, I’ll take you on a tour of my home decorated up for Chanukah. You won’t want to miss this one. Teaser: In January, I’ll be launching a new blog in addition to this one. It will be mostly recipes and foods with some decorating and home arts as well…stay tuned)