Garden to Table-Israel Style

Eat only what is in season.” Rambam

Shopping here is always a fun adventure, especially in the local produce markets and spice shops. Everything is written in Hebrew, so I’ve had to learn new words for familiar fruits and vegetables. Plus there’s an endless amount of produce I’ve never seen before. Luckily, there’s always an old woman, Jewish, Arab or Druze, to ask.

“What is this????” New word bonus points for me! “What do I do with it?” And then the magic happens as I get a knowing multiplicity of recipes, many sounding tantalizingly delicious. Food has a way of cutting through boundaries and preconceived prejudices. These women NEVER disappoint, and often an overhearing man or two will chime in with “even better” suggestions. It’s quite the amazing thing.

Everything is offered seasonally. You will never find berries or stone fruit in November, and don’t expect to find pomegranates or persimmons in April, because they are fall fruits. Produce here is all grown locally. What I can’t find, because it’s not grown (yet) in Israel, I try to supplement in my garden- rutabagas, parsnips, mache, golden and choggia beets, broccolini, rainbow colored carrots and chard….

And there are amazing fresh olive bars. Not just black and green olives, but vats and vats of kalamata, blue, brown, red and gray types. They come brined in salt or oil with a myriad of spices or lemon or chilies. Some are stuffed with nuts, dried fruits and peels or garlic cloves. And they are so so so cheap as this is the olive growing capital of the world! Another different thing is the mushroom bar. Because we have so many Russians here, the marinated mushrooms are a specialty.

And the spices!!! There’s nothing like using fresh nutmeg, turmeric, zataar, and the like. I have my own “spice guy” I frequent in Akko. He makes me fresh curries and baharat, a blend of powdered cloves, allspice, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and other ingredients secret to him. Each spice shop owner makes ras al hanoot, a secret spice blend special for that shop owner. Sometimes spicy, salty, nutty or exotic.

So, now I will leave you with a couple of my latest seasonal recipes. They are to die for delish!!! The first was a creation of my friend, Hadassah. She calls it her November Salad, because it has produce available here this month. I eat it at breakfast and lunch. For a light snack or a sweet, healthy dessert. It’s really healthy and colorful, crunchy, fresh and full of antioxidants. It uses a root veggie called kohlrabi, but if you can’t find that, just substitute jicama.

November Salad

  • 2 large, firm persimmons
  • 1 large green kohlrabi
  • 1/2 large or 1 small pomegranate
  • 1 bunch (6-8 large) radishes
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 handful of mint, finely chopped

The secret here is the cut, to make it beautiful. Chop the persimmons, kohlrabi and radishes into matchstick julienned pieces. Add to this finely chopped mint. Squeeze the lemon juice on top. Add pomegranate arils. Toss and serve cold. It’s that easy and won’t disappoint!

At this time of year in the Hebrew calendar, we read the Biblical portion in Genesis of the story of Jacob and Esau. The part where Esau comes home from a long hunt and is so ravenous that he sells his birthright for a bowl of his brother Jacob’s red lentil stew. (Because this is a typical dish served in Jewish homes during a mourning period, rabbis say it was being made for mourning Abraham’s death). Anyway, that must have been some stew!!! Every year, I make a version of the red stuff, and this year I tried to cobble together one that would be typical to Israel. So- here goes-

  • 1 cup little orange lentils
  • 1 cup little black/brown lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 6-8 pitted dates
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
  • Handful of parsley or cuzbara(cilantro) leaves

The first step is to soak the lentils in a bowl of very hot/boiling water to soften. While the lentils are soaking, chop the onion and garlic. In very large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Cook on medium heat for 5-7 minutes to soften. Add the spices and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes to release their fragrance. Add the vegetable broth. Drain lentils and add to pot. Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring well. Add the pitted dates. Add the tomatoes, juice and all. Let simmer on low heat for a couple hours. You may want to add water as it cooks down, but should be a thick stew. The longer it cooks, the better the flavor. While the stew is cooking, peel, seed and cube a small butternut squash. Place the cubes on a silpat lined baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper to coat. Roast in 400*F/200*C oven for 12-15 minutes until the pieces are just tender. When ready to serve, spoon the lentil stew into bowls and add a small handful of squash cubes. Top with parsley or cilantro/cuzbara.

This recipe cans/jars or freezes well so you can enjoy it on cold winter days. Serve it over rice. Garnish with crispy fried onions. It’s absolutely worthy of a birthright…almost…

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