What is the secret to becoming a success in the business world? How did four separate women, immigrate to a new country with a new language and an entirely different culture and make it in light of the many challenges they faced? What advice can they offer to new olot (Hebrew for immigrant women) who are planning on making Aliyah to Israel? I have had the tremendous privilege of getting to know these four enterprising women – all part of the food industry in different ways. They are my friends well as my inspiration. And they have agreed to share their stories (and some great recipes) with you.
Jazzie Morgan hails from Daufuskie, South Carolina, a small island off of the coastal mainland, only accessible by ferryboat. In 2016, during her junior year of college in Charleston, SC, she attended a study abroad program in Israel, “The Nachshon Project”. After returning to the US and completing her undergrad degrees in Psychology and Jewish Studies, she decided to make the big leap – leaving all her family and friends behind to immigrate to Israel. Jazzie was already fluent in Hebrew, a decided advantage for her, and she enrolled in Machon Schechter in 2018 to get her Masters in Talmud and Communal Leadership. While in school, she worked many hours for a non-profit organization.
Upon graduation, this bubbly, young redhead plunged headfirst into the Jerusalem business world, starting JLM Social, a full-service agency helping small businesses build their social media presence as a manager, consultant and coach. But this is only one of her “jobs.” You see, Jazzie also has a strong internet presence with her blog and her Instagram site, ‘The Israel Bites.’ She had been blogging and Instagramming her way through college with Charleston Bites, which grew to an impressive following; so this new endeavor came naturally to her. Her presence can also be found on Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr.
Jazzie has Celiac Disease, a chronic immunological disorder that is triggered when gluten is eaten. For some, like Jazzie, eating even the tiniest bit of gluten can become life-threatening. She must be impeccably careful – not only to avoid those foods, but to avoid anything that even comes in contact with a product containing the substance (found in almost everything). Cross-contamination is a real issue for people with celiac. So she set out to find not only food, but good food that was gluten-free. That meant scouring supermarkets for available options: restaurants, cafes, bakeries throughout Jerusalem and all of Israel.
It was here that Jazzie Morgan found her niche. When she first arrived in Israel in 2016, there was absolutely nothing available in English that could help people suffering from celiac navigate the food world here. She saw a need, and immediately strove to develop this niche market through engagement with social media. She regularly posts her adventures in this new country… from finding and trying new foods and beverages (the iconic Aroma Coffee, cafe and restaurant here, uses gluten powder in their ice coffee drink); taking exciting day trips throughout the country; apartment hunting; her adopted pet rabbits; and of course the gluten-free world in Israel. All are accompanied by mouth-watering photographs from the restaurants, shuks, coffee houses, wineries, and even street food stands she visits. She also includes what foods and establishments cater to the strictly Kosher market. Because of this, she has quickly rocketed to success.
If you read or watch nothing else of Jazzie’s, you absolutely must go to her Instagram site. In the little bubble under her bio, find “Bubby in IL.” It’s poignant – and UPROARIOUS!!!! I can watch this account of her grandparents’ visit millions of times and still laugh my tuchus off. Her stories take you along with her and you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll learn a lot about Israel, the culture, the places, as well as the food. And this was how I, too, first fell in love with Jazzie Morgan.
I asked Jazzie the secrets to her success, and she replied with several things. First of all, she found a niche that did not previously exist, offering something that no-one else had done. She gives everything she does in life her all, and never gives up or takes no for an answer. “You have to be your own advocate here,” she says. “A lot of people just give up when they are not successful at first, but you have to learn from any mistakes and just keep going.” It takes both consistency and commitment. To keep her presence on social media authentic, Jazzie does not take any paid sponsorships. It’s all based on her own research and opinions.
Her favorite foods? “Definitely the Green Shakshuka at Cafe Naadi in Jerusalem!! It’s the perfect blend of crunchy kale, salty feta cheese and runny egg in this amazing cream sauce. And of course, it’s all gluten-free” With all of the work she puts into maintaining both JLM Social and her Israel Bites, she still finds time to volunteer, putting on cooking programs and workshops for people with special needs. Even though she’s only in her twenties, Jazzie has no regrets. Israel Bites is way beyond its goals. “When I have parents writing me from outside the country thanking me for what I do because their child is coming to do army or studies or special service in Israel and can’t be around gluten, I know I’ve succeeded. I have everything I ever wanted.”
Here are two of our family’s favorite recipes. They are quick and easy (which is how I found Jazzie: I was looking for a very quick cookie recipe for Shabbat that I could make with limited ingredients in under 15 minutes).
FOUR INGREDIENT GLUTEN FREE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (pareve)
These cookies have become a Shabbat staple in our house. They never make it past Saturday afternoon, because they are that addictive and can be eaten with either a dairy or meat-based meal, if keeping Kashrut!!
- 1 cup peanut butter (I use chunky for more crunch)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- (optional 1 tsp vanilla)
- Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Drop on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 170*C/350*F for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
SWEET POTATO MACARONI & CHEESE serves 4
This can be made either gluten free or not, using your favorite pasta. Another simple family-friendly dish the is quick and easy to assemble, using pantry staples. I garnish mine with a generous dollop of pesto for the perfect dinner. Just add a salad, and you’re good to go. There is also a non-dairy option that uses coconut milk.
- 1 large sweet potato
- 1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk
- 2 tsp garlic powder or 1 clove fresh garlic
- Salt & pepper
Prepare your favorite pasta according to the instructions. In the meantime, microwave, roast or boil the sweet potato (peeled) until soft. In a blender combine the potato, cream, and spices. Blend until creamy. Pour over the pasta and enjoy!
Rita Ackert’s story is heart-wrenching and inspirational at the same time. Rita moved to Israel from Philadelphia relatively later in life. She and her husband, Bob, first visited Israel in 2000 with the Eretz Israel Tour. The seeds were planted during that trip and that little spark of love for the Land and its People fanned into flames. They knew this was their people and their homeland. After much prayer and thought, they returned for their pilot trip, looking for a quiet place to settle, a growing community to continue Bob’s chiropractic practice, and a close-knit community that would be welcoming to them.
In 2011 they made Aliyah with their oldest daughter and her family and youngest daughter (who was 4 years old at the time) to the small, picturesque town of Maalot (like an Alpine village) in the North of the country. Their son was learning in Beit Shemesh, but had not yet made Aliyah. Last year, he was married in New York, and has since immigrated with his new wife to Israel as well.
In America, Rita homeschooled her children (now do you see a connection?) and enjoyed crafting, especially jewelry making. She has always loved to cook, and has treated every Shabbat as a dinner party. Every Shabbat, Rita enjoyed preparing and presenting her family and guests with different cuisines from around the world prompting them to ask which country they would be “visiting.” Helping in the kitchen in her Philly synagogue, and working among friends, was a huge source of joy for Rita. The women of the synagogue would host blow-out kiddush lunches after services. Several of the ladies were Persian, and terrific cooks. After one service, a local restaurant owner approached Rita with the idea of catering for his establishment, but Rita turned him down thinking she had little to offer. She cooked and baked for fun: to enter the business professionally was another ballgame.
“One of the interesting things about moving to another country is the opportunity to completely reinvent yourself,” explained Rita. “I first started making jewelry to sell, working and displaying in a gallery for women’s art in Tsfat, but was floundering as to what to do after an injury. I started thinking out of the box.” Four years ago, another friend from Philadelphia moved to Israel and called Rita asking if she knew where to buy tasty kugels for the Passover holiday. One thing led to another. Rita wound up making the kugels as well as offering a full Kosher for Passover holiday menu.
Things were going well with her nascent catering business until the unexpected hit hard. In February of 2019, Bob had a small stroke. Then in May of the same year, after a surgical procedure, he had a major stroke, leaving him in a vegetative state. Rita suddenly became the sole breadwinner for their family. With lots of support from the local community, she decided to keep moving forward. Always she asks the question, “What would Bob do in this situation?”
Because of her passion for cooking, Rita took on a handful of steady clients – working women who were too tired to cook when they came home; people hosting a dinner party; families desiring an elegant Kosher meal with little time to travel to a restaurant (the availability of fine Kosher dining is quite limited in the North). And many Anglos, especially those who move to the periphery of the country from large cities, really miss the options of different kinds of ethnic foods – Mexican, Asian, Indian, Southwestern. Filling the void is part of Rita’s newfound success. She will do all the shopping and then come to her clients’ homes, doing the cooking there, having it beautifully presented… and she cleans up afterwards!
Drawing on her passion for preparing sumptuous ethnic foods, Rita’s business, Rivanacooks, is in high demand. “I’m a good boss to myself,” states this incredibly outgoing and enthusiastic woman. Working hard, but pacing herself, she has built up her daily clients as well as adding meals for people who would like something for special occasions. She has also progressed to teaching food workshops and cooking classes, mostly in English. She recently overcame the huge challenge of teaching a cooking workshop in Hebrew to a group of Sherut Leumit girls (girls doing a gap year program after high school). She especially enjoys teaching holiday classes. One look at her Instagram and Facebook pages, Rivanacooks, is enough to make a foodie swoon!!!!
The COVID lockdowns here in Israel have been another unexpected opportunity for Rita. She is now making prepared dishes able to be frozen and defrosted for later baking or reheating. Order from her menu and pick up the food- enough to fill your freezer for a few weeks – and there will be tasty family meals with the utmost convenience.
Rita Ackert reminds me so much of Ina Garten. Her outgoing personality is infectious; her attention to detail and presentation impeccable; and her desire to share her knowledge with the public is such a gift to this country. She loves the Persian cuisine due to the flavor profile and the colors with its combination of spice and dried fruits. The toasted, layered spices of her Indian dishes are as authentic as one can find here. Yet nothing is off limits to her: tofu-based Asian dishes, Mid-East cuisine, vegetarian, special needs diets food, Tex-Mex barbecues, and hearty, rustic home cooking. All are created with the utmost of love and culinary skill. Not only that, but her baked goods are also a strong suit. Here are three amazing recipes from her collection. I know that you will enjoy making and eating them!!
PERSIAN SAFFRON RICE (pareve, serves 4-6)
This recipe is now a holiday hit at our house. Served with a roast or with chicken (see following recipe), it’s not only gorgeous, but a flavor explosion!
For the parboiled rice:
- 2 cups Basmati rice
- 1 TBSP salt
- 3 liters/3 quarts water
Rinse rice until water runs clear and soak for 15 minutes. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add salt and rice and bring back to a boil. Cook 3-5 minutes until rice is still firm, but can be broken easily. Usually this takes about 3 minutes. Drain and let sit for 5 minutes.
For the filling:
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries/if you can get barberries that is traditional. You can even use dried cherries
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 2 leeks, trimmed, sliced thinly and cleaned well
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
- 1 TBSP orange zest
- drizzle of silan (date syrup) or honey
- salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add leeks and lower heat to medium-low. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté leeks until soft and a bit caramelized. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. , then add shredded carrot and cook until soft. Stir in the dried cranberries for abut a minute until they are plumped up. Remove from heating add orange zest and a drizzle of the silan or honey. Stir and set mixture aside.
For the saffron rice:
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- 2 TBSP warm water
- 1 cup soy yogurt
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 3 egg yolks
- 3/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 180*C/350*F. Lightly oil a deep, round glass baking dish. Add warm water to saffron threads and steep for 10 minutes. Place yogurt, egg yolks, saffron, salt and oil in a bowl and mix well. Add parboiled rice, stirring gently, but well. Pour 1/2 rice mixture into the deep, round baking dish and smooth out. Top with 1/2 fruit mixture and then the rest of the rice. Smooth top an add the remaining fruit mixture. Press mixture down firmly into the rice.Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour – 1 hour 20 minutes. The bottom should be a deep, golden-brown. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before removing foil. Place serving platter over dish and flip rice carefully onto plate. Rice will remove easily and should be intact. Top with fresh pomegranate arils and chopped pistachios.
BALSAMIC, FIG & ROSEMARY GLAZED CHICKEN
For the fig preserves:
- About 30 dried figs, cut into quarters (*see note)
- Enough water to cover figs about 3/4
- 1 cinnamon stick
Bring figs and water to a boil. Reduce heat and add cinnamon stick. Simmer about 45 minutes or until figs are soft enough to process with an immersion blender. More water may be added as necessary. Remove from heat and let cool a bit.remove cinnamon stick and process with an immersion blender to a smooth consistency.
*Note: I check figs to make sure they are free and clean of any bugs or other such specimens.
*Note: if you can find fig preserves, you can skip this step and fast-forward to the glaze.
For the glaze:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 large red onions, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 TBSP dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 2 cups (or more as desired) fig preserves
Heat olive oil in pan until shimmering over medium heat. Add diced red onions, season lightly with salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium-low and cook until onions are caramelized. Add minced garlic and stir until fragrant. Stir in fig preserves then balsamic vinegar and red wine. Stir until incorporated. Next add brown sugar, cinnamon, additional salt and pepper to taste, and rosemary. Stir and simmer until nice and bubbly and sauce has thickened.
For the chicken:
- 8 chicken legs(I cut mine in half)
- 1 whole head garlic, top cut off and outer papery skin removed(keep head together)
Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Clean and trim any excess fat off thee chicken and arrange in a shallow baking pan. Season chicken with freshly ground pepper. Spoon fig mixture all over the chicken, coating well. Wrap head of garlic in a piece of foil, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and place in the middle of the chicken pieces. Roast in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, basting occasionally with pan juices. Unwrap garlic and spoon a little of the pan juices onto it. Serve the garlic on a platter in the middle of the chicken pieces. Simply pop the garlic out of its skin and shmear on chicken, It just melts right in! Enjoy!!
APPLE STRUDEL (dairy or parve) Adapted from everyday dishes.com
- 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
- 6 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into small chunks
- 2 TBSP lemon juice
- 4 TBSP unsalted butter or margarine
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cardamon
- 2 TBSP flour
- 1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
- Sugar to sprinkle on top of strudel.
In a bowl, toss peeled and cut apples with lemon juice. Melt butter or margarine in a large pan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, salt, and spices and stir until sugar dissolves. Add apples to pan and stir coating apples with sugar mixture. When mixture becomes bubbly, simmer 8-10 minutes until apples are tender, but not mushy. Stir often. Sprinkle flour over apples and mix in. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until sauce thickens. Let apples cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200c/400F. Lightly flour surface and roll out a piece of puff pastry on a sheet of parchment paper and spread cream cheese(if using) in center of dough. Long side should be facing you.
Leave a 1/2 inch border on left and right. Place apples in center length of dough.
Fold the top over filling, then brush surface with beaten egg. Next fold bottom over top and press right and left edges together, then fold under. transfer strudel and parchment paper onto a baking sheet and brush entire top and sides with egg ash. Cut slits on top of dough and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 30 minutes or until pastry is a lovely golden brown. Remove pan from oven and let cool in pan. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or as is with a slice of cheddar cheese or a nice cup of tea or coffee. Enjoy in your sukkah for breakfast/brunch or as a dessert.
Another one of my inspirations is Jessica Halfin. Originally from Newton, New Hampshire, this young woman did a study abroad program in Jerusalem during high school. She had such a great experience here, that she decided to attend college at Ben Gurion University in BeerSheva. She finally made Aliyah in August, 2006 – during the Second Lebanon War, transitioning to life in Tel Aviv. Jessica worked teaching English as a Second Language, as she thought that was her only option as an Anglo immigrant. Totally no passion for this!!! Her life needed a change – and change she did – to follow her foodie passion!
Because Jessica has always loved to cook, she first enrolled in some gourmet cooking classes in Israel. After that, she honed her skills by taking a ten-month pastry course, where she learned the different methods of making typical Israeli baked goods. To supplement her income, she sold her confections on the side, but in the days before strong social media outlets, it was hard to find an audience.
While at BGU, Jessica met Eli through mutual aquaintances. They became friends, but didn’t start dating until years later. Eventually, they would marry and Eli would start medical school. Moving to a small dorm apartment in Haifa in 2008, made cooking elaborate gourmet meals and baking anything at all more than difficult. As an outlet and to earn some extra money, Jessica started teaching creative cooking workshops for students at the Technion. In addition, she started blogging and doing freelance articles on food and the local cuisine of Haifa. Her articles have been featured in The Nosher, Hadassah Magazine, Jerusalem Post, JNF-B’yachad Magazine, Times of Israel, Israel 21c, and Time Out Israel Magazine.
An offshoot of these articles happened when Jessica started taking tourists to Israel on street food excursions. And that’s how I first met Jessica four years ago. We had been following her articles and salivating over the amazing photos she was posting from her Haifa Street Food Tours. Not only did Jessica know the best falafel and shawarma, the best humus and shakshuka, bourekas and breads, but she really got to know each vendor. Jessica was able to teach the history of each food, where it originated, and the fascinating history of Arabs and Jews living side by side peacefully and adding to the rich culinary diversity of this city. Family-run restaurants that had been in existence for generations and hard-to-find hidden gems were all included in her amazing tours. She did this for three years, until Eli was assigned a residency at a hospital in Afula.
The Halfins were able to find an amazing villa in Afula with a wonderful, large yard with fruit trees and a large kitchen so Jessica can really get creative. Now, a mother to three young children, she still manages to make everything from scratch. Because Afula is a rather rural city, there are not a lot of restaurant options. With the demanding schedules of her husband’s residency, and a limited budget, dining out is not something they are able to do. Still, Jessica plans romantic dinners for the two of them, with themes like Sushi and Asian night or Italian Adventure with her incredible homemade pastas – complete with candles and music after the children are in bed).
Jessica loves baking and the doughier side of life. Fresh pasta and accompanying sauces are a staple in the Halfin home, as well as creating family-friendly and vegetarian options (for Eli). She has a passion for sharing food with people and loves to entertain. Her dream is to one day own a bed and breakfast where she can serve guests fresh bread and homemade spreads as well as big Israeli style breakfasts, her favorite meal. She makes her own yogurt and labaneh, a soft and tangy white cheese spread that is ubiquitous here in Israel.
She is currently working on a cookbook, The Israeli Pastry Kitchen, which will not only provide recipes for baked goods, but whole sections on the Israeli cafe culture. This includes drink recipes as well as items offered at the Israeli breakfast. She hopes to find a publisher and have it available for purchase next year.
Because Jessica Halfin absolutely refused to do anything else (take a job at a supermarket or bakery for minimum wage, which is ridiculously low here), and because she has been really stubborn and persistent about putting herself “out there into the universe,” Jessica has been received with high marks in travel guides and through her foodie articles. “You have to keep at it, keep going, even if you get rejections at first. Persistence pays off.” And following your passions….
Here in Israel it is khavoosh season. The khavoosh is a quince: a hard, ugly yellow fruit, a bit similar to a deformed pear in appearance with a strong, sweet smell. It is native to the Levant area. I had only heard of it in the children’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, and have never known what to do with it until now. Jessica shares one of her favorite recipes with us – Spiced Quince in Syrup. It can be preserved or served immediately after cooking. The quince slices make a lovely dessert and can even be used for breakfast served over yogurt. Top a sponge cake with it and let those delicious juices soak in! Jessica’s family loves it served with homemade pistachio ice cream- I will be making these for hostess and Chanukah gifts this year. The rosy pink color is just gorgeous!!
QUINCE IN SPICED SYRUP (Makes about 3, 8 oz. glass jars)
- 4 large quince (1.5 lbs/680grams)
- 5 cups water, or more to cover the fruit
- 3 cups (600g) sugar
- 1. 3-inch (7.5cm) cinnamon stick
- 3 whole cloves
- 4 strips lemon peel
Prepare the fruit: Peel quince using a paring knife, and make slices of medium thickness using a very sharp chef’s knife. Make sure not to include the inner, woody core in your slices. This is a bit of a painstaking process, as quince is a wonky shaped, very thick and difficult fruit to cut, but the effort is more than well worth it!
Using a peeler, cut strips of lemon peel. Take care not to cut too deeply, as you want little or no pith in the strips.
Cook the fruit in the syrup: Add the prepared quince to a medium pot with the water, sugar, whole spices, and lemon peel. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the fruit and syrup turn a lovely rosy shade, about 1.5-2 hours.
Jar and Store: Add the fruit and syrup to 8-ounce (227g) glass jars that have been sterilized in a hot water bath 20 minutes. Seal with a sterilized vacuum lid. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes and store in a dark, cool place for over a year, or simply keep unprocessed in the fridge for up to 3 months. These taste better and better as they sit, and the fruit continues to soak up the syrup.
HOMEMADE GREEK YOGURT WITHOUT A STARTER
- (3 liters/quarts whole milk not ultra pasteurized)
- 2-3 TBSP plain, full-fat store-bought yogurt
- In a large pot, heat the milk over a medium flame until steaming (`162F). Take off the heat and let cool to 110F. Skin off any skin from the surface of the milk and stir in the store- bought yogurt.
- Immediately cover the pot, drape with a clean towel for insulation. Place in the oven with JUST the light on. Let sit for `12 hours (This is best done overnight).
- After 12 hours, remove from the oven and transfer the now yogurt to a fine mesh strainer that’s been lined with cheesecloth and placed over a large bowl. You can also use a muslin swaddle blanket or a very light dishtowel.
- Tie up the ends and let strain in the fridge for about 8 hours.
- remove the strained yogurt from the fridge, and open up the cheesecloth. Transfer the yogurt to a serving bowl or storage container. Mix with your favorite addition, such as homemade jam, or frozen berries and honey to taste, or keep plain.
Yogurt will keep for two weeks in the fridge, and can be used as a starter in your next couple of batches.
*For homemade labaneh: Follow the same procedure for the yogurt, but just use 1 liter of milk and 1 TBSP of store-bought yogurt. Stir in the salt before transferring to the cheesecloth, then strain the yogurt for 24 hours. Can be stored in a container or shaped into balls.
(The custom here is to serve labaneh with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of zataar spice. serve it on bread or pita. If making balls, thy can be rolled in zataar or paprika or stored in olive oil in a jar.)
MAPLE-SILAN PECAN GRANOLA
- 5 1/2 cups (500g) whole rolled oats
- 3 cups (250g) quick cooking oats
- 1 cup thinly sliced almonds
- 1 cup desiccated coconut
- Heaping TBSP ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup Sunflower (or olive) oil
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup Silan (date syrup)
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (I make my own from ing sugar mixed with 1/3 cup silan
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 TBSP water
- 1 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Combine all ingredients in a very large bowl except for the pecan halves. Spread out in an even layer on a parchment paper-lined baking tray (A thin layer is best, so even if your oven is small you may want to do this on two trays).
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and stir the granola. Place back in the oven for an additional 7-10 minutes, until deep brown. Let cool completely, then break up into chunks, and keep in an airtight container. Granola lasts about 1 month at room temperature, or indefinitely if frozen.Any pieces that feel slightly soft as opposed to crunchy upon cooking, can be placed back on a tray and rebaked for 10-15 minutes to crisp up.
Jessica Halfin is a professional foodie, recipe developer, and freelance food and culture writer. You can find her online at jessicahalfin.com. Her Instagram account is #jessicahalfinfoodwriter.
I had the extreme good fortune of meeting Elisheva Levy exactly five years ago. We had recently made Aliyah and were apartment-sitting in Jerusalem over the Sukkot holidays. A new program had just been launched pairing up olim khadashim (new immigrants) with host families who had lived in Israel for a while and we were invited by Elisheva to come have a Sukkot dinner with her family. Many times we are invited out and I remember only certain things about the evening or the meal. This was one of the rare cases where I remember much about that night in full detail. At her apartment in Jerusalem we were served amazing appetizers – the most delicious pastilles (film dough rolled ‘cigars’ stuffed with chicken and savories), which I had never had before -spoiler alert: she gives the recipe below! There were meatballs in a sweet, yet tangy tomato sauce; orange soup (made with pumpkins, carrots and other orange veggies). When we thought we could eat no more, out came the chicken, the brisket, the roasted veg, a rice pilaf – And then the most glorious pastries! Homemade rugelach and assorted cookies and baklauwa. Oh my word!!! The food she served!!! And her three children were delightful as well. Adi, Elisheva’s daughter, would be drafting into the IDF the same time as Max, and her oldest son, who was still serving, answered tons of questions for us.
Elisheva Levy came to Israel from England in 1987 to volunteer at Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem. The volunteer nursing stint turned into a full-fledged Aliyah. She met her further husband two years later. Because he worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have lived in India, Miami and Brussels as well as Jerusalem. It was the perfect gig for this energetic, outgoing woman! She was able to work in the Israeli Embassies hosting events for the Jewish people living in the area. These included Shabbat dinners and gatherings, holiday parties, and many other social events. Elisheva, who absolutely loves entertaining and meeting people, was in her perfect element.
She has always had a passion for the culinary arts. Shortly after I met her, Elisheva invited me to the first meeting of the Jerusalem Cookbook Club. The dozen or so women and men meet every month for a feast – and to share recipes of a favorite chef or theme of the month. And it is still going strong, albeit in these days of COVID, by Zoom. They usually meet in each of the members’ apartments, sharing their love of food as well as life events.
Elisheva is the most beautiful woman, inside as well as out. Warm, funny, hospitable, with a keen eye for design and detail and a powerhouse in the kitchen are only a few words I have to describe this dear friend (Her strong British accent certainly doesn’t hurt either). There is a Yiddish word for a woman like Elisheva: a word that is (for me) the highest compliment and thus, rarely used. It’s bollibustah – a woman who excels at absolutely everything!
Elisheva, who is incredibly well-connected opened her own small catering business, Byelisheva, a little over a year ago. It has enjoyed rapid and amazing success. I asked her what her secrets were, and she confided, “I’m passionate about what I do. Besides the food tasting great, it’s the attention to detail, the aesthetics. The packaging. The service I offer to each client.” People in the Jerusalem area can order one dish or a five course meal for Shabbat, holidays, special occasions, and everyday meals. Her menu is incredible down to the most minute detail. During COVID, because so many families with small (bored) children have been locked down for weeks, Elisheva offers pre-made gorgeous cookie kits complete with tubes of royal icing. All items are delivered to your doorstep, so it doesn’t’t get any easier than that.
Baking is her forte. Nothing is off limits. She has taken professional courses and honed her skills. Breads, beautifully decorated cakes, cookies, are in her repertoire, but those macarons!!!! Filled with ganache flavors like hazelnut and mint and fruits and Bailey’s Irish Cream!!! And the colors!!! As if this wasn’t enough, her chocolate babka is to die for!!! Elisheva has a social presence on Facebook (Elisheva); Instagram (Byelisheva) and Yummi (email@example.com).
She has shared a couple of my favorite recipes, so we can all enjoy her delicious pastilla and chocolate babka, my two favorites.
PASTILLAS (meat/basari Makes 15)
These are an amazing finger food. Serve them as an appetizer or for party snacks. They are great with drinks. Or make them larger and serve them as a main course with a side of couscous and roasted veg. They are a Sephardic- North African fusion cuisine. As the Jewish people were exiled from Israel by the Romans in 70 AD, they spread all over the world. This recipe comes to us from Morocco by way of Spain and Portugal, I’m thankful for Elisheva for sharing it, and will be making them for the Shabbat/holiday weekend.
- 1 pack fill pastry
- 3 skinless chicken thighs
- 1 bunch finely chopped parsley
- 1 bunch finely chopped cilantro
- 3 finely chopped onions
- 3 cups water
- 1 TBSP ground ginger
- 3 eggs
- Salt & Pepper
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 TBSP cinnamon
In a pot over medium flame, cook together the chicken, water, onion, parsley, cilantro, salt and pepper – about 40 minutes until tender. Remove chicken from pot. Keep pot on stove and continue to cook until liquid has evaporated. Remove chicken meat from bone, slicing finely. Add sliced chicken back to saucepan. Add ginger, 1 TBSP sugar, salt & pepper (to taste). Add eggs. Mix well for a few minutes. Let cool down completely.
Preheat oven to 400F/200C. In medium bowl, mix together almonds, sugar, cinnamon. Open up a fiilo sheet, cut in half. Place some of the chicken filling on the bottom of the pastry sheet, 1 tsp of the almonds and cinnamon sugar mix and roll up like a blintze or a burrito. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush all the pastilles with beaten egg and bake til golden brown and crispy. Lightly dust with icing sugar (powdered sugar) before serving.
NO-FAIL BABKA RECIPE ( dairy Makes 3 babkas)
Babka is traditional Shabbat morning breakfast food here in Israel, since we don’t cook on that day, and want to serve something extra-special and sweet. Pair it with a cup of coffee and a side of yogurt and fruit or cottage cheese, and you have the perfect no-cook meal. Believe me, it won’t last until lunchtime!!!! You can also substitute poppy seeds or cinnamon for the chocolate in the filling. They freeze nicely too –
- 1.1 pound of flour (1/2 kilo)
- 1 TBSP dry yeast
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup warm water
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Mix all ingredients for the dough together. THE DOUGH WILL BE REALLY SOFT…it’s meant to be so. Leave rise covered with a towel for about an hour. Divide into three balls. Roll out a rectangle. Spread filling of choice. Roll up. Cut in two down the middle. Twist the two halves together into a babka shape. Put into loaf tin. Let rise again for about 15 minutes. Brush with an egg wash. Bake 170C/350F for about a half an hour. Brush with sugar syrup.
Sugar syrup: Place sugar and water in a saucepan. Let simmer very gently until sugar is dissolved entirely. Spoon over babka as soon as it comes out of the oven.
- 100 g dark chocolate
- 100 g butter
- 60 g powdered sugar
- 2 TBSP cocoa
Add cocoa powder and powdered sugar in microwave. Add cocoa powder and powdered sugar. Let sit to thicken.
What’s next for Elisheva Levy? She has set her sights high. Hopefully in the near future she will travel to Dubai to be a Kosher pastry chef for special holidays and Shabbat. Get ready UAE!!!
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