Holiday Food

Where did the summer go? It’s still pretty warm here in the MidEast upper 30*sC/90*sF and now the humidity from the Mediterranean has kicked in making for balmy (sounds more romantic than miserably sticky) nights. We’re headed off to the UK for cooler climes and my daughter’s wedding to the most wonderful English gentleman! Then it’s off to the States to meet our new grandbaby and visit family for a little bit… so I’ve prewritten and scheduled some posts for when I’m gone. In the meantime-

Last week I had to drive my son up to his old base in the Golan Heights because he had reserve duty. Men and women are called up twice a year for a week or two to retrain and fill in spots as needed. This happens until they are in their 40s, depending on the unit. It’s a necessary part of defense here: one needs to be ready to go at a moment’s notice in case of emergency.

Anyway, I love the drive into the Golan. It’s so wild and pristine and gorgeous up there. Free roaming Angus cattle. Fruit orchards. Horses and cowboys. Tanks and soldiers in training. Mountains. Open space. Military bases. Crusader fortresses and Biblical ruins. Druze men roadside selling carob and date honey, apples, olives, and other local delicacies. I could tell it was the end of summer and only a few weeks until the Jewish New Year and fall festivals because…. Pomegranates!! Apples!! The trees were heavy with fruit and the orchards open to pickers. So I just HAD to. Pick. Waaaay too much, but the prices were so cheap! Like $0.60/pound or 4NIS/kg.

Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year is celebrated both religiously and culturally. To represent the sweetness of the year, we eat apples dipped in honey. We eat apple cakes, apple fritters, apple noodle casseroles (kugels), apple salads. You get the idea.

So I came home with my boxes and boxes and immediately set to work. I wanted to do things I could preserve or freeze for when we get back from our trip. So, here are two of my creations: Apple Butter and Apple Lukshen Kugel. Enjoy!

SPICED APPLE BUTTER

The apple butter works great with cream cheese and peanut butter on bread. Or just plain bread. Or stirred into oatmeal on a cold winter day.

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds (2.5 kg) apples, unpeeled, washed and cut into chunks
  • 4 TBSP apple cider vinegar
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup bourbon, whiskey or brandy (optional)

Place all the above ingredients into a large pot and cook uncovered over medium heat. Stir occasionally. In about an hour the apples will have become very soft. Blend thoroughly using an immersion blender. Reduce the apple butter to lowest flame. In a separate pot, boil Mason jars (I use 1/2 pint jars) and lids (not screw-top bands) for 20 minutes to sterilize. Ladle the hot apple butter into the hot empty jars. Place lid on top. Then screw on the sealing ring band. You should get 7-8 jars per batch. Submerge filled jars in a hot water bath (not boiling- just a simmer) for 20 minutes. Remove jars and let cool. Keeps up to 1 year in dark pantry. Refrigerate after opening.

SWEET NOODLE PUDDING WITH APPLES: LUKSHEN KUGEL

This is THE quintessential dairy comfort food for Ashkenazi Jews. You can eat it hot or cold, for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks. It’s a main dish. it’s a side dish. It’s a dessert. But ask 5 Jewish mommas how they make it and what you’ll get is a headache: raisins or no raisins? Apples, pineapple, dried fruit or plain? Streusel crust, cornflake crust or plain? And then there’s the spices….oy vey! Is it a crime to use ginger and nutmeg or do we just tick to cinnamon? Full fat or low-fat. Everyone has their own opinion….and of course, mine is the best (wink wink). The best thing about it is that if you make a big batch, it freezes and defrosts incredibly well, so I do 3-4 at a time (and have a kugel to send back with the university kid).

This recipe makes 1 9X12 inch (23X30cm) baking dish which cuts to 12 generous pieces.

Ingredients:

  • 1 12 ounce package extra wide egg noodles
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 4 ounces (114 grams) cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I prefer coconut sugar)
  • 6 TBSP butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3 small apples, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 cup cornflakes

Boil noodles in salted, boiling water for no longer than six minutes. They should be al dente, not mushy. Drain noodles and rinse well. Return the noodles to the pot along with 3 TBSP of the butter. keep heat on low flame just to melt the butter. Stir noodles until coated. Preheat oven to 350*F/170*C. Grease the Pyrex baking dish. In a very large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add in eggs, sour cream or yogurt, cottage cheese, spices and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Fold in noodles, then raisins and apple slices. Pour into prepared baking dish. In separate bowl, lightly crush the cornflakes. Add 3 TBSP melted butter, 1/4 cup (coconut) sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Mix well and spoon over noodle pudding. Bake for about an hour or until the kugel is firm and crispy on the top. A cake tester should come out clean- Delicious!

I’d now like to introduce you to a very special young lady. Batya Deltoff is 16 years old. We became friends with the Deltoff family because we moved to Israel around the same time and the Deltoff kids played Little League baseball on my husband’s team. That was over 7 years ago. Batya is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This straight-A student hopes to be a anesthesiologist one day, but until then she’s happy to hang with her girlfriends. And cook. Cooking is her creative outlet. She has this intuitive sense of what goes with what and is both experimental and fearless. Ethnic foods from Asian to Middle Eastern specialties are the most exciting for Batya to prepare. And she doesn’t use a recipe! It’s all done from memory of what she’s eaten and enjoyed and from taste. She cooks regularly for her parents and 3 siblings – “but they pay the fee of cleaning up after me,” she jokes. I had the good fortune of watching her and cleaning up after her last week.

This recipe has Iraqi origins and is called Kubbe. It’s a hearty soup or stew and can be eaten by itself as an appetizer or meal or served over couscous. The kubbe makes a huge pot and it freezes well. Man, is this delicious. perfect for the holidays, especially the cooler nights of Sukkot.

To me Batya’s Kubbe tasted like a hybrid Jewish-Mexican style borscht. It has lovely vegetable chunks in a tomato-beet broth. Then there are these dumplings that look just like matzah balls. One bite into the balls gives a meaty taste explosion because they are stuffed with a magnificent ground meat mixture. It’s delish and healthy and oh-so-satisfying. I was worried that it would be too spicy for me, but the range of spices complement the soup. And you can always add sriracha or Tabasco for added heat.

BATYA DELTOFF’S AMAZING KUBBE

Ingredients:
SOUP-

  • 1 large yellow or white onion
  • 3 large carrots, peeled
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled
  • 1/2 large cabbage or 1 small cabbage
  • 4 medium roasted, peeled beets or 1 large prepackaged cooked beets
  • 2 TBSP olive oil, plus extra for oiling hands
  • 200 grams canned chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3-4 tsp cumin
  • 2 squeezed lemons, pips removed
  • 1 TBSP slat
  • 1 TBSP sugar

MEATBALL DUMPLINGS-

  • 1.5 lb ground beef (3/4 kg)
  • 2 TBSP sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 onion, minced fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ginger

DOUGH FOR THE KUBBE BALLS-

  • 3 cups white semolina
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups very warm water

Instructions:
Peel and cut carrot and potatoes into bite sized chunks. Slice cabbage. Peel onion. Reserve 1/4 onion, and cut the rest into bite sized pieces. In a large stock pot, heat up the olive oil and when shimmery add the above veggies. Cook over medium heat to soften. Add in the cooked beets, also cut into bite size cubes. Pour in the canned tomatoes with the juice. Add enough water to completely cover the veggies (about 6 cups). Stir in the spices. Let come to a boil, then after 3 minutes, turn the flame down to medium low. Begin the dough: in a large mixing bowl, add the semolina and salt. Mix to incorporate. Add in 1 1/2 cups of very warm water, stirring as you go. Let sit for about 10 minutes. It will set up to be a granular gooey paste. To make the meatballs: in another large bowl add the ground beef, onion, garlic and spices. Mix well.

To make the Kubbe balls, oil your hands and a ladle well with olive oil. Pinch a golf-ball sized piece of dough and flatten in the palm of your hand, making special care to flatten out the edges. Place a nice ball of the ground meat mixture in the center of the dough (in your hand). Pull the ends of the dough up to cover, and pinch off the ball at the top, completely surrounding the meat. Make sure there are no holes. Place kubbe in a greased ladle and lower it down into the hot soup. Continue for the rest of the balls. You can also put in plain meatballs without the dumpling coat. See photos-

Let the soup come back to a slow boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Let cook about an hour on low. This is best eaten the next day, and makes a great Shabbat lunch.

If you are keeping Kosher, serve it with a generous dollop of Tofutti imitation sour cream. If you are not worried about Kosher status, sour cream is a great add for the top.

City of Peace: The Pearl of the Galilee

We visited Israel for the first time in 2011, when I was still a homeschooling mom. Because we used a modified Classical curriculum, my children and I immersed ourselves in history, literature, art, philosophy, ancient languages (Hebrew and Latin), and culture. Israel, a land steeped in Biblical, Hellenistic, Jewish, Roman, early Christian, Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader history was a place where my young son and I could actually walk out much of what we had learned in books. For us, it was truly exiting, and I knew we had to somehow be a part of this fantastic place. We first stumbled upon Tzippori in 2011, and wound up moving to a town just 20 minutes to the north. Last winter, my husband, John, and I decided to visit once again. Come with us to one of the most phenomenal archaeological discoveries in the 20th century (right in our back yard!!).

Perched like a bird on top of a high hill in the middle of the Lower Galilee is the city of Tzippori (which means bird in Hebrew). It was first built by Hellenistic (Greek) Jews around 125 BCE, and was chosen for its prime location on the main trade route between Egypt and Damascus, the Via Maris. It was also on the route from Akko on the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. On several occasions, the city was attacked by marauding bands, and finally Herod Antipas, the great builder, undertook its reconstruction in 37 BCE. He employed many different tradesmen from stonemasons to carpenters and the top artisans of the day to create what the historian Josephus would call “the pearl of the Galilee.” As it is only 3.5 miles (a 45 minute walk) from Nazareth, it is more than probable that Joseph the carpenter and foster-father of Jesus was employed here, as was Jesus himself.

Lower Tzippori, a sprawling city adjacent to modern-day Nazareth, in background

By 4 BCE, the Romans were fully entrenched in the Holy Land. Many times they were fought off by zealots, but Tzippori was different. The newly remodeled city was full of Roman sympathizers, often times at odds with the local Galileans. Because Sephoris (as it was called by the Romans) was a “City of Peace,” it was spared destruction from Vespasian and Titus like most of the other towns and cities that were razed by the Legion between 66 and 73 AD. In fact, at one time, Vespasian had over 7500 troops quartered here. For its time, Tzippori was a very wealthy city as evidenced by the many magnificent buildings and especially the mosaics…some of the best in the world! Craftsmen were not only locals, but employed from Egypt, Greece, Rome, experts in the latest styles of carving, fresco painting and tile work. Let’s visit, shall we?

The archeological ruins in the lower part of the city included a colonnaded cardo, the Roman term for the large main thoroughfare. On either side of the cardo, merchants’ shops stood. From the excavation, we get a wonderful picture of daily life in the first century. Glass bottles with remnants of exotic perfumes were discovered; ceramics and stoneware vessels containing grains and pulses; exquisitely crafted jewelry (a gold earring with gemstones, bracelets, an olive leaf head wreath of gold) have been uncovered in situ. Historians note that farming in the rich Jezreel Valley soil and shepherding was done outside the city walls. Fish were brought in fresh from the Mediterranean and Sea of Galilee. In the center of the city were government buildings, a synagogue, and a bank or treasury. Most citizens in this mixed Jewish and Roman city worked for the government under Herod Antipas. There were scribes, tax collectors, judges, lawyers and merchants.

A large villa was unearthed in 1987. The many rooms contained floors of magnificent mosaics. It is called “The Nile House” because the floor in the main hall has a large mosaic depicting the celebration of the Nile River, with a number of separate scenes of different events. In one corner, the river flows from the mouth of an animal on whose back sits a Nile god. In another a reclining female holds a basket of fruit. There are papyrus and lilies in the stream, and the center figure is a picture of a man on a column with a rod called a Nilometer, which measured the height of the river. Surrounding are mosaics showing wild animals in hunting mode. In the room adjacent, the mosaic floor depicts Amazons hunting. The Amazons were a mythical race of female warriors originating from the Caucasus, they settled in Cappodocia (Turkey) and mated with the neighboring Gargarensians, keeping only the girls that were born. The word Amazon comes from the Greek ‘a’ meaning without and ‘mazos “ meaning breast. Legend has it that these women cut off their right breast in order to be better archers…. Anyway, you can see the Greek (Hellenistic) as well as the Egyptian influences in this ancient metropolis (The Greeks invaded Israel in about 150 BCE influencing many Jewish people in Israel to adopt their culture. Centuries before, the Jews were scattered throughout the ancient world in the First Diaspora, hence Hellenized Jews).

One of my favorite places is the tile merchant’s/ mosaic artist’s showroom. Just as we would go to a carpet warehouse or flooring store today, people in the first century could visit the tile showroom and see samples of floor designs. It’s absolutely great!! The ‘warehouse’ had sample designs in little cubicles, offering a variety of geometric shapes, borders, floral and figurative designs. Plus a sample board to choose the colors and sizes of the tesserae!! I don’t think you can find this anywhere else in the world!

Close up of tesserae samples… 68 varying shades in all

For those of you who are interested in feats of engineering, one of the first considerations when building a city is water. How does a team of engineers get water to a city without digging wells? Israel is situated in a desert/sub-Saharan zone. It only rains in the winter: the rest of the year is bone dry. Especially in ancient times, cities were built atop hills and mountains for obvious defensive reasons. So getting water uphill was quite the engineering problem. In the Nazareth mountains nearby flowed underground springs. These springs were channeled in six separate aqueducts which converged outside Tzippori into an enormous hand-hewn cistern or reservoir. This huge underground storage chamber is 260 meters long and 12 meters deep with a volume of 4300 cubic meters. It was in use from the first through the seventh centuries. From the reservoir, the water then ran into a sedimentation chamber, and filtered into another reservoir or holding tank. Enormous amounts of water then exited via a large lead pipe with a filtering sluice at one end. It is truly a marvel to see this sophisticated system! From the reservoir the fresh water was carried by aqueduct into Tzippori. The tremendous build up of water pressure from the reservoir to the small viaducts propelled the water uphill. The remarkable engineering feat actually carried running water through the town and into each house, providing fresh water for drinking, cooking, washing, sanitation, and the ritual Jewish purification baths called mikvaot as well as to the Roman bathhouse in the lower city.


There are just so many interesting things to see here. Let’s head back to the cardo: we were smitten with the actual tracks made by the heavy wagon wheels on the stone streets. A representation of an ancient cart built upon wheels and axels found there is on display. Seeing this really brings the place to life as we could envision a bustling city teaming with life and wagons laden with building materials.

Back in 2011, Max and I got most excited over our tremendous ‘discovery.’ As soon as we saw this graffiti etched into the paving stones on the wide city street, we knew exactly what they were. We had read about this in our Rome studies, so to see it up close for reals: WOW!!! Before I explain, I’ll let you look at the photos and you can try to guess what they were-

So what are all these odd markings? They are street games. During times of boredom, children, merchants, and soldiers alike used to throw knucklebones. Small bones or cubiyot, like dice would be rolled into a designated area etched into the street and points would be racked up. For the adults (and street punks?) it was a game of great skill and often involved placing bets. Sometimes, as in the photo uppermost right, the grids would be stacked in a line and the game resembled cribbage or backgammon as the player would move their pieces from grid to grid. Is this super cool or what???

Now we make our way up the mountain to the upper part of Tzippori. Again, we can see the influence of Rome. Every metropolis needs entertainment, and as one would expect, there is a nice sized amphitheater carved into the north side of the mountain. It was built in the late first or second century AD and had seating for 4000. On ground level in front was the orchestra (the place for the chorus during the Greek period, reserved for honored guests during Roman times. The elevated stage or scena was made of marble and wood. Behind would be large scaffolding for the backdrops with costuming below and balconies for soliloquies above. At this particular site, metal scaffolding has been added so one can get a general idea of the design. Rows of seating were hewn out of the bedrock and covered with marble slabs. Most have been raided and repurposed for building by other civilizations, a very common occurrence. The bottom rows remain intact.

The remains of a spectacular Roman residence built at the beginning of the third century AD were found towards the mountain’s plateau. This villa, along with most of the other structures in Tzippori, was destroyed in the great earthquake of 363 AD. The villa would have had most spectacular views, and because of its proximity to the theatre, indicates a high status of the owner. It has now been enclosed to preserve what is left including Israel’s finest mosaic, the Mona Lisa of the Middle East. The mansion was built according to a popular Roman floor plan. The main room of the sprawling villa was the triclinium, or dining room walled on three sides open to spectacular views and a colonnaded portico facing the Mount Carmel Ridge of Haifa. Cubiculum, or bedrooms, were located off the main hall. Also, just off the dining room, was an indoor bathroom (picture below) with running water below the latrine hole. The walls of the villa were once covered in beautiful frescoes as evidenced by the remains of paint on the existing walls. Many of the rooms had mosaic floors with colorful patterns, the most ornate in the dining salon contains scenes from the life of Dionysus, god of wine. The mosaic is comprised of 1.5 million stones in 23 colors.

Now for a bit of interesting history. The Romans finally decided to subjugate these living in Israel. Why after so many years? The Jews paid taxes at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The taxes exacted by the Romans were exorbitant and bleeding them dry (hence the “render unto Caesar…” speech). Many refused or just could not pay, which oftentimes led to enslavement. The Romans worked seven days a week except for State/religious festivals. The Jewish people insisted on keeping the Sabbath: every Saturday was a day of complete rest in which no work at all was done. When in the early 30s-70 AD, this new cult of Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) as their promised Messiah started springing up, not only was Shabbat kept, but now Sunday was held by these nascent Christians as the Lord’s Day. The Romans were losing a day’s labor from the Jews and two days labor from the Messianics. It was going too far! Plus bands of Jewish zealots were springing up trying to shake off their hoke of bondage to Rome.

In 66-68 AD, the Roman legions led by Vespasian and his son, Titus, landed on the shores of Akko in Israel. They spent the next two years routing out all the Jewish people living in the towns and countryside of the Galilee region. It was during this time the Jewish general Mattityahu Ben Joseph was captured (later becoming Josephus Flavius, the historian to Rome). Many Jews were expelled. Many were taken as slaves. Many killed. Many traveled south towards Jerusalem. By 70 AD, the Romans captured their prize jewel, the eternal capital of the Jewish people: the city of Jerusalem. The walls were breached after a long siege and after a bloodbath, the Roman army seized the city and razed the holy Temple (see Arch of Titus in Rome). This marked the beginning of the great diaspora in which most of the Jewish people were either taken into captivity or were dispersed throughout the world.

Jerusalem, the Holy City since King David, had always been the spiritual or religious center for the Jewish people. It was where the Sanhedrin (the main body of the court of law) assembled. Home to the great priests, rabbis and Torah scholars of the day. it was a major center of learning in the ancient world. Many of these great sages of old (khazal) escaped Jerusalem and went south to Yavne (south of modern day Tel Aviv) or north toward Tzippori. For the first part of the new millennium, the Oral Law or Mishnah (companion to the Torah), which had been handed down from generation to generation, was codified, much of it in Tzippori. Great sages of Judaism, Yehuda haNasi and Rebbe Eliezer lived in this city arguing, discussing and writing the heart of the Talmud. The remains of a large synagogue from the first century are here, but the structure was mostly destroyed in the great earthquake.

Early Christianity/Catholicism also had their own Oral Traditions that had been handed down from generation to generation (Dormition and Assumption of Mary; home of the Holy Family; sites of miracles). One of these traditions states that Mary’s parents (grandparents of Jesus), Joaquin and Anna, were originally from the city of Tzippori. During the times of the Crusaders, a large church and monastery were erected at the site of their purported home. It was called Deir Anna or the Monastery of St Anna.

There is a Crusader fortress at the very top of the mountain. It was destroyed by the Mamaluks under Baybars, then rebuilt in the 18th century by Daher Al Omar, the Bedouin ruler of the Galilee. During this time period, Tzippori, called Sephoris by the Romans, was now renamed Safouriyeh thus Arabizing the Hebrew.

Last, are the ruins of a large synagogue from the second century. It was a center of activity for the sprawling city, and reflected not only its Jewish heritage and connection (commemoration of) the destroyed Second Temple, but also has Greek, Roman and Eastern influence as seen in the mosaics. There is a large central medallion of the zodiac with both Hebrew and Greek writing. Side panels depict the accoutrements of the Temple worship: shofarim (trumpets), menorah (lamp stand), incense table, showbread table, bulls for sacrifice, jars of olive oil, baskets of fruit containing the seven species of plants native to Israel. At the other end of the synagogue floor are mosaic representations of the Biblical story of Abraham: Abraham feeding the angels, Abraham and Sarah, and Father Abraham’s ascent up Mt Moriah with his son, Isaac on the donkey. A side band in Hebrew reads that the floor was “donated with generous funds by ….. in memory of their son, …. “ So it keeps the tradition of a memorial plaque. The geometric design is more Eastern than Western. Even though the synagogue is now a museum, pre-arranged weddings and Bar Mitzvahs can take place on the site. When we were there, a group was gathering for a Bar Mitzvah. A portable ark with Torah was being wheeled onto the main floor and a bima was being set up. It’s another example of living connection to the past.

Israel’s Got Talent

When we moved from the greater Los Angeles area to Israel, we really felt we’d be giving up a lot. We were pretty spoiled, because LA/Hollywood is supported by “The [Entertainment] Industry” and so many of our friends and neighbors were connected in some way… stunt men, costume designers, editors, composers, musicians. We had so many musical genres represented from pop to hip hop and rap to Broadway, jazz and the best in classical with the Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale and smaller opera companies, choruses, and conservatories. We were never at a loss for entertainment from rock concerts to childrens’ choirs and loved our summers at the Hollywood Bowl and season tickets to the opera.

I really didn’t know what to expect culturally when we first moved, but I was told that each large city had its own first-rate music conservatory. This was important, as our son was a trumpet player, and I wanted to afford him the opportunity to continue his lessons and have performance venues as well. In addition, throughout the year different cities and kibbutzim host all types of concerts and festivals featuring both local Israeli talent as well as talent brought in from abroad.

Music speaks to the soul and as such, is so important across cultures. We’ve had the chance to experience firsthand the local flavor of the Arabic music and have visited some of their music schools. We’ve enjoyed Yemenite bazooki concerts and French café style entertainment. The Ethiopians have brought with them their own heritage in liturgy and contemporary music and the immigrants from the former Soviet bloc countries are known for their early training in the classical arts. We’ve found Arab Christian bagpipe bands in Nazareth, a hold-over from when Scottish missionaries came to the Holy Land in the 1800s. And we even have a good friend who is the promoter of heavy metal concerts coming to Israel.

Each year, our local music conservatory hosts a fundraising concert with all the proceeds going back into community programs. At first, we were reticent to go, but now look forward to this event as the range of musical talent is representative of the diverse fabric of our society. There is a beautiful women’s chorus made up of religious Jewish, Arab Christian and Druze and secular young ledies. They sing liturgical, folk and classical chorale pieces.

There are several sopranos, who sing the standard art song repertoire in Italian, French, German and even Arabic:

Our mid-sized city has so much talent, including a young woman cellist who has won several international competitions and will go on to study music after her army service; Russian siblings, ages 11 and 13, pianists who both perform solo and duets; a flutist from Canada and a Ukrainian balalaika player who has been performing professionally since he was six and now serves in the IDF, but made the time to play at this concert.

Karmi’el is one of several cities that prides itself on its Children’s Village. There are 200 children from grades 1-12 who live on the spacious and well-manicured campus. Some are orphans, but many come from broken, abusive or disfunctional families. Separated into 16 “mishpachtim” or family groups, they live in large, specially designed homes with sponsor parents and their families. All the kids attend the public schools, but return to the village for afternoon activities, clubs, music and dance lessons, therapy and sports. In this well-rounded program, the older children help with volunteer service projects within the city. Their success rate in academic excellence, reintegration into society, military service, sports and entertainment is unparalleled. One of the young men recently won Israel’s version of The Voice, Junior. Each year, they put on an amazing show for the community at our local theatre arts complex.

Just before the first wave of lockdowns due to the pandemic, John and I went to a hands-on drumming workshop in Nazareth. It was tremendous fun learning about the darbouka, made of wood or aluminum and covered with leather from donkey, goat, camel or skin, each having a different sound. Demonstrations even included a fish-skin covered tambourine, a bandir, based on the ancient models. The last clip in this series was an ancient Aramaic song from the book of the prophet Jonah: the prayer he made from the belly of the fish. The melody itself is centuries old.

During the summer, neighboring Tsfat hosts a three day Klezmer music festival. At Kfar Blum, a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee, there is a weeklong classical music festival. The kibbutz operates a first class hotel and the venues, for both indoor and outdoor concerts are said to be quite pleasant. The festival features vocal and instrumental music with world class guest artists from throughout the world. Jerusalem hosts an international oud festival (an ancient stringed instrument), and the Red Sea resort city of Eilat is famous for its international jazz festival.

In years past, in the Galilee, there was the twice annual Jacob’s Ladder Festival with the best in bluegrass, Celtic, and blues. Most festivals here are very family friendly with activities and workshops for even the youngest. In the early summer, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at Ein GeV kibbutz, there is an choral music festival of mostly Hebrew and European choirs. It also includes a competition.

Speaking of competitions, Israel has been placing first in the Eurovision Competition, a huge international “Who’s Got Talent?” show broadcast throughout Europe. Israel hosted last year in Tel Aviv. The Abu Ghosh Music Festival (just south of Jerusalem) is home to a classical vocal competition in the Spring. Vocalists come from all over the globe. Performances are held in ancient churches and cultural arts centers in the area. Master classes are open to the public.

We had tickets to the Liturgical Festival, but because it was during the pandemic, the events were all livestreamed.

There’s something here for everyone. If you’re into indie, the InDNegev Festival each October is the place to be. The event has grown each year since 2007, and now includes art exhibitions, poetry readings, movies, and huge parties lasting all night. As with several of these types of festivals, camping is strongly encouraged. Every winter, there is also a Grateful Dead festival with live music cover bands as well as dance tents and hippie art shows. If raves are your thing, then there’s the Minus 424 (meters below sea level) Dead Sea Rave. Electronica, lots of DJs and laser light shows have festival goers dancing from sunset to sunrise with the red desert mountains as part of the surreal backdrop. And not to be outdone by America’s Burning Man Festival, there is the infamous Midburn Festival in the Negev Desert each October. A combination Woodstock, Coachella and Burning Man, the participants themselves are the ones who create the performances. They set up an entire weeklong installation in the desert. It has become so popular, that you need to know someone who is part of the event in order to get a ticket.

Israel is truly a crossroad of the world. Because of its proximity to Africa, and due to the influence of our Ethiopian, Eritrean, Nigerian and Ugandan immigrants and visa holders, there are several AfroBeat, AfroJazz, heritage and Reggae concerts throughout the year. Every city has multiple entertainment venues, and most events are free to the public, like the Nuite Francaise which even included a wine and cheese bar and ballroom dancers!


And of course, we have our own mega stars singing pop, hip hop, and indie folk. All during the summer, our Israeli entertainment icons perform concerts in amphitheaters all over the country, many are free, sponsored by the municipality.

(Warning: the next two video clips include bright, flashing lights-)

The very popular Hatikvah 6
Static & BenEl, a high energy boy band, is extremely popular here

Saving our favorite Israeli performer for last: John & I first heard the music of Idan Raichel in Los Angeles in 2010. We saw him at different locations in California and we haven’t missed one of his concerts here (which always sell out in hours). Idan first started performing (accordion) at age 12. He’d play for the dancers at the Karmi’el Dance Festival every year. Last year he, most deservedly, received an honorary PhD in philosophy from BarIlan University and has been named Israel’s Poet Laureate. His music is not only beautiful, but the words! About the beauty of life, of love and friendship, of peace and unity. Many international recording stars have teamed up with Raichel to form the world-beat Idan Raichel Project. It truly is peace through music. So I leave you with this- Enjoy!

Solo performance at the Elmaa Arts Center, Zichron Yaakov

Diversity in Israel: Meet the Circassians

Circassian Cultural Heritage Center in Kfar Kama, Galilee

Adding to the rich cultural diversity in Israel, we have the Circassians. Mainly living in two communities in the North and numbering approximately 4,000, the Circassians’ history goes way back to pre-4th century. Originally from what is present-day Russia – from between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, they were the indigenous people of the Caucasus Mountains. They lived from Sochi to Baku: their capital city was Nalchik and they were known as the Adyghe (Adiga) people. In their language Ady means highlander and ghe means sea. Between the 4th and the 9th centuries, many of them converted to Christianity. When the Tartars and Ottoman Turks conquered their territory, many were forcibly converted to Islam. The Turks called them Cherkess which was Latinized to Circassian. After many years as dhimmie under the Ottomans, most adopted the Muslim religion voluntarily. 1763 marked the 100 year war between the Circassians and the Russians for access to the Black Sea. Eventually, in 1864, Russia launched a genocidal campaign. 90% of their population were exiled from their land – put on ships bound for the Balkans, Anatolia, Bulgaria and Turkey. From there they were taken to the Middle East and can be found throughout the Levant. Their population is about 1.5 million.

Because they were such good fighters, the Ottomans took them in as brother Muslims; and it was the Turks who scattered them throughout the Lebanon/Syria/Israel/Jordan region as a counterweight tothe non-Muslim Jewish, Christian and Druze populations as well as to the Bedouin. Even though they are Sunni Muslim, they are not Arabs. They were brought here in the 1870s as tax collectors for all the other Arab villages in the surrounding area (today, this practice no longer exists).Here in Israel, they maintain excellent relations with the Jewish and Arab populations. The Circassians, although very separate with their own language and educational system, all serve in the IDF. They have kept their ancient phonetic language, Adyghebza, but are fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Their educational levels are very high, their communities, impeccably clean with flowers blooming in every windowbox and garden. There are only 26 family groups or clans within the Israeli Circassian community.

We visited the two Circassian towns recently. Kfar Kama (pronounce Comma) is a thriving village on the upper slope of Har Tavor (Mt. Tabor) in the lower Galilee. The mountain village is walled in, an old form of defense. All of the stone houses are interconnected, sharing a back or side wall. The only way through into the village is from a guardpost/ gate, like a fort. The mosque stands in the very center of the town. And it is the location of the Circassian Heritage Center. Every day, the center welcomes Israeli school groups as part of their educational enrichment program. We were greeted graciously by our docent, Ibek, dressed in a black costume and high fur hat.

After sharing their history with the large group, several members of the village put on a dance exhibition in their native noble costumes. Red and black are their battle colors, turquoise symbolizes the sea and green, the land from which they came.

All Circassians are taught the traditional dances from the time they are young, and all can play at least one musical instrument. The women have much power in their society, and are free to make their own decisions. When a young man comes of age, it is traditional for the Circassian man not to ask permission of the girl’s parents to marry. He asks the girl to marry him directly. This is where the story gets good. Without her parent’s knowledge, the bridegroom and his male attendants, kidnap the beloved at an agreed upon time and place. Two of the bridegroom’s attendants, then go to her family’s home to inform the parents (after she has not shown up). The family must then go out in search of their daughter, but it is the girl’s decision entirely to marry. The parents have no say in the matter. The bride is taken into the groom’s family’s home, and it is they who pay for the entire wedding feast. The families marry within their clans. Sometimes the men travel to Eastern Europe or Turkey where other clan member reside to find their betrothed.

Circassian young woman in native dress

Much of their labor today is agricultural. Olive growing has played a large role in their subsistence . They follow the Muslim dietary laws (refraining from pork, Hallal slaughter) with the exception of fish. Because so many of their people were killed in the Black Sea War, fish and seafood are off the menu in homage to their brethren. They are fairly famous for their smoked meats and hard smoked cheeses. The cheese shop in Kfar Kama boasts of the oldest cheese in Israel: this hard, smoked cheese is shaped like an enormous dagger and is 43 years old!

Today in Israel, about half of the Circassians are devout, the other half fairly secular. There is no pressure to be traditional, although all intimately know the culture and traditions. Observant women wear a white headscarf, like Druze women, but the Circassian style for every day is more like a hijab. Colorful clothes as well as pants are worn by the younger women.

The other Circassian village is Rechaniya, near the Lebanese border, established in 1878 by 66 families. It too is built in the fortified walled village style with a central mosque as in Kfar Kama. Because of their location, the village maintained active ties with their Lebanese and Syrian relations across the border. This proved problematic for the Israeli authorities during the 1967 and Lebanese Wars. Frequent home searches were conducted by the IDF for security reasons. Smuggled weapons were confiscated and some of the Rechaniya townsfolk were temporarily moved to Kfar Kana, 30 miles to the south. Mostly, they preferred to remain neutral during the wars Israel faced. Today, friendly relations have been restored. They pride themselves as being full Israeli citizens and part of the fabric of society. Many Circassians today serve in the police and border patrol units. Several are noted Israeli football stars.

Hani Madaji is the owner of the Rechaniya restaurant, Nalchik. There you can eat like a local, feating on lots of carbs, some baked, some fried, all with different fillings. One of the favorites is Haliva, a fried dough dumpling filled with Circassian cheese, potatoes and herbs. Some variations use beef and leeks.

There are Kalkata, dumplings filled with sheep milk yogurt and paprika; memjak, a savory lentil dish and an interesting type of chicken salad. The shredded, cooked chicken is dressed with a rich, garlicky tehineh and is served at room temperature. Before eating a red olive oil that has been infused with spicy Aleppo pepper and paprika, is drizzled over top. Walnuts, also are sprinkled over (Note: for those visitors keeping Kashrut, this food is definitely not Kosher! Still, interesting to see and learn). Also in Rechaniya is a specialized cheese dairy that has been in the same family for generations. It is an art that has been passed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years.

Nadi explained to us when we asked how the Circassians fit into society in Israel today that it is a matter of tolerance. They see other people and other cultures as having tremendous dignity and worth as human beings. We are all brothers and sisters, she said. We seek to live peaceably among our own people and alongside the other Israeli citizens. However every Circassian carries deep within him the desire to go back to their original homeland that is today part of Russia. They are all a part of the Great Circassian Diaspora. For them, May 21 is their Genocide Remembrance Day. In both Kfar Kama and Rechaniya there are parades, special services and speeches made. All are welcome to attend.

A Micronation Within Israel & Parties on the Beach

As I always say, Israel is the most random country. There are adventures and interesting spots in the most unsuspecting of places. It’s another reason we enjoy living here: we never know what we’ll find next. I had heard rumors of Achzivland when I was in high school from friends’ older siblings who’d returned from Israel. Then the stories popped up again when we were volunteering with the army. There were tales of rock concerts, hippies, free love on the beach, artists, celebs and draft-dodging wanderers in the 1960s-1970s.

Achzivland is actually its own independent country, the smallest in the world, on the shores of the Mediterranean just 3 miles south of the Lebanese border. The story begins with Persian-born Eli Avivi who immigrated with his family to Israel when he was a baby during the Palestinian Mandate, a time when the British ruled the nascent Jewish state. Always in love with the sea, Eli, who was in his early 20s, was a smuggler. He was involved with the underground navy, pre-IDF: really just a few old fishing boats, a couple freight barges and a decommissioned cruise ship. The British had imposed strict quotas on the number of immigrants after World War II and the numbers were quite low, so Eli would take a small fishing trawler from British Palestine to Cyprus and other European locations to pick up Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and smuggle them at night across the Mediterranean back to their ancestral homeland. After the British withdrew in 1948 and the newly approved (by UN majority vote) nation of Israel fought off the invasion of Arab nations in the War of Independence, Eli Avivi left Israel for colder climates. He worked on fishing boats in the North Sea, in Iceland and Norway for two years. Then he sailed to Africa. But Israel was always calling him back.

Eli returned to Israel in 1952, settling down at an old abandoned Arab fishing village on the Mediterranean Sea once known as Al-Zeb. The few stone buildings were run down, but there was a certain charm to the compound. To Eli, it was Paradise. Beautifully frescoed plaster walls and magnificent mosaic and tiled floors in each room added to the mystique. Rumor had it that the large house was owned by a wealthy Bedouin sheik and his many wives and concubines. The fishing was excellent, there was a natural-spring well, and it was close to Akko. It was quiet and remote, perfect for a solitary life. The beach-combing and scuba diving were favorite pass-times as well as scouting out the surrounding unplowed fields. Eli picked up all sorts of artifacts and antiquities, his massive collection constantly growing to include pottery, sculptures, ancient Iron Age tools and farm implements, Ottoman and Crusader weapons, glass and coins. Avivi studied the history of his ’new’ home and discovered it went back to Biblical times. It was home to the tribe of Asher and was also inhabited by the ancient Phoenicians who used to trade nearby. What more could a handsome young man want in this Garden of Eden? He was soon joined by the beautiful fashion model, Rina, who became his wife.

Technically, Eli and Rina were squatters on this 3 1/2 acre piece of prime real estate. The Israeli government repeatedly tried to take the property back, even showing up with bulldozers. After nearly two decades of battles and their refusing to leave, Eli and Rina ripped up their Israeli passports and declared their independence. They held a large press conference and became overnight celebrities in Israel. ”I fought for this country. I loved Israel. But I have no time for the government. I just want to be allowed to live on my own little piece of land, in my own place, in my own way,” he said in a television interview. As an act of protest, Avivi created the State of Achzivland in 1971 with himself as its President for Life. He established a bicameral House of Parliament consisting of Eli and Rina. The new micronation had its own flag, with a mermaid and his house as an emblem. He wrote up a constitution (“The President is democratically elected by his own vote.”), a national anthem and passports.

For all of this Eli Aviv was arrested by the Israeli police and border patrol. He was thrown into jail, but released ten days later when the judge ruled the charge ”Creation of an Independent Country Without Permission” did not exist. Still, he was hounded by the government until he brought a countersuit. The high court ruled he could have a 99-year lease.

Eli and Rina were no pushovers. A group of six Arab PLO assassins tried to infiltrate Israel from nearby Lebanon to commit acts of terrorism in the winter of 1971. The Palestinian terrorists landed their raft on the beach of Achziv on a foggy March morning. The Avivis had seen them approach from their living room window. One wetsuit-clad terrorist met up with a fully-armed Rina as he snuck into the house. Not expecting a loaded rifle and Karl Gustav pointed at his head, he dropped his gun and a bag of grenades and pita breads. Two were wrestled on the beach by Eli and disarmed. The Avivis tied up their captives and fixed a pot of hot tea as they waited for the authorities. The paratroopers, police, Golani brigade – the whole army showed up. The other infiltrators escaped inland and were later caught by the IDF. At this point, the Avivis were national folk heroes.

In the early 1970s, just as today, the world was in upheaval. It was a time of great unrest. The war in Vietnam was raging. The hippie movement was growing. Students were protesting in Europe. The Mideast was in constant turmoil. And the beach at Achzivland was just gaining notoriety. Jewish kids, whose parents sent them after high school to work on a kibbutz would end up there. European hikers and university students found out about this great, laid-back camping area and hostel right on the beach where the only rule was non-violence. They would help out around the property in return for a place to stay and a meal. Nude bathing? No problem. Free love? It was not unheard of. Drugs? While not encouraged, it was not discouraged either. The water was pumped from the well. The bathrooms were rudimentary latrines. The house had no electricity. The young people helped Eli as he constructed his makeshift second story to the house. They helped build additional guesthouses. It was a work in progress. At the time, it was an out of the way local, yet through word of mouth, Achziv attracted artists and bohemians, poets and musicians.

Israeli musicians and rock bands played free, all-night summer concerts on the beach. Soon artists and celebs from around the world were guests there. Young couples came asking Eli to perform marriage ceremonies for them on the beach. He happily complied. In the summer of 1972, the Avivis planned a large Woodstock type music festival. Young people came from Israel, Europe, America, Canada and Australia. From that summer on people from the likes of Bridget Bardot to David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Bar Rafaeli would drop in. The main house grew in size but not to any code. More bungalows were erected. Electricity and plumbing were eventually installed.

We first visited Achzivland almost three years ago to the day. It was exactly one year to the day that Eli Avivi passed away. Rina was there with several of their old friends remembering times past. Long gone ere the concerts and parties. The main house, now a museum open to the public, was in terrible disrepair. Still, it was not hard to envision groups of revelrers dancing around a fire or hanging around the salon. A few people come by to swim at the beach. But the sun-worshipping youth have now been replaced by large Arab men, their fully-covered wives sitting on the sand. We went again last year and met Ofer, helping out around the property before his army service. His parents were regulars at the beach compound years ago. He remembered the tail end of Achzivland’s glorious past.

Our good friend, Norman (now of blessed memory) had also told us of the place in its heyday. He had come to Israel the summer of 1974 to work on a nearby kibbutz. After his stint there had ended, he met a gorgeous blonde from Sweden. It was an August romance, the tale of the girl that got away. The guests and rock stars that were there. Swimming in the Mediterranean on a moonlit night. Barbecues on the beach. His ”Lagatha” returned to Sweden, he stayed in Israel… and so it goes.

We return infrequently to that idyllic beach. The large lot next door is now a national park/ lifeguarded beach where families come to picnic and swim. The strains of music have been replaced by the sounds of children. It’s a completely different vibe. At Achziv, Rina still rents out cabins called tzimmers, mostly to the locals. They are quite rudimentary, but fitting for the beach. Old timers occasionally spend a summer weekend there, chatting with Rina and recounting tales of the past. If you visit, make sure to bring your passport and have it stamped with the seal of this interesting micronation.

Old Hollywood Glamour in Israel

I love Israel for its absolute randomness. There are just so many amazingly unexpected places to discover here. I had first heard of the old Dolphin House Hotel years ago, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I had the opportunity to visit the site and learn about its history. A friend of ours took us to brunch at The Breakfast House in the little village of Shave Zion (pronounced SHAH-vay Tsee-YONE in Hebrew).

Shave Zion (Return to Zion) population 1209, is located exactly 2 miles between Akko (Acre) and Nahariyya, 5.5 miles south of the Lebanese border. It sits right on the Mediterranean Sea and is one of the most beautiful places to relax and enjoy the sun and sea breezes. It was established in 1938 by a small group of German Jews who were escaping the Nazis. In its early days, the moshav was primarily an agricultural one, growing carrots, wheat, dates and citrus fruits. Fighting off armed bands of Bedouin raiders was not uncommon in the days of the British Palestinian Mandate.

Joshua Malka (1920-2005), was born in Egypt, one of seven children born into an upper-class Jewish family. Speaking Arabic, French, English and Hebrew, he served in the hospitality sector as a manager at the Luxor Hotel in Alexandria waiting on the elites of Egypt including King Farouk. Egypt, however, was becoming increasingly hostile to its Jewish population. Joshua and three of his brothers escaped persecution, immigrating to Israel in 1948, just in time to serve in the IDF during the War of Independence. He was 28 years old.

Afte the war, Joshua, now known as ”Shua,” returned to the hotel industry. He became head of reception at the famous King David Hotel in Jerusalem. At the time, it was Israel’s only luxury hotel serving foreign dignitaries, businessmen and celebrities of the highest order. In the late 1940s, immediately after World War II, Israel saw a huge wave of new immigrants: they were Jewish refugees rising like Lazarus from the concentration camps of Europe, arriving on the shores of the newly-reborn nation with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was an interesting time for Israel, impoverished from the war with few resources, food rationing and in most places, third world living conditions. Despite all the hardships, the people came with hopes and dreams. It was around this time that the South African movie producer, Norman Lurie started to build a beachfront hotel in Shave Zion.

The new Beit Dolfin, The Dolphin House Resort Hotel and Country Club needed a manager. Someone used to working with VIPs, serving them and catering to their unique needs. None other was more suited for this job than Shua Malka. Shua and his gorgeous wife Eva (Chava), herself a Czech refugee who had survived Auschwitz, moved to Shave Zion in 1951. They lived a charmed life. In the winter they would travel to Europe with their young daughter. At night they would scout the hottest Parisian clubs and Berlin coffeehouses for singers and dancers to entertain at Beit Dolfin. While Shua made business connections, Chava would shop for high fashion in London and Milan. They brought back the highest quality furnishings for the new hotel as well as European chefs and entertainers.

By the mid-1950s, Dolphin House had earned a reputation among royalty, diplomats and Hollywood movie stars. With ”unbeatable scenery and impeccable service,” the luxury hotel had an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, shuffleboard, library, theatre, synagogue, and activities center. Tsimmerim, private suite cabins on the beach were always in high demand year round. Besides a Kosher dining room, there was a cafe and five-star gourmet chef restaurant. There was a house orchestra, jazz band, and celebrity entertainment. It was not unusual for there to be ballroom dancing one evening, jitterbugging on the terrace the next and Israeli folk-dancing around a huge bonfire on the beach another night. Peter Sellars, Danny Kaye, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Sofia Lauren were among the most prominent regular guests. Leon Uris wrote his novel, Exodus, from a beach chair on the sand there. Later, during the filming of the major motion picture by the same name, Pat Boone, Eva Saint Marie, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward would stay at Dolphin House. Kirk Douglas first stayed at the hotel while filming ”The Juggler,” the first full-length Hollywood movie to be filmed in Israel. It was there that he ‘discovered’ the young Dalia Lavie who lived on the moshav. She told him she wanted to be a dancer, and Douglas convinced her parents to let her study ballet in Sweden. Dalia Lavie would go on to become a top model and Hollywood starlet, often playing the role of femme fatale. She is best known for her performance in the James Bond film, Casino Royale.

Beit Dolfin didn’t just bring Beverly Hills style living to Shave Zion, it raised the entire quality of life of the moshav. The resort complex employed round-the clock workers from chefs, waiters and waitresses, cleaning crews, entertainers, valets and chauffeurs, activities leaders, lifeguards, tennis instructors and managerial staff. Private tour guides would escort the guests on hikes and to historical sites throughout the land. The Malkas built a waterfront villa and were the first in Shave Zion (outside the hotel) to own a telephone, television and private car. By the mid-1960s, Shave Zion had one of the highest standards of living in Israel.

I heard the stories over what is arguably, the best brunch in Israel…The Breakfast Club cafe. We sipped mimosas on the patio – the place is always packed and reservations are an absolute must! It’s a bit out-of- the-way, but easy to find as the village only has one main street, lined with shade trees, boutiques, cafes and pubs. Their scrambled eggs on brioche served with creme fraiche and lox was to die for. My husband ordered the chavita, an omelette topped with asparagus, basil, Mediterranean vegetables and feta, equally delicious.

After brunch, we were in desperate need of a walk, so we made our way down the street to see the hotel I had heard so much about. Unfortunate is not the word. Today it is completely abandoned, fenced off, and in absolute disrepair. Sad. Sad. Sad. The bones oof the building are still there, but it is hard to imagine the glory days. We pray someone will buy and restore it to its former self, abuzz with VIPs and alive with activity. Until then, ghosts of the past haunt it halls and memories of music and laughter waft from the balconies of Beit Dolfin.

A Quintessential Israeli Dish- 5 Ways!

I thought I’d take us all away from the constantly dismal news cycles and do a fun food blogpost this time. I was first introduced to chicken schnitzel by my California/Israeli girlfriend, Bilha. Every Friday afternoon, my son Max and I and Bilha would go to the local retirement home and do a Shabbat liturgy for the elderly Jewish residents. We’d light the Shabbat candles, sing wonderful songs, read a part of the Torah passage for the week, tell a story and say the blessings over the wine and challah bread. It really was a highpoint of our week, something we always looked forward to and something I still miss terribly. We made beautiful friendships with Holocaust survivors and other residents. And I really miss Bilha. As we’d leave to go back to our homes each week, we’d discuss what we were making for Shabbat dinner. For me, it was invariably salmon: for Bilha, who grew up in Israel, it was usually schnitzel. She gave me her recipe. I tried it, and was hooked! It was delicious…. and really easy to prepare. And the leftovers!!!

Fast forward to our lives here in Israel. I quickly discovered the ubiquitous schnitzel. First brought over by German and Austrian immigrants, it is a staple food here. It’s very economical and easy to prepare. In the stores here, you can buy ”chicken schnitzel,” boneless, skinless chicken breasts that have been pounded thin into cutlets. Or there are plenty of pre-made frozen varieties that all you have to do is pop theEm in the oven or frying pan. When my husband and I volunteered to serve in the army (warehouses) each week, we were usually served chicken schnitzel for lunch. It was at the army that I first discovered corn schnitzel patties, because 32% of the soldiers were vegetarian. And there are many fast food schnitzel and chips shops including Schnitzelina, which specializes in the tasty cutlets stuffed into a baguette sandwich.

I will begin with Bilha’s recipe, the basic schnitzel (it’s ALWAYS chicken for the meat) and then go into some easy and tasty variations. The recipe calls for a kilo (about 2 pounds) of chicken cutlets. I don’t know if they sell pounded breasts in the markets where you are, but if you buy the boneless, skinless breasts or tenders, they can be pounded to flatten to about 1/2 inch thick between two sheets of waxed paper. A kilo is about 6 half breasts for me. O.K. Let’s start

Bilha’s Chicken Schnitzel, Israeli Style

I serve this with wedges of lemon to squeeze on top (a must!!!), an Israeli salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, salt, olive oil and lemon juice. Roasted or mashed potatoes are also delicious with this, but most Israelis eat this with chips or French fries. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do- oh!!!! if there are any leftovers – I ALWAYS make enough to have leftovers- they make the BEST sandwiches, cold with lettuce and tomato, mayo and Thousand Island or for me, just humus.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo (2.2 lbs or 6 half breasts) chicken cutlets
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 3 lemons
  • lemon zest
  • salt and pepper, about 1/2 tsp each)
  • 1 tsp paprika, optional
  • 1 TBSP sesame seeds, optional
  • vegetable oil

In a flat pan, beat the eggs and add in the dijon and mayo. In another flat dish or pan, pour on the flour. In a third flat dish, the bread crumbs, grated lemon zest from one lemon, salt and pepper. (Many people here add 1 tsp paprika and 1 TBSP sesame seeds which I find adds to the deliciousness).

Rinse off the cutlets and towel dry. First dredge in the flour. Using a long tongs, coazt the floured chicken cutlet in the egg mixture. Then place in the pan of bread crumbs to cover each side. Heat the oil (canola, safflower, sunflower) in a large skillet until shimmery. I use about 4 TBSP, then add more. I don’t like the cutlets swimming in oil, but do want to have a nice crunchy outcome. Place the breadcrumb coated chicken pieces in the hot oil and let fry until they are nice and golden brown on each side. Transfer the cutlets to a wire rack with paper towels underneath the rack, but not touching the schnitzel. Serve hot with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.

Shevvy’s Trader Joe’s Falafel Schnitzel

This is a fun recipe that I got from my friend in the States. She raves about it. The kids love it, her Israeli husband is addicted to it, and I had to bring back two boxes of falafel mix to Israel so we could enjoy it as well. It does not disappoint. Seved with a side of chips (fries), a salad or chopped Israeli salad, fluffy pita bread and humus and/ or techineh. Oh my goodness! For those of you who don’t live near a Trader Joe’s market, see if you can find a standard dry falafel mix-

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo chicken cutlets (see notes above)
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese style bread crumbs)
  • 1 cup Trader Joe’s falafel mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup humus or techine
  • vegetable oil
  • humus or techine for dipping

In flat bowl or dish, beat the eggs. In another flat bowl, combine the panko and falafel mix. Dredge rinsed and dried chicken cutlets first in egg to coat, then in the panko falafel mix. Heat about 4 TBSP oil in a skillet until hot and shimmery. Add the cutlets, frying on each side until browned and crispy. Add more oil as needed. Transfer the cooked schnitzel pieces to a wire rack to drain and keep crunchy. Drizzle with techine or put a dollop of humus on top. We do both. Oy va voy, is is amazing!


Crunchy Seeded Schnitzel, Yotam Ottolenghi Style

I love Chef Ottolenghi’s recipes. I have all of his cookbooks and was first introduced to him here in Israel. A friend of mine who lived in Jerusalem had a cookbook club. We would pick a certIn chef each month, prepare their recipe as was written, then do a riff on the original recipe. This is my slightly modified version of his schnitzel.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilogram schnitzel chicken cutlets
  • 6 TBSP sunflower seeds
  • 3 TBSP toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 TBSP black sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 TBSP mayonnaise or humus
  • 1 cup flour
  • extra virgin olive oil

Start by combining the seeds and spices in a large flat-bottomed pan. In a second flat pan, beat the eggs and mix in the mayo or humus. This helps the coating to stick to the cutlets. In a third pan, place the flour. Rinse and pat dry the pounded chicken cutlets (they may be already flat, or you can flatten the breasts between two sheets of waxed paper). Dredge the cutlets, one at a time, in the flour. Then using a tongs, transfer to the egg wash, coating both sides. Next, place each cutlet into the seed mixture. Both sides should be covered. Heat the olive oil, about 4-6 TBSP in a large skillet. When very hot, place the cutlets in the oil, frying on each side until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to drain.

Tamar’s Asian-Inspired Schnitzel Curry

I looked all over, but could not find a photo of this one. So sorry. This is a must-try, and frankly, is our favorite twist to the standard schnitzel recipe. I marinate the cutlets overnight to infuse the flavor and tenderize. Because many recipes for chicken include a milk bath, and that is not within the Kosher guidelines, I decided to try coconut milk. Infused with the curry and lemongrass, it’s heavenly! Also pretty funny, in Israel canned coconut milk must be labeled ’coconut liquid’ so people don’t get confused and think it’s a dairy product. Only in Israel! I always bring at least 6 bags of Angel-Flake coconut back from the States. We don’t have it here, and it’s just so moist and delicious. If you don’t have Angel-Flake, use the dried coconut shavings. I serve this with chutney on top and rice as the side. Add in roasted broccoli with a bit of teriyaki or soy sauce and some roasted carrots and you have a feast.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo chicken cutlets (see note above)
  • 1 can coconut milk (liquid)
  • 1 TBSP yellow curry powder
  • 1 4-5 inch piece of lemongrass cut in thirds
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup baker’s Angel Flake coconut (or desiccated coconut)
  • coconut oil
  • apricot or fruit Indian Chutney to top

In a freezer bag, or a glass baking dish, shake up and pour the can of coconut milk/liquid. Add the curry powder and the sticks of lemongrass. Add the chicken cutlets to coat. Let marinate overnight or at least six hours. (I put several bags of this in the freezer along with the coating mix in a separate freezer bag. Defrost in the fridge and assemble for a quick dinner)

In a flat pan, add the panko and the shredded coconut flakes. Mix well. Remove the marinated chicken to the breading pan and coat on both sides. Heat up about 1/4 cup coconut oil until shimmering. Add the cutlets to the hot oil and cook until golden on each side. Transfer to a wire rack for draining. This is my favorite. Please try it!

Jessica Halfin’s Vegetarian Corn Schnitzel

I’d never leave out the vegetarians! We first had these when doing our army service and they were quite tasty. Here in Israel, they are a staple on the kiddie menu. My friend, Jessica Halfin, who did Haifa Street-food Tours and who also writes for Hadassah Magazine, developed this healthy version of corn schnitzel. The recipe makes about 10 patties.

Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 cups canned and drained or frozen corn
  • 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 TBSP white sesame seeds
  • vegetable oil

Process 4 cups of corn kernels in the food processor until smooth. In a large bowl, add the processed corn along with the 1 cup whole corn kernels. Mix in the egg, the flour, the spices and 1 cup of the breadcrumbs. In a flat pan, mix together the additional cup of breadcrumbs and the sesame seeds.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the wet mixture into the bread crumb pan and flatten, coating the patty with breadcrumbs on both sides. In a skillet, heat the vegetable oil until hot and shimmery. Using a spatula, transfer the corn cutlet to the skillet and fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on wire rack.

Serve with ketchup and Israeli tomato-cucumber salad, pita and humus on the side.

It’s a Wrap! The Art of Headcovering

Recently a good friend of mine in the States who is Catholic asked me to buy her a beautiful Israeli chapel veil for when she goes to Mass. After all, I’m sure that she thought it’s the Holy Land, so they must be sold everywhere. In all my touring the country and visiting holy sites of many different religions I have only once seen chapel veils – actually mantillas worn by a group of Mexican ladies on a pilgrimage to the Annunciation Basilica in Nazareth.

Israel is a unique place in that there are a majority of people who do cover their heads. Just by looking, one can tell which religious or ethnic group a person belongs to. Religious Jewish men wear different styles of kippah – knit, black velvet, small, large- and different styles of hats depending upon their sect. Druze men wear white knit caps or maroon fez-type turbans, depending upon their rank. And some of the Muslim men wear tight-fitting knit caps. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to see a Bedouin shepherd sporting his kaffiyeh tied around his head with black rope.

But it’s the women who really take head covering to a whole new fashion level in Israel. The married women are the ones who cover their heads here. So if the woman is religious, right away you know her marital status (secular people or hiloni as well as Christians keep their heads bare). Druze ladies are the plainest, wearing long black robes and white veils. Muslim women cover their entire heads and the neck and throat with a hijab, which gives them a very distinct look.

Orthodox Jewish women also keep their heads covered all the time. Whereas there are no Biblical or Scriptural injunctions that are given, it is a tradition rooted in ancient times. It is both a sign of respect to G-d, that one is under His authority; a sign of one’s marital status; a beautiful crown for a queen; and for some, a sign of modesty in reserving the most beautiful parts of herself for her husband only. It is NOT a sign of feminine subjugation, as the man also covers his head in the religious household.

That said, let’s move to the fun part… the fashion. The headwrap is a creative and beautiful extension of a typical Israeli look. Called a mitpachat, meet-PAH-khat, in Hebrew or tichel, TIH-khel in Yiddish, it is a single or multiple layers of scarves wrapped around the head. Sometimes a bobo is used, which is a padded pouff used to add extra volume and a wig band is essential for keeping the mitpachat in place.

Although married women of all ages wrap their heads in scarves and laces, some of the older women and women who don’t like that look for them, opt for hats. Sometimes berets in felt wool or fluffy knit are worn, others sport jaunty little caps which range from extremely casual to very dressy (weddings, Shabbat, holidays).

Not up here in the periphery where things are more casual, but in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the center you can see amazing fashion statements. I think it’s the influence of French and British Jewish women, but I’ve been recently seeing the most gorgeous fascinator hats worn by young married ladies of style. There are entire shops which just sell hair accessories… and some of the selections are very, very expensive!

The next look, worn by many ladies in the Chabad sect, is the sheitel, SHAY-tl. Be very, very fooled. These are wigs. Not yo momma’s wigs either. Beautiful, long full, silky, luscious locks which cover the head, but feel and look incredibly natural. I remember pointing out women in sheitels to my husband when we first got here and he was pretty incredulous. If you didn’t know, there’s no way you could tell. It’s now become a fun ”game” for us, especially in the larger cities. And of course, they come in all lengths, colors, textures – and price ranges from expensive to exorbitant!

So there you have it, the diverse world of Israeli fashion. One of the most popular items to buy at the shuk, the markets, here in Israel are pashminas. They are huge scarves made of lamb’s wool and woven in the most gorgeous variety of patterns and colors. Many tourists buy them to wear as shawls for cool evenings. Some use them for table coverings or even wall hangings. Jewish women collect them to use as mitpachat. I have a large basket full of them, yet I have never once seen a chapel veil for sale. Not in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem, nor in Nazareth or any other shop selling to pilgrims here. Although it is a rule that one must dress modestly upon entering a church here(no shorts, bare legs or arms), head coverings are not required. I leave you with a few more samples-

Ancient Mysteries

The last day of our three day desert adventure this past December was incredible in several ways: it was midweek and there was no one else for miles so we were alone in the desert – a special experience; we were able to cover a tremendous amount of territory and make it to three amazing and different archaeological sites; we were trying to do it all before the predicted high winds, sandstorm and first major storm of the winter hit.

Our adventure started early in the morning at the ruins of Susya, an ancient city that was excavated from 1985-2000. On the eastern fringe of Mount Hebron, southeast of BeerSheva in the area once walked by Abraham and the Patriarchs of monotheism, settled by the tribe of Yehuda (Judah), a large town was built by Jews after the Roman destruction of Yerushalayim. It is one of the most unusual ancient towns we’ve ever visited, a town filled with mystery. Sometimes there is only so much that archaeologists and anthropologists can put together from their findings. Stones are uncovered which tell only part of a story. Without first-hand written records or documents much is left to speculation.

Susya was a fortified city built on a high plateau, excellent for defense. As in most ancient towns, it was surrounded by a high stone wall at one time. It was built after 70AD and lasted until the end of the Byzantine or beginning of the early Arabic period. After that, it seemed to have been abandoned. Why? A mystery. The town had homes separated by streets and alleys, but most of the homes and businesses (potter, forge, olive production, wine production) took place underground! Homes were connected by subterranean passageways. Many of the ”buildings” were carved out caverns. Huge underground chambers, many linked together. Why? Was it for defense? If so, from who? Perhaps because it was cooler underground in the summer and warmer in the winter? Without written documents, it’s difficult to piece together the whole story.

More than 70 of these underground spaces have been uncovered at Susya. What is known is that it was a Jewish city. Both private and public mikvaot (ritual baths used for purification purposes) were found. Such a large number of these purification baths testifies to the great importance of their adherence to Torah law.

The crown of the city is its spectacular synagogue, which is still fairly well preserved, considering its age. The entrance to the synagogue can be approached through a large arched portico surrounding a central congregating area. An enormous round stone, which can be rolled by many strong men along an outer track, can block the main entrance to the courtyard. From the portico, there are high steps and Doric columns leading into the large worship/study area.

The floor of the synagogue is covered with a well-preserved mosaic floor. The mosaics include two menorah/lampstands, a shofar, lulav branches and etrog, and an immense zodiac calendar. There are many blessings written in Aramaic including one that reads, ”remembered be for good the comforter Yeshu’ the witness and the comforter that [……]”. What does this mean? Was it an early Messianic community? Was that why they were so concerned with defense? Was it part of another group?The rest of the inscriptions are all typically Jewish. There is a raised platform or bima and a space where the ark containing the Torah scrolls would have been kept. The synagogue also had an upstairs gallery for women. But here, too, in the synagogue are escape tunnels and stones to roll across doorways to block the ebterances and exits. From whom were they hiding and trying to escape? So far, archaeology gives us no clues….Today the synagogue is used for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

The next stop on our desert adventure was at an overlook along the high cliffs of the Maktesh Kattan. A maktesh is a geological formation that only occurs in the Negev. There are three of them here, kattan meaning the smallest. It’s s a completely sunken hole, a huge round crater that was naturally formed as the ground there collapsed millennia ago. We were beginning our descent onto the desert floor. I got out of the car to take photos and John got out… well… to be John.

I really shouldn’t have been nervous at all when he scurried down to the edge of the ledge. He’s done it at the Grand Canyon. He did this at Maktesh Ramon years ago. I think he’s part mountain goat. Truly. Still, I just about had a heart attack and he got some pretty great pics: the Thelma & Louise remnants of an old car crash; the white and blue stripes signifying the Israel Trail (seriously, who would hike down this cliff into the desert?); a hidden party terrace.

The road we traveled was tortuous… a real snake path. No safety barricades on some of the cliff edges. Hair-raising! The panoramas absolutely gorgeous! Once on the desert floor, we quickly headed for the painted desert. Mineral deposits left not only lots of iron, but also copper, magnesium, manganese, sulfur. I forgot to mention that this was in the area of Biblical Gomorra….hmmm…. There were huge chunks of iron ore in the sands – and tons of white snails! In the desert sands!! Snails! Still, my first reaction when I saw the beautiful palette of colors? Make-up!!! The shades of pink, rose, purple, yellow, red, brown, orange, ochre. Nothing short of magnificent!!

We still had two places to visit. No time to dally! Back in the car and on to Tamar Fortress in the Arava part of the desert, about 30 miles or so south of the Dead Sea. Tamar was once just an oasis, a desert watering hole where the Moabites and Edomites used to frequent. Mayaanot, underground springs surrounded by date palms, or tamar in Hebrew (yes, my Hebrew name means date palm). The place was well known to the ancient Israelites. It is mentioned in the Scriptures. During the reign of King David, it was the southernmost outpostfor the tribe of Judah. King Solomon built a fortress here, serving not only defensive purposes, but it was strategically positioned to monitor caravans traveling to and from distant places in the east, and to protect the southern copper mines. We read in the book of Kings that King Josiah destroyed the pagan idols that had been set up there. Archaeological remains are always confirming the words of the Bible. It is an irrefutable claim that the Jews inhabited the land of Israel from ancient times. Tamar Fortress (excavated by archaeologist and adventurer, T.E. Lawrence ”of Arabia”) is an incredible fortified walled city. Strata upon strata of different civilizations have built layer upon layer. Ancient Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Mamelukes, Ottomans. And at the top of the hill, the offices for the generals of Great Britain during the period of the British Mandate in the early 1900s. Today it serves as a museum to the history of the area.

It was getting on in the afternoon, one of the shortest days of the year. The trip had been an incredibly hard one for me, as I was still in the process recovering from an extensive spinal surgery. I was exhausted. My legs stiff and heavy. The wind was picking up and a dusty haze was limiting visibility. We had one more stop: the Nabatean city of Mamshit (pronounced MomSHEET). So we pressed on.

Mamshit was a Nabatean city. The Nabateans were spice traders. Their caravans of camels traveled from what is now Saudi Arabia, through Jordan, through Israel to the Mediterranean laden with frankincense, mhyrr, spices and jewels. Mamshit sits at a crossroads on the spice route. A permanent settlement was established here in the first century BC. It consisted of villas for its wealthy inhabitants as well as khans, or inns for travelers!and large and extravagant stables. It is believed that they were also breeders of stallions from the stables and implements they found in situ. By the second century AD Mamshit had been annexed by the Romans. The extravagant building projects continued.

The Nabateans were converted from their polytheistic idol-worshipping religion to Christianity by the third century. At the beginning of the fifth century, two magnificent churches were built here: the Western Church and the Eastern Church (named for their locations in the city). They were in use until the Arab conquest in 636AD. After that time, Mamshit ceased to exist. The Western Church was a basilica shaped church, built at a high point in the city. It was entered through a colonnaded courtyard or atrium. The main part of the church was divided into three parts: a central nave and two side aisles. At the front was a semicircular apse marking the sire of the altar and the direction of prayer. The floor was paved in mosaics featuring geometric patterns, birds, two peacocks and inscriptions.

The day was growing short. The wind was whipping sand through the air. I was most exhausted, but we wanted to see the other church and the ”Nabatu house.” John and I (foolishly) split up. He was more able to make the long haul and climb the stepped ruins up to the Eastern church – and he was able to get some great photos of the frescoed walls and mosaics. He said there was also an incredibly deep baptismal pool there as well and that the mosaics here were incomparably beautiful and really well preserved.

Iwent to visit the largest villa, known as the Nabatu house as well as a three room bathhouse next to it. The public bathhouse ( because you know – Romans!) was made of three rooms: the caldarium, a forced air steam sauna and hot pools; a frigidarium, a cold water pool from the reservoir for a quick plunge after the sauna; and a forum or dressing/social room. The furnace room consisted of red bricks heated by a massive fire and clay pipes through which the hot air flowed. It was all very interesting.

I really don’t know what happened next. I was walking with two crutches. The pavement was really quite uneven. Theres a metal pole sticking up from the ground about three inches. It was very windy and getting very cold. My legs were very heavy and my body aching. My back was screaming at me. I was trying to take pictures… and I went down. Really hard. I felt whatever surgery corrected in my back completely shift. I screamed, but there was no one else around. And that marked a dramatic end to our Negev adventure. The drive home was dusty with limited visibility. We made it just in time- through a sandstorm and before the rains hit. Since then I’ve been laying low, literally, and have been enjoying our rainy season. The winter has finally arrived with storm after storm. We made our trip just in time. It was totally worth it. Until the next adventure –

It’s All About the ”Red Stuff!”

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Stew (vegan!)

Yaakov (Jacob) simmered a stew, and Esav (Esau) came in from the field, and he was exhausted. Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Pour into me now some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted.’(From then on they called him Edom) Yaakov said, ’Sell me today your birthright.’ And Esav said, ’ ’Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ Yaakov said, ’ Swear to me this day;’ he swore to him and sold his entire inheritance to Yaakov. Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and got up and left; thus, Esav spurned the birthright.

Each year we read through the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. I have always loved the story of the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, on so many levels. It’s so descriptive. And I’m a real foodie, so I appreciate that it centers around food – but to sell off my entire inheritance (Esav, the oldest brother was a son of Yitzhak (Isaac), and grandson of Father Abraham, the Patriarch: two incredibly wealthy men). He had to be mighty hangry!!! And that must have been some mighty delish stew!! Each year I try to test a new recipe for that ’red stuff,’ so now I’m going to share three of my favorites. So glad I had this blogpost in reserve to pull out for you all. This year’s trio is decidedly MiddleEastern, as I’m trying to be more authentic and historical. Next year, I’ll actually be up and able to make them… in the meantime, somebody bring some of that mejaddra!!

– Genesis 25:29-33

The first recipe is true Middle Eastern comfort food. I think my tastes are changing a bit from strictly Western to other things. I first had this on my pilot trip to Israel in 2014. I hadn’t really eaten much in a couple of days because I was so on the go, and I was starving. Like Esau. In the ancient city of Tsfat in the Upper Galilee, I met a native Israeli family who invited me in to their home for lunch. They served the most delicious dish: simple home cooking. The perfect, satisfying, filling, comfort food, and so easy to make. It’s not red stew, but a combination of rice, lentils and fried onions. We feasted on freshly-made cheeses, mejaddra, and yogurt. And afterwards the father brought out a carafe of strong Turkish coffee infused with cardamom, which we sipped from tiny demitasse cups while eating a little piece of halvah. It was the best, just an unforgettable moment of Israeli hospitality. So glad I snapped photos of it back then. What I wouldn’t give for this plate of mejaddra now…. I hope you enjoy!

Mejaddra

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 large brown onions (the onions are the star of the show here)
  • 1 cup dried brown lentils (or 1 can lentils, liquid reserved)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp powdered cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 cups of water or vegetable stock, or if you are using dried lentils, the boiled lentil water)

In separate bowls, soak the rice and the lentils for a couple hours, straining out and changing the water twice. Next, drain off the lentil water and place the lentils in a medium sized pot. Cover the lentils completely with water with a good inch more over the top of the lentils. Add about a tsp salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook about 20-30 minutes until the lentils are tender. NOT MUSHY! Drain off the lentils SAVING THE LENTIL WATER! (If you are opting for the quicker, canned lentils, drain, reserving the liquid.)

Thinly slice the onion. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and flour. Toss to coat the onion in the flour. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or medium sized pot. When glistening, add the onion slices and fry up for 10-12 minutes until the onions are a crispy brown. DO NOT BURN!! Transfer out the crispy onions to a paper-towel lined plate. In the same heavy saucepan in which the onions were cooked, add the cumin and coriander seeds. It should become quite fragrant after heating for about a minute. Now add in the drained rice and the remaining powdered spices. Stir to coat the rice in the oil and spice. Add in the lentils and reserved lentil water. The liquid should measure 3 cups. If necessary, add in more water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff rice. season with salt to taste.

Spoon the rice-lentil mixture onto a large plate or bowl and top with the crispy fried onions. If you’d like, you can top it off with a small handful of chopped parsley or cilantro.

This next soup is more of an accurately Biblical lentil dish. the spices and the red lentils really bring out that glorious color:

Red Lentil Soup vegan

Now this red lentil soup is the real deal. The Red Stuff. Esav’s Bane. True flavors of the Levant. Israeli cooking, whatever that is. It’s fragrant, filling, flavorsome, fantastic. I think once Esav got a whiff of this soup, he was justified in saying, “Just pour it right down my throat, Bro!” Not only a lovely soup, but the lentils are just full of protein, so it is quite life-sustaining.

Jacob’s Big Boilin’ Pot of Red Stuff, aka Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 5 cups vegetable broth (or water or a combo of both)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt
  • 1 lemon, cut up
  • optional garnishes: chopped parsley or cilantro; yogurt; crumbled feta cheese bits (we’re keeping it Israeli)

In a large bowl, soak the lentils for about two hours, straining out and replacing the water at least once. Heat olive oil in a medium/large pot. When glistening, add in the garlic, onion, and bay leaf until the onion is soft and fragrant. Add in carrot slices and cook, stirring about 2-3 minutes. Mix in all the spices with about 1/4 cup of the veggie broth or water. It will be very rich in color and very fragrant. Add in drained lentils and 5 cups of veggie broth or water. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer and let gently cook on low heat for 20 minutes. The lentils should be tender/ slightly chewy, but not mushy.

I keep the soup chunky. It’s more rustic and has more of a Biblical feel to it that way, but feel free to puree it with an immersion blender. Add salt to taste, and garnish with the chopped herbs. Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side, which can be squeezed into the soup at table. You can also add crumbled (goat) on top. This is great served with light, fluffy Israeli pita and humus (NOT the American cardboard that passes as pita!!) or pieces of crusty, wholegrain bread.

But I like the idea of a red stew. A stick to your ribs kind of meal. Hearty and healthy.

Hearty Red Lentil Stew with Chickpeas and Pumpkin vegan

This is the one! The lentil stew to sell a birthright for …. almost … not quite. But still, this is the one I was making all last winter that is, quite frankly, one of my favorites. It can be made in a crockpot for a Shabbat lunch (perfect for this weekend!). Great lefovers. Freezes well.

We have lots of pumpkin here. Big, huge, light brown monsters that are cut into wedges and sold fresh at the market. Our dlaat is a staple food here. As is the lentil. As is the humus. Not the paste, but the bean. The Hebrew and Arabic word for chickpea is actually humus, pronounced KHOO- moose. I’ve tried to keep this stew as authentically Biblical, using foods indigenous to this region. If you are a geeky homeschool mom (ME!!), then this is a perfect food to cook with the kids as a historical re-creation. Enjoy!!

HEARTY RED LENTIL STEW WITH CHICKPEAS AND PUMPKIN


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/5 cups red lentils
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (15 ounce/ 425 g)
  • 1 kg/ 2 pounds of peeled, chopped pumpkin cubes or butternut squash cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 28 ounce/794 g can chopped tomatoes, with the liquid
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprrika
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • salt, to taste
  • garnishes: lemon wedges; chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, zaatar), grated nutmeg, (goat) yogurt

In a medium bowl, soak lentils in water for about two hours, changing the water at least once in the process. Heat olive oil on medium high heat until shimmering, then add the garlic and onion, sautéing until soft. Add in the spices and 1/2 cup of the broth to form a red, fragrant paste with the onions. Cook about 2 minutes. Now add the rest of the broth. Mix in uncooked squash or pumpkin cubes, the undrained canned tomatoes, and the drained lentils. Pour the chickpeas into a strainer, drain, and rinse under cold water. Let drain and add to pot. Stir until well mixed. Bring to a slight boil, then turn down heat to low and let simmer at least an hour. Add salt to taste. Cook low and slow, the longer the better, stirring the bottom and sides every half hour to prevent sticking.

Garnish with lemon wedges, chopped herbs, yogurt, or sour cream. Serve with soft, fluffy pita, or a hearty whole grain sourdough. Makes great leftovers. Freezes well. This is also a fantastic crockpot meal for Shabbat.