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.

A Diversity of Cultures

When last I wrote, I think I was still in the hospital – I can’t even remember any more. So much has been happening both globally and domestically in just the past couple months that it makes my head spin! I’m home, post a very extensive back surgery. After putting out a call for meals, I got a few real winners – one, a whole Indian dinner from a Mumbai immigrant that was so surprising and so phenomenal that I promise to devote an entire blog just to her story and her food. She’s in Austria now, but as soon as she returns I hope to be up to spending a day in the kitchen with her, learning her secrets.

This was the BEST Indian food ever!!!! The red at 7 o’clock on the plate is a roasted Tandoori cabbage slice!!!

The diversity of cultures here always astounds me. Israel is truly a melting pot in every sense of the word. Claudia’s family came from from Damascus in 1949. The dishes she brought us are very typical of the cuisine of the region. I found her Makhloubeh , a very simple chicken and rice dish to be entirely flavorsome and entirely satisfying. It’s economical and nicely spiced. She also brought us kishou (KEY-shoo) squash, cored, stuffed with a spiced meat, rice and tomato, swimming in a tomato sauce.

Before I start with recipes, I’d like to share our conversaton. She came up to my bedroom to find out how I was doing. I find Israelis to be much more forward than we Americans. “What did the doctor do? Who was the doctor? Which hospital?”Then, “How was I doing now? Was I swelling? Did I run a fever? (Do you have heat? was how she put it-) Was I going to the bathroom regularly? What was I drinking and eating? Was I getting up and walking?” She’s not a nurse. She’s a tour guide, a beautiful woman in her forties. When she found out I was eating lots of salads and raw fruits, she was horrified (I was trying to keep food prep as simple as possible for my husband, who was lacking in culinary skills). “After surgery, you must only eat hot foods! Cooked foods. Soups. Never anything raw. Certainly never raw vegetables!” I had never heard this before, and she thought I was completely off my rocker for not knowing this fact, although I never did find out why this was. And never, ever, ever, under any circumstances drink cold drinks!!

Anyway, it was so nice of her. And the Makhloubeh was lovely. John was quite impressed and took a picture of it before serving.

MAKHLOUBEH (meat/basari)

The dish is an all-in-one meat, veggie and rice “cake.” The word makhloob means upside down in Arabic. It’s a Middle Eastern comfort food. Many of these recipes are found throughout the Levant, from Iraq to Egypt, with lots of family or ethnic variations: differences in vegetables, meats or spices used. The following recipes were not tested by me, but Claudia assured me they are very easy to assemble. Some of the instructions are from her memory and taste and not measured. Both serve about 6 generous portions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large potato, peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch/ 1 cm rounds
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2 in/ 1cm coins
  • 1 medium brown onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small purple eggplant, sliced
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 small can or package tomato paste
  • 1kg/ 2 pounds chicken, cut up: 2 legs, 4 thighs, cut up, skin on.
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1TBSP salt
  • 1 TBSP black pepper
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin

Slice the veggies. Sprinkle salt on the eggplant and potato; let stand for 5 minutes and then rinse. Soak the rice in a bowl of very warm salted water. In a large pot, add extra virgin olive oil to generously coat the bottom. Heat the oil, then add the onion, potato, carrot and cauliflower. Cook, stirring until slightly soft. Now add the spices. Continue to cook, stirring to coat the veggies. The vegetables will be soft. Add the tomato paste, a heaping serving spoon and stir in. Next add in the eggplant. When all is nice and soft, remove the veggies to a paper-lined platter, leaving the sauce behind. Place the cut up chicken pieces over into the pot. Stir to brown. Add 6 cups of water. Place the lid on the pot and cook on medium heat about 30 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. Reserve the stock/soup to a bowl.

To assemble the makhloubeh, in the same large pot, add a little more olive oil, layer the vegetables in your desired circular pattern covering the bottom. Then add the layer of chicken pieces (bones and all!) and finally the strained, uncooked rice on top.

To the reserved stock, add another 1/2 tsp salt and some additional cumin, about a teaspoon. Pour it slowly over the vegetable, chicken, rice pot. The stock should cover the rice. If it does not, add a little extra water. Place pot on medium high heat on the stove until just before boiling, about five minutes. Cover pot and let simmer another 40 minutes to let the rice fully absorb the liquid. Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.

Very carefully place a plate over the pot of makhloubeh and turn upside down. It can be sprinkled with pistachio or almond and and freshly- chopped parsley.

RICE-STUFFED SQUASH (meat/basari)

This reminded me so much of the stuffed vegetables my mother used to make. I haven’t had this in years. I guess it’s Jewish comfort food. But this had a decidedly Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) flavor. The secret here is hollowing out the palm-Sized squash. There is a special coring tool Claudia uses. It cores out the center of the squash, but could also be used on apples, pears, potatoes…In Hebrew the word for squash is kishu, in Arabic, kusa.

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 palm-sized green squash
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large serving spoon of tomato paste
  • 1/2 kg or 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup white rice, rinsed welland drained
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mint, chopped
  • 2 Tbspparsley, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • lemon juice

Wash and cut ends off the squash. Use the coring tool to remove the inside, hollowing out the meat of the squash so it looks like a tube. Set squashes aside.

In a bowl, mix the rice and onion in with the ground beef. Both will be raw. Add half of the mint, half of the parsley and the salt and pepper. Mix gently with hands to combine. In a large pot, pour in the water and stir in the tomato paste until it resembles tomato juice. Heat until it comes to a boil. While tomato liquid heats up, stuff each squash leaving a little at the ends (an inch/2cm to allow for expansion. Add parsley, mint, a pinch of salt to the liquid. Squeeze the lemon into the tomato broth. You can also add a pinch of sugar. place the stuffed squash into the pot. Cover and reduce heat. Let simmer for 35minutes.

My good friend, Ronnie, is an American, but is married to an Israeli man. She brought over one of his favorite salads -and our too. This one is really quick and easy to make. Perfect for any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is so healthy! It’s a powerhouse in a bowl. The quinoa and humus ( that’s the actual Hebrew word for garbanzo beans!!) add protein and are filling. The veggies are tomato, red onion and cucumber. Top it off with tiny cubes of bulgarit cheese or its saltier cousin, feta crumbles. And add a simple dressing. It’s absolutely wonderful! I had John do some photos of this one, too.

RONNIE’S QUINOA SALAD (dairy)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup small Persian cucumbers, sliced OR 1 English cucumber, chopped
  • 16-20 small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • lemon juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh mint or parsley, optional
  • 1/2 cup feta crumbles or bulgarit cubes

Put the water and quinoa with a dash of salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. While quinoa is cooking 12-15 minutes, uncovered, chop the veggies and add to a bowl. Fluff the quinoa. Let cool. Add to bowl and mix with the vegetables and drained chickpeas. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cheese bits. Combine gently. Top off with the mint and/ or parsley, if desired.

Over the past few weeks, my progress has been very slow, but very much forward. I tire very easily, and realize I’m not as young as I used to be. My husband, John, has been an absolute tsaddik, righteous person, in his care for me and the house. He’s trying so hard, G-d bless him, caring for me, shopping, cleaning, fixing meals and snacks. He has salads and snack down, and has mastered marinated, grilled salmon fillets (one day he will ‘get’ rice, but that’s a tricky one). I gave him instructions for a simple zucchini soup. It was delicious!

So, I’m pretty exhausted now. John is following my instructions for a potato leek soup. At the rate he’s going, Master Chef is soon to come. I’m getting totally spoiled…. he will soon need a break. Can’t wait to get back to fun day-tripping and cooking! Until next time-

New Year, New Recipes

Upon our return to Israel, we entered into a mandatory 14-day quarantine (with 3 molecular PCR tests done!!!). Our son had come home two days before our arrival to open up and air out the house. I had given Max a long list of groceries to get so that we wouldn’t co home to an empty fridge. Entering the front door, the house was clean and Max had even left a a bouquet of flowers. Previous to our arrival I had also ordered a ton of organic, freshly-picked-from-the-fields produce. Three huge crates were left at my front doorstep the next morning. It was absolutely glorious! Squash, white and purple cabbages, pears, the last nectarines of the season, avocados, pumpkin, greens, carrots, beans, onions, sweet and regular potatoes, mangos, limes, fresh dill, parsley, cilantro, basil and so much more. Gad even put in exras like cherry tomatoes, eggplant, pomegranates, and oranges.

It had been so long since I’d written a blogpost that I had to spend the whole day developing and perfecting the recipes for you. Which was great, because by the end of the second day, I’d fully realized that I herniated or ruptured a disc and had to take to bed (which will also give me time to write and to design the embroidery for my daughter’s wedding dress). But with my husband’s help, I’d put up several jars of spiced pears, zucchini pickle relish and some pickled corn. Lots was frozen and there’s food to last for weeks which will also be served for the Jewish holidays(Rosh haShannah the New Year; Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement & Sukkot the weeklong Festival of Booths). Interesting fact: in Israel, almost all stores and businesses completely shut down for each of the holidays – sometimes that can last up to three days in a row!!! So we’ve learned from past mistakes to have everything we need for the days before, during and after.

So here goes. This first recipe is an old family favorite, made by my dad of blessed memory. A few years ago I was going through an old box of letters and photos and I found his hand-written list of ingredients. His recipe called for whole Seckel pears. I had four kilos (8.8lbs) of regular hard green pears, so I used many and put up 12 pint jars of spiced pears. I substituted honey for the sugar to make it a little healthier.

Spiced Autumn Pears

  • Ingredients:
  • 5 pounds pears
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup dark honey
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
  • 1/4 cup cloves
  • about 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Sterilize canning jars and lids in boiling water 20 minutes,making sure all are completely submerged.
While the jars are going, make the syrup. in medium pot, bring water, vinegar and honey to a boil, then reduce to low. Add spices. Halve pears. remove the core with a melon baller and cut each half into 3 slices. On a clean kitchen towel, using tongs (there are special, inexpensive canning tools that are a mainstay in my kitchen) remove the sterilized jars. Divide pears between the jars. Using a funnel, pour hot syrup into each jar up to 1/4 inch from top. Put lids and sealing rings on jar. Process back in hot water bath for another 20 minutes.

The next recipe is great for Rosh haShannah because it incorporates many of the symbolic foods we use at the festive meal. Plus, many of the ingredients are used in the other recipes. I roast a pound piece of fresh pumpkin (our pumpkins are different than the US/UK varieties) or a nice sized butternut squash, halved, seeds reserved and roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. The salad below keeps well for up to a week, and is absolutely gorgeous with all those jewel-like autumn colors! Plus it’s packed with proteins, vitamins and antioxidants.

Vegan,pareve,serves 6-8

Autumn Harvest Quinoa Salad

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup multicolored quinoa
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups (or more) roasted pumpkin or buttternut squash, cubed
  • 1/2 cup red/ purple onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup candied or regular roasted pecan pieces
  • 1/3 cup large yellow raisins
  • 1/4 cup raisins or currants
  • 1/4 cup dates, chopped (I used 5 large, soft dates, pitted)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 pomegranate’s arils

Dressing ingredients:

  • 1 large orange
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • juice and ”mash” of 1/2 red/purple onion (I will explain)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baharat spice (I will explain)*

Cook quinoa in water according to package directions. Fluff and let cool. While quinoa is cooking dice the onion and cube the roasted gourd into small, bite-sized pieces. In large bowl, add fluffed quinoa, onion, squash/gourd, pecan pieces and dried fruits. Fold together gently. Pour 1/2 cup dressing over top. Directions below. Reserve remaining dressing for fruit salads or green salads. Fold gently to incorporate. Mix in most of the pomegranate arils, reserving some for the top.
This is so tasty. The flavors are popping bright, and the dressing really adds an exotic complexity.

To make the dressing:
Grate the orange rind into a large tumbler or drink shaker. Squeeze orange into bowl, removing any pits. I keep the orange bits. Transfer to the shaker. Add oil and honey. Using a garlic press, squeeze the onion juice from the cut-up red onion into the shaker. Add the left-over mashed onion. Add the baharat.* Add water. Shake vigorously.

  • *If you don’t have the Middle Eastern spice blend, baharat, you can make some easily. It is quite versatile – used in salads, soups, casseroles, stews, and baking:
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Assessing what I had in the produce boxes, I decided to make a vegetable quiche using ingredients on-hand. Hmmm… what do I have a ton of that might go well together? I had the veggies, 18 eggs, cream and four cheeses Max had bought (but no parmesan). It turned out to be the best quiche I have ever made!!! This is best eaten hot or warm and served with a side salad or a fruit salad – or the Autumn Harvest Quinoa Salad above.

Vegetable Quiche

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 frozen and defrosted deep dish pie shell OR frozen, defrosted pastry to line a large, greased quiche dish
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted and peel removed
  • 1 red/purple onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium-sized zucchini, quartered lengthways and sliced
  • 1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin 1/8”)
  • 5 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/3 cup shredded smoked gouda (this really adds the complexity!)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper

Roast the pepper 15 minutes at 400*F/200*C then let cool. Peel the skin off and remove the seeds. Place your pastry-lined quiche dish on a foil-lined jelly roll pan (baking sheet with sides). In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmery, then add the cut-up onion, carrot and squash. Sauté until the vegetables are tender. Set aside. In a medium sized bowl, lightly beat eggs and stir in cream. Spoon the cooked veggies into the bottom of your prepared pastry-lined dish. Layer the shredded smoked gouda, distributing evenly. Cut pepper into thin strips and lay them over the cheese. Sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper. Gently pour in the egg mixture. Let settle. Sprinkle shredded cheddar over top and sprinkle paprika over cheddar. Place in oven pre-heated to 375*F/188*C for 45-50 minutes or until top is bubbly and golden brown.

I can’t even begin to believe I forgot to photograph this one! We devoured the ”test soufflé”for lunch and froze the second one. The third, my husband brought me on a plate for Rosh haShonnah dinner, and hadn’t taken any pictures beforehand. But I wouldn’t share this recipe unless it was absolutely mouth-watering. Baking it just makes the entire house smell like the fall holidays!! The soufflé is a bit like the filling for a pumpkin pie, only lighter and fluffier- and more tasty. It’s a great side dish, but I think it would be super with cream on top for breakfast or as part of a cheesecake (I’ll save that project for another day).

“Orange” Soufflé
(6-8 servings, pareve)

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 cup roasted pumpkin, butternut squash or canned pumpkin purée
  • 6 pitted dates OR 1/2 cup silan (date syrup) OR 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 orange, peel grated, and juiced – seeds removed
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp flour ( can be a GF substitute)
  • 1 TBSP baharat spice powder ( see above recipe)

Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Wrap the sweet potato, and carrots in aluminum foil and roast for about 45minutes or until tender. Oil a soufflé dish or tall casserole dish. After the veggies have roasted and cooled, peel the sweet potato and cut the carrots into chunks. Transfer the veg along with the pumpkin/squash into a large mixing bowl. Add the dates, silan or honey, the grated orange rind and juice. Purée thoroughly with an immersion blender. When well-blended, gently fold in the beaten eggs, sprinkled flour and baharat. Very gentlytransfer the mixtue to a greased soufflé dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, uncovered until soufflé rises and top has browned. Can be served warm or cold.

The next dish is another salad. It’s traditional to eat beans on the Jewish New Year as a sign of our fruitfulness and of the many good deeds we will do in the upcoming year. In the Southern United States we would eat black-eyed peas as a symbol of good luck for the new year (January 1). Also, because beans are a humble dish, according to the Southerner, starting out the year in humility ensures wealth in the months to come. The Jewish custom is to eat scallions: scallions look like whips. At the Rosh haShonnah table the little kids like to smack each other with scallions. It’s a fun object lesson of slavery in Egypt. May we continue to live in freedom without fear of the taskmasters’ whips! Whatever the tradition or superstition, it’s a healthy side dish that can stand alone as a hearty lunch.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

serves 6-8 vegan, pareve

  • Ingredients:
  • 3 cups black-eyed peas, soaked, rinsed and cooked (can use frozen, defrosted)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 4-6 scallions
  • 1 stalk celery
  • handful of each: fresh parsley, oregano, basil, chives
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly-cracked pepper

In large serving bowl, add cooled tender peas. Finely chop the peppers and celery. Slice white/light green parts of scallions. Add to bowl. Finely chop herbs and mix into salad. Crush the garlic into the mixture. Add the juice of the lemon (seeds removed). Drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste. Combine thoroughly and place the bowl, covered, in fridge for at least an hour. Serve cold. This actually tastes better the next day when the flavors have melded together.

Enjoy!

Living Like Kings

Perched high atop a hill in the Northern Israeli village of Mi’ilya  were the vestiges of an old castle. For decades families had used the outer towers, building their homes over and inside the walls. But time had long ago taken its toll, and the structure had fallen into such disrepair that it was structurally unsafe. 

Labib Assad (of blessed memory) lived in one of those houses since his childhood. He had many childhood stories to pass down of life in the village. Labib, a policeman, and his wife, Salma, owner of the village gas station, gradually bought up the other existing houses one by one until they owned a large part of the complex. It had been Salma’s dream for years and years to bring to life the existing skeleton. In 2012 the Assafs received a letter telling them the castle needed to be restored or destroyed. It could no longer safely stand on its own with its crumbling walls and arches. There was an existential dilemma. What to do? The cost of a rebuild would be absolutely exorbitant, but this could be their one opportunity to make Salma’s dream come true, while at the same time preserving an important part of the local heritage.

Flash back to the 12th century: Baldwin Bourcq led a Crusade from France to the Holy Land with his cousins Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin du Boulogne in 1096. On the way, he became Count of Edessa  (in present-day Turkey), marrying and setting up a fiefdom there. He rode into Jerusalem in 1100, winning many battles, and was crowned King Baldwin II of Jerusalem in 1118, expanding the reach of his empire to as far as Damascus. He was aided by the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers.  King Baldwin had four daughters by his Armenian Christian wife, Morphia. The eldest daughter, Mellisande, became his successor. 

Mellisande married and had a son, Baldwin III, in 1129. He was crowned King Baldwin III of the Crusader State of Jerusalem when he was 14 years old. Eventually wresting power from his mother during a familial civil war, he ceded Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria to her. Keeping his title, King Baldwin set up his home in the mountains of the Galilee. His reign extended from the Jezreel Valley in the south to Beirut in the north and as far as Damascus in the east. On a mountaintop in Mi’ilya, midway between the coastal cities of Acre and Tyre, with sweeping views to the Mediterranean and the Galilee, he built “Castellum Regis,” the King’s Castle. It would serve as the capital of his Frankish Lordship in the Galilee. It was a massive, walled stone compound with four square guard towers, one at each corner. 

The property was first mentioned in 1166 after the death of Baldwin III in a land transfer to a Jean d’Khayfa (John of Haifa). It was, in turn, sold along with the surrounding houses, gardens and vineyards to Count Jocelyn III, uncle of Baldwin IV in 1179 under the name Castellum Novo. A sizable Byzantine church adjacent to the castle was also part of the property. It all fell to the Muslim conqueror Saladin in 1187 during the Third Crusade. However, in 1192, with the signing of the Treaty of Jaffa by Saladin, Richard the Lionhearted and Phillipe of France, it was returned to the Crusaders, along with the Western Galilee and the city of Acre, six miles to the west. 

By the mid-1200s, the castle had been superseded by the newly-built Starkenberg Castle (Castle Montfort) just three mountaintops away. Starkenberg was built by German Teutonic Knights, who also bought the Castellum Novo property for 7000 silver marks. It was a short-lived investment, as Baybars, the Mamluk Turk known infamously as the “Father of Conquest” swept in and took everything, levying a 25% dhimmi tax on the barley, olives, wheat, dates, figs, goats, and beehives owned by the resident Christians. There are no existing records after that. The castle and its inhabitants were wiped out in the 15th century. Was it the result of the Ottoman invasion? An earthquake? Black Plague brought to the area by the Europeans? It remains a mystery. 

Melkite (Greek Orthodox Catholic) Christians returned to the area in the mid 1700s, with the Assaf, Shufani, Abo-Oksa and Arraf families among the first residents. They rebuilt a little village in and around the old castle, and resurrected a church near the site of the original Crusader era one that had been completely destroyed. Upon digging the foundations for their Ottoman-era houses, they began to uncover treasures from the past – mosaic tiled floors, burial chambers and an underground water reservoir. The finds were covered up, but stories of riches in the ground were passed down through the generations.

Salma Assaf had heard the rumors of hidden treasure from her childhood. She was passionate about history.  When the letter threatening possible demolition was received, Salma and her husband made the decision to restore the houses, starting a project that took over a decade and a half to complete. It was her life’s dream. Unfortunately, Labib passed away in 2012 before seeing the project to its fruition.

When reaching the final stages of restoration of the buildings, on a whim and out of curiosity, the Assaf family decided to put spade to the ground below. Would stories of the past be revealed or were they all just legend? Salma reached out to her neighbor, Rabei Khamisy, Doctor of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. He, too, a lifelong resident of Mi’ilya, had been brought up with these stories from the past. Together they sprang into action. In a short time, something extraordinary came to light: the largest winepresses and two treading floors from the Latin East (the correct term for the Crusader period in the Levant) had been discovered. Further digging  2 meters from the winepresses revealed a stone dome which covered a 6-meter deep Roman period cistern from the first century. The Crusaders had repurposed the ancient cistern to hold barrels of wine for aging in the cool deep cavity below. For Salma, it was a good omen. It was upon this historical foundation that she would build her restaurant, Chateau du Roi, the King’s Castle. Salma enlisted her son, Khalil, a successful accountant, to be the CFO.

The whole project – the restoration of the above-ground building as well as the excavation – were privately funded by the Assaf family. A greatly appreciated contribution of the local community helped finance the shoring up of the crumbling north wall of the castle adjacent to the restaurant.

They worked tirelessly for four years in tandem with the Israeli Antiquities Authority to complete the excavation. Much more treasure was unearthed: ancient coins; the seal of the archbishop of Acre, who also lived there at one time; cooking tools, trenchers, and plates from the Crusader kitchen. As to the buildings above ground (where the restaurant, bar and boutique hotel rooms stand today), architects and contractors carefully conserved much of the traditional structure. The winepresses have been preserved in the basement of Chateau du Roi, and are open for viewing. Plexiglass windows have been thoughtfully and strategically placed in the floor of the restaurant’s main dining room so guests can view the winepresses below.

The restaurant is composed of many spaces, each with stone walls, high arches, balconies accessible by winding staircases, cozy inglenooks and fireplaces. A large outdoor patio offers a sweeping panorama of the picturesque Northern Galilee mountains. Chateau du Roi has the ambiance of the finest European restaurant. No detail is overlooked from the china, silver and crystal on the beautifully set tables to the antiques throughout. 

In the cozy and comfortable pub, a large wooden bar stands along one wall. The room is flanked by niches and pillowed window seats built into the arched windows. Luxurious leather chairs invite a person to relax and cast aside all cares. All the culinary equipment and accoutrements throughout the restaurant including the pizza oven in the bar are of the finest quality imported from Italy. Live jazz and acoustic music is featured regularly. Other dining options include a spacious covered patio courtyard with full service, and private dining niches under the castle’s stone arches. It doesn’t get more romantic than this!

Salma called in an old family friend, Elian Layousse, originally from Mi’ilya, who was working as a chef in Padua, Italy. He was more than happy to oblige and quickly assembled an award-winning team. The menu at this five-star restaurant is a fusion of Northern-Italian and Israeli. The dishes are traditional, yet unique. Everything is prepared from the freshest seasonal ingredients: Golan beef, Mediterranean seafood, homemade pasta, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Elian’s passion for detail is evident in every bite. The wine list is impressive. As an added bonus, Salma is able to provide jobs for many of the locals. The staff is warm and welcoming, and not only is Hebrew spoken, but Arabic, English, French and Italian, so guests should feel at home. It is one of Israel’s top gourmet destinations. 

In addition to the restaurant, the Assafs have opened two guest rooms on the property. Khalil, speaking lovingly about how his mother pampers all the guests as if they were her own family, says she serves “the grandest local breakfast. Wow!” Work has already started on converting the west wing of the castle into seven additional luxury guest rooms and suites. No expense will be spared and the fully-appointed rooms will be a blend of ancient architecture and antiques with top-of-the-line modern conveniences. A stay in the castle will make you feel like as if you were living like kings.

Currently, the Assafs are correlating with the Israel Antiquities Authority to open a museum on site. All of the finds from the excavations, which have been catalogued and stored in the Institute of Archaeology at Haifa University, would be returned so visitors can see the town’s history from Roman times onward. 

In addition to Chateau du Roi, the villagers have begun unearthing treasures on their ownproperties. The Arraf family, for instance, are sitting atop a Byzantine church and adjoining monastery. Beautifully colored geometric mosaic floors are once again coming to light. The recent excavations are exposing a complete Frankish rural settlement in what was once known as the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. 

Today, Mi’ilya has grown to about 750 homes with a population of about 3000. It is one of two exclusively Christian villages in Israel (the other being Fassuta, about 4km to the east). All of the land and the excavations are privately funded by each villager. The Israeli government has commiserated, but has done nothing to help financially. All of the funds for the digs have been raised privately by the village and through donations. Each year during the Christmas season, they hold a Christmas market. The village is festooned with lights and decorations. It is a grand celebration and thousands of people from miles around come to enjoy the festivities. In addition to this religious festival, the municipality holds a social/cultural Spring Festival with musical shows and local products for sale. 

A trip to Mi’ilya is a trip back in time, and a stay at Chateau du Roi will make you feel pampered like royalty. Their website is https://chateauduroi.co/  

Dairy Days: With Recipes!!!

It amazes me how schizophrenic this place can be. Just last week, people were living in bomb shelters, glued to the news, and praying that the shelling would cease. The next week, everyone is back to business, schools are open, the stores and cafes are full, and it seems life is mostly back to normal, whatever that is anymore. Israelis are a resilient bunch. I can attest to this by the video clip a friend sent me of young Israelis on a Tel Aviv Beach last Sunday morning. The beach was packed. When the sirens went off, they grabbed their towels and ran for the shelters. Ten minutes later, they’re back on the beach until the next siren. Un-be-leeeeeve-able!

I had planned to write this article a few weeks ago before war got in the way. We were just about to celebrate the extremely joyous holiday of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks for the Jews and Pentecost for the Christians. Along with Pesach(Passover/the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) it is one of three pilgrimage festivals. This holiday has its roots in the Bible and can be found in the first five books, the Torah. Starting after Pesach, a counting of the days is made… fifty days (hence the Greek word Pentecost) of the wheat and barley harvest. It marks the time when the Jewish people were obligated to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer thanks for their harvest. In Christian tradition, it commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus (who were also in Jerusalem for Shavuot) and marked the birth of the Church.

Today in Israel the fields are harvested much as they were millennia ago, except with modern farm equipment. Everywhere we travel, we see the fields being reaped and the bundles laying in the fields ready to go to the granaries and mills.

Shavuot goes by several names. Besides being the official beginning of the summer season, it is the Biblical Feast of Firstfruits. At the time of the Temple, besides the grain offerings being brought, the firstborn of the animals were brought, and the firstborn children of that year were brought for a special blessing by the priests. Today, in Israel, the Temple Mount has been replaced by the Al Aqsa Mosque, but the mostly agricultural holiday is still celebrated in grand fashion. People stay up all night reading and studying the Torah, as it also marks the giving of the Law to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai. It is also a tradition to read the book of Ruth, as that story takes place during the barley harvest.

On the farms and kibbutzim, people dress in white and wear floral wreaths on their heads, men and women alike. There is much singing and dancing, and dads dance around holding their little babies high above their heads. There are parades throughout the towns with tractors and floats piled high with fruits and veggies and fresh flowers and with children holding the baby farm animals they helped raise. It has the feeling of a rural American county fair.

This year, however, things were a bit different. I’d like to share with you a wonderful video clip from Hananya Naftali:

Because the mother sheep, cows and goats have an abundance of milk at this time, Shavuot is also a huge celebration of the dairy industry here. Also, from a Biblical viewpoint, the Torah is compared to mother’s milk, and Israel is the Land of Milk and Honey, so it is a custom to visit local dairies and to eat plenty of dairy products. Cheesecake is ubiquitous here during the Shavuot holiday. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how it should taste, mostly based on where you are from. The heavier, creamier, cold American style topped with fruit; a light and sweet French version; a savory crustless cheesecake served by the Mizrachi Jews of the Middle East; some people even serve it warm! Usually. cheesecake is eaten with breakfast here, as that’s the main dairy meal of the day in Israel. Most Jewish people (those who keep the Kosher dietary laws) do not consume dairy products at the same meal with meat.

This year we ventured up to Kibbutz Rosh haNikra, an idyllic village/kibbutz tucked into the foot of the mountain that literally butts up against the Lebanese border. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In the picture below, you’ll see the kibbutz. At the top of the mountain, you can see the border fence. To live here knowing that just a few yards away is the Hizbullah army with estimates of upwards of 150,000 missiles pointed towards you… it’s just about as interesting as us living a mere 12 miles from the border. Still, life goes on – you can also see the banana plants they grow here (foreground):

We visited the kibbutz on a lazy, early Friday morning. The kibbutz has beautiful vistas of the Mediterranean Sea to the West, and as is typical of kibbutz living, has a central community area with shops, post office, clinic, schools, cafe and community center in the middle with homes radiating outward from the main hub. People were having picnics on the main lawn, there was music streaming out of the coffee house, and Galili Dairy had a cheese tasting, which is why we were here. Standing as a stark reminder were the bomb shelters every few hundred yards. It’s only a 14 second warning to drop everything you are doing and run for cover in the event of an emergency here.

We were here to visit Galili Dairy, owned and operated by the Regev Family. They live in the neighboring farming village of Abirim, raising about 200 goats there. The goats are not allowed to graze in Rosh HaNikra Kibbutz because they are too messy, so the fresh goat milk is trucked into the kibbutz daily. The Regev’s have turned the old community kitchen that was no longer in use into their dairy. Even though, the place is still called a kibbutz, the residents no longer share meals as a community together. Today, there are individual family housing and living units. So the facilities are rented out, a win-win situation for both parties.

TAbout seven years ago, the matriarch, Sarit Regev, took a course in artisanal cheese-making in Provence, France. She came back to Israel, applying what she learned and adding her own regional twists to make some of the best Israeli cheeses on the market.

Galili Dairy offers a wide range of products from yogurt; flavored kefir (liquid yogurt) drinks – think passionfruit, date, blueberry and strawberry; labaneh,the creamy white cheese staple here that’s served at every breakfast; feta, and specialty cheeses. Their bouche with its creamy center is a best seller. My favorites were the Tomme rubbed with the dregs from cabernet barrels and their Tomme with truffles. They offer several Camamberts and Bries, including one with nuts that was just heavenly. The Camembert rubbed with Herbes de Provence was another favorite. There were also two types of Morbier, a hard cheese covered in volcanic ash, which was quite delicious and a cream cheese with mushroom bits – great for spreading on crackers. All cheeses are certified Kosher with a completely organic line as well. They can be found in health food stores as well as TivTams throughout Israel. There is also home delivery available. Again, this is one of the best independent smalls dairies I’ve visited here. Needless to say, we left laden with several varieties of cheese and kefir. Their website (only in Hebrew) is galilee-cheese.com, so for those of you in Israel, you can place your order for delivery directly from the website. They also offer gift baskets and picnic baskets to-go. Take it with you on your mountain hike or to the beach, both of which are a ten minute drive from the kibbutz.

So now for the moments some of you dear readers have been waiting so patiently for: the recipes!!! I’ve been on a quinoa kick here for the past month. This powerhouse of a seed/grain is just loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants, and is so versatile. The following dairy recipes use quinoa. The first is a cheese puff, that is great as a breakfast or a snack. Take it on a picnic or store it in a freezer bag in your freezer. I made several huge batches, and packed up a box for my son to take back to school. Everyone absolutely loves them – and they are so easy to throw together. The quinoa cooks up in ten minutes, so it’s a quick recipe as well as nutritious.

QUINOA CHEESE PUFFS (makes 6 large muffin-sized or 18 small bite-sized)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup quinoa cooked in 1 1/2 cup water according to package directions
  • 1 large zucchini, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup Gouda or Tomme cheese, shredded
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves OR 1 TBSP julienned fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 350* F/170* C. Grease your muffin tin. Cook the quinoa according to directions on package. In a large mixing bowl, add the zucchini, eggs, baking powder, shredded cheese, spices and quinoa and stir until well combined. Drop by spoonfuls into the wells of the muffin tin. You can top with a bit of shredded cheese. Bake in oven about 18 minutes or until the bites are puffy and golden brown. Remove from oven. Let cool – and try not to eat them all in one sitting!

The next recipe is for quinoa patties, Israeli style. You can either fry them in a few tablespoons of oil or bake them as a healthier alternative. These make a nice side dish or a vegetarian entree paired with a salad and some fresh fruit. They are very tasty, make great leftovers and freeze well, too. I serve them with a dollop of tsatsiki – recipes below:

QUINOA PATTIES AND TSATSIKI ISRAELI-STYLE (makes 6 large patties)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups quinoa, cooked according to package directions
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon, grated rind, juice squeezed, pips removed
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked greens (spinach, chard, mangold, beet greens or orach)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground (it does make a difference)
  • 1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
  • IF NEEDED to firm up a bit, 1/4 cup bread crumbs (Italian seasoned are good)

Combine the above items in a large bowl. the mixture should be think and gloppy and hold together well. If it seems too loose, add some bread crumbs until it comes together. Form patties. Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet sprayed with oil. Refrigerate for about an hour before cooking. You can place directly into a preheated to 350* F/170*C oven for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned and releasing a mouth-watering smell. Or you can fry the individual patties in 2-4 TBSP olive oil for a crispier outside. Serve plain, hot or cold or with a dollop of tsatsiki

ISRAELI TSATSIKI DIP

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup goat yogurt or goat labaneh
  • 1 cucumber, chopped, peel and all
  • 2 TBSP fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 TBSP fresh chives, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil, good quality

In a medium bowl, add the yogurt or labaneh, and the chopped cucumber – no need to peel. Mix together. Add the chopped herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well. Drizzle over the top with the olive oil. Serve chilled.

The next recipe served my husband and myself as an entire meal. We were so stuffed, there was no need for anything else, and we still had half a squash leftover. We ate the leftovers as a side dish with the next couple dairy meals. I had bought what I thought was a spaghetti squash at the market, but it didn’t act like one when I roasted it. It was some sort of very rich, flavorful and nutty squash – there are just so many different heirloom varieties of gourds here! The end result was still amazing, but I’m calling for a spaghetti squash in this recipe. Butternut would probably work well, too. Also, the word KHOO-moos (spelled humus, is the whole garbanzo bean, not just the spread).

STUFFED SQUASH, MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE

Ingredients:

  • 1 large spaghetti (or butternut squash)
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup greens (spinach, chard, beet greens, mangold or orach)
  • 1 medium lemon, rind grated and set aside; squeezed, pips removed
  • 1 can (1 cup) humus (chickpeas), drained
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 1 cup crumbled feta or bulgarit cheese

Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the top. Place on a foil lined baking sheet, and cover lightly with foil. roast in oven for about a half an hour or until the squash is fork tender. Remove from oven.

Take out the seeds and discard. Remove the pulp, placing it in a large bowl. Keep the squash shells to the side. Fluff up the pulp or break into small pieces using a fork. Meanwhile peel and slice the shallots. Heat a TBSP olive oil in a pan and when oil is shimmery, add the shallot and garlic. When they become translucent, add in the greens and cook over medium heat until just wilted. Stir in the chili flakes. Pour mixture into the bowl with the squash. Add the drained chickpeas and the crumbled cheese bits, Salt and pepper. Mix gently. Spoon the mixture back into the shells of the squash. Reheat in a 350* F/170* C oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese slightly. You can add a bit of chopped Italian parsley or celery leaf as a garnish-

The last recipe is for a breakfast or dessert cake. We all love coffee cake, but this is a bit different. I wanted something healthier, something that paid homage to the diversity of the people of Israel. The Ashkenaz coffee cake with a streusel topping takes on a new life with some surprising additions. I decided to use the sweet Middle Eastern sesame candy, Halva, and some surprising spice combinations. Because Turkish coffee is a staple here, I added in some of that too. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out. Seriously. I’m really interested in how you like it!

Tamar’s Israeli Coffee Cake (dairy, serves 12)

Ingredients: (Cake)

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 gluten free mix and loved it!!!!)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 230 grams (1 cup) room temperature butter (it should be very, very soft)
  • 1 cup coconut sugar (you can use white cane sugar, but the coconut sugar is low-glycemic and adds a more “Israeli” taste)
  • 1 cup silan (date syrup) or 1 cup light brown sugar if you can’t find silan
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups (goat) yogurt
  • 1 cup milk (I used fresh goat milk, but you can use regular cow milk)

Ingredients: Streusel for swirl and topping

  • 1 cup chopped walnut pieces
  • 1 cup chopped pecan pieces
  • 2 cups crumbled halva candy
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 2 TBSP espresso powder (or Turkish coffee powder with cardamom)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Baharat Spice Blend…. I use this a lot in many dishes. Here it’s used to flavor ground meat (kabobim) and in veggies and soups; but I use it in baking and also mixed in with my coffee grounds to make a flavorful brew. You’ll need 2 heaping TBSP for this recipe, but save some for other dishes. Baharat is a very common spice here found in Syrian, Lebanese and Turkish dishes. It’s versatile and adds a depth of flavor that is unparalleled.

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika

First make the streusel by chopping the nuts in a food processor until you have small bits (it should NOT be powdery). In a medium bowl, mix together the nuts, the crumbled halva, coffee powder, sugar, salt and 2 TBSP of the Baharat spice blend. Mix together well. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350*F/170*C. Grease a large pyrex baking pan. Place baking parchment to cover so that the edges overhang the sides of the pan. Grease the parchment with a cooking oil spray. Set aside. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture. Add in the yogurt and the silan, mixing well and scraping down sides of bowl as you go. (I use a hand mixer). Alternately add about a third of the flour mixture, continually beating the batter, and the milk. Then more flour, and more milk. Keep beating until the batter is smooth and thick. Drop the batter by spoonfuls into the parchment lined baking dish. spoon about half the streusel mixture onto the top. Then with a fork or a butter knife, swirl the streusel into the batter. Spoon the rest of the streusel over the batter and spread out to cover. Bake the cake about 40 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean. Remove and let cool 15 minutes before slicing into squares. My husband puts a small slab of butter on the top, and microwaves his cake for 12 seconds so the butter melts into the streusel. He then sprinkles a little cinnamon sugar on the top. I dollop a spoonful of yogurt over the top of mine for a creamy contrast. It’s so so yummy!

Refreshing Israeli Salads!!

Now that spring is here with warmer weather and the wonderful Israeli holidays – tomorrow we will celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day, and our Muslim neighbors just started Ramadan, so fireworks and festivities and lots and lots of terrific food will abound. Just last week, we went on a field trip to the south with a great friend. On the way home, we stopped at a lovely Israeli restaurant in Beit Shean, and were treated to a glorious feast, which is completely typical of these little home-style eateries. Before we even received our menu, 18 small bowls of salads were brought out with the fluffiest, cloud-like pita. The dishes included smoked eggplant dip like a babaganoush; humus with olive oil and zata’ar; a spicy sliced carrot salad with hot peppers; corn salad with chives and dill and bell peppers in a simple vinegar; a cabbage salad with corn, dill, chopped pickle and a spiced mayo; bulgur salad; tuna salad; chopped tomatoes and cucumbers lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil; and tons of other savory salads. It’s absolutely amazing!

When we received our menus, the staff brought out four large green salads: a fattoush that was out of this world with fresh picked field greens (and I do mean seasonal wild greens from the field like arugula and dandelion and cress and mustards!); a parsley salad that I could eat all day long; a spinach salad; and a slightly grilled Arabic lettuce (Romaine) salad that was sprinkled with lemon and oil. Oh my goodness…. what else could one possibly eat after all that? We ordered a big plate of veggies on the grill drizzled with Ethiopian tehineh and a huge bowl of mejaddara, which is rice with lentils and fried onions and Middle Eastern spices. Plus they brought out fresh olives, a dish of hot mushrooms in a sweet sauce, and about five other things I couldn’t even taste. We were all so stuffed!!! Just roll us out. Please!!!!

So I’ve been busy in the past few weeks fixing a perfecting some “typical” Middle Eastern/Israeli salads to share with you. I do hope you’ll enjoy! we picked up the first fresh figs of the season, so my first is a fig salad with bulgur. I do hope you can find bulgur where you live, if you are reading this outside Israel. It should be available in the rice or grain section in larger groceries and specialty stores. Basically, it’s a parboiled cracked wheat that can be used straight from the bag or soaked in hot water to soften.

BULGUR SALAD WITH FRESH FIGS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup uncooked bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 8-10 fresh figs, washed, halved
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese or feta

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to coat bottom and add bulgur. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly nutty and golden. Add 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer until liquid is absorbed. Place shallots in a small bowl and cover with water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain. Combine remaining 1 1/2 TBSP oil, chopped shallots, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. In a large salad bowl place bulgur, half of oil mixture, parsley, and walnuts. stir to combine. Top with figs, cheese and a few parsley sprigs. Drizzle with remaining oil mixture. Serve warm or cold.

FRESH PARSLEY SALAD WITH A CRUNCH

So easy to prepare!!!! Just chop fine 2 large washed bunches of fresh parsley. Add 1/4 cup green onions, chopped fine. In a medium bowl, combine

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup sultanas or golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup peanuts, crushed or chopped very fine

Scatter this on the top of the salad and drizzle the smallest amount of canola or extra version olive oil on top. That’s it. Simple. Delish! Healthy! Vegan.

VERY ISRAELI FRUITED CAULIFLOWER BULGAR SALAD

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium large head of cauliflower
  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, squeezed, pits removed
  • drizzle extra virgin olive oil
  • tehineh (if a paste, mix with a little warm water to form thick sauce)

Pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until it resembles rice. Soak the bulgur in very hot water for about 15 -25 minutes to soften. Drain. Chop the parsley into a very fine dice, stems and all. In a large bowl, mix cauliflower, parsley, bulgur, dried fruit and nuts. Pour the lemon juice and drizzle the olive oil over the top. Season with a little sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Place a large serving spoon full of the salad onto a plate. Adjacent to the salad, you a little tehineh. Mix together to eat. This is absolutely fresh and fabulous. High in fiber. Vegan.

FATTOUSH SALAD

This salad is light and easy, healthy and satisfying. a great spring or summer lunch or side salad. I add shredded feta (I buy a block of feta and hand grate it over the salad) to serve as a dairy lunch. You can keep it vegan or serve it as an appetizer or side salad and omit the cheese.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 large cucumbers
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1 small red/purple onion
  • 1 small yellow or orange bell pepper
  • 1 cup toasted pita chips
  • sea salt, pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon, squeezed
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 TBSP zata’ar
  • 2 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup shredded feta (or mozzarella)

In a large bowl, cut the veggies into bite-sized chunks. toss with lemon juice, oil and seasonings. The zata’ar is a spice that can be found in larger groceries, specialty or MidEast markets. It’s tasted wild thyme/oregano that is ground with sumac, salt and toasted sesame seeds. Toss the pita chips on top along with the grated cheese. sprinkle a little more zata’ar on the top.

Also, this is fresh garlic season here in Israel. I love this time of year. This year, I bought 100 bulbs of garlic. I braided 60 and have them hanging up and drying downstairs in the laundry/utility room. and I’ve experimented with the others. Peeling the fresh bulbs, I submerged a bunch in fresh olive oil. Those are in my fridge, soaking up the flavors for a month to be used in salads. With 5 peeled bulbs, I submerged them in a jar of olive oil with fresh cilantro and lemon slices. I took 8 bulbs, cut off the tops and roasted them in a low-oven for a couple hours. Those I will spread on breads. And then I pickled a bunch of the freshly-peeled cloves, by placing them in a Mason jar of red wine vinegar with pickling spices and sea salt. After these cure, I will use them as a side to cheese platters and to chop into salads (tuna, salmon salad) and stuff into olives.

Honey and Wine

Israel is a country that never ceases to surprise us. Last week was khol ha mo’ed, the intermediate days of the Passover holiday. It’s a time for hikes, picnics, barbecues, visits to friends, and tiyuulim, which is basically day-tripping. On the recommendation of a couple friends, John and I decided to visit a fairly local winery. Our friends had been raving about their rosé and white wines, so we set out for Jezreel Winery on the small moshav at Hannaton. Oh my goodness, it was packed!! Every picnic table was taken and all outdoor cafe and bistro seating was occupied. The sommelier told us there would be table service for the tasting of all their wines which included a cheese platter, but the wait could be up to three hours. We decided to return another less crowded week, and instead go somewhere else.

It was a beautiful day, the winter storms over, and every hill and roadside field was awash in a rainbow of floral colors. A great day for a ride. We were minutes away from another favorite haunt: the tiny moshav of Alonei haGalil (Galilee Oaks). On the road to my favorite antiques shop, I remember seeing a small, hand-painted sign for another local winery. And this is where the story gets good. We pulled off the single lane ‘main road’ onto a little dirt path and there it was! It had a very familiar fell to it: homey and reminiscent of my childhood in the southern United States. Under a large spreading oak tree was a log cabin! More like an old tobacco curing shack, the the of which used to dot the fields of rural Virginia/North Carolina. Not something one would expect to find in the lower Galilee of Israel. It was the tasting room of Meshek Ofir Wines.

As soon as we entered, I knew right then and there I’d found my new Happy Place. The tasting room was warm, cozy and inviting, and the young sommeliers spoke both English and Hebrew fluently. Besides a nice selection of wine, it was also the tasting room for all their local honey. Tamar, our hostess for the morning, ushered to a porch table under the oak canopy and brought us a flight of six wines to try – all generous amounts – and a gorgeous cheese platter featuring a selection of local goat cheeses, labaneh, pestos, tapenade, fresh veggies, nuts, dates, and because it was Passover, matzah.

There were only two other couples there. Meshek Ofir is a tiny, family-run business that is not well known yet. Their wines are not sold in stores, and they do not market widely. Anyway, as we were enjoying this delightful picnic, a beautiful young woman joined us ( I had mentioned I wanted to find out more about the history of this place for a possible article). Adva is the daughter of the owners. And she began the only-in-Israel story of her family, their history, and the log cabin.

Tzvika Ofir came from a family of beekeepers at Hogla, a small farming kibbutz between Hadera and Netanya. After his IDF service, he met Hadas, a lovely woman from another agricultural moshav. They fell in love and got married. After traveling the world for a year, they returned to Israel and made a home at a newly-started moshav, Alonei haGalil. The newlyweds started beekeeping in 1984 with a few hives from his father, Yishai, getting their own license to be honey farmers (which is now a closed profession here0. It’s one of Tzvika’s passions, and is a win-win endeavor for the farmer as well as the beekeeper. He gets up at 4 a.m. to care for the hives: he now has over 800, collecting the honey and moving the bee boxes to different locations throughout Israel. He smokes out the bees to keep them drowsy and transports the hives in his truck to different fields and orchards. His bees are the pollinators for the different plants, and depending on the flower, the honeybees produce different flavors of the liquid gold.

It’s now the end of citrus season, and soon the mango and avocado trees will be in full bloom. Tzvika’s honeybees produce the most amazing honeys I’ve ever heard of – besides clover and meadow flower, there is sunflower, pumpkin, watermelon, forest fruits, carob, squash blossom, and cotton blossom honey. All are organic and unique to the area, different in color, viscosity and taste – and all are absolutely delicious! And that jujube (Christ’s Thorns Bush) honey is hands down the most different and the best honey I’ve tasted. So I bought a couple jars. They are all so reasonably priced. But I’m skipping ahead….

Having apiaries was Tzvika Ofir’s main love and means of financial stability, but he wanted something new. In 1986 he began to deepen his roots, planting his first vineyard the day Adva was born. Shortly thereafter, two sons and another daughter arrived on the scene. As the family grew, so did the vineyards. Tzvika’s grapes were sold to larger wineries like Recanati, Kassel and other more famous Israeli wineries. The vintners absolutely loved the high quality of his grapes. after ten years, what started as a hobby, took on a new life as he decided to try his hand at making his own wines.

In 1999, Yiftachel Winery was established, bring the story full circle. You see, in this exact area in Israel, archaeologists have uncovered ancient Jewish settlements and villages, each with winepresses, dating from the first century, BCE. Taking on a professional vintner, Kobi Toch, and studying viticulture himself, Tzvika now produces 10,000 bottles a year under his own label (at first Yiftachel Wines, now Meshek Ofir). It is truly a boutique family winery. All four children, now grown, work in the fields with the vines and the bees, and also in the production and marketing end.

All of the wines we tasted were surprisingly good. Adva explained to us that the Sangiovese grape was native to the Jezreel Valley here in Israel. The Romans loved it so much (going back 2000 years), that they took vines back to the Chianti region of Italy, but it was originally an ancient Israeli plant, that grows well here. It’s a big, jammy wine, with a full body and fruity nose. Redolent of chocolate, cherry, and oak, we bought several bottles. Their unique “Marselan” wine is a red blend of Cabernet and Grenache. Aged in American oak barrels, it has a nose of berries, plum, and hints of sage. This is a lighter wine with a nice finish. It pairs perfectly with cheeses and lighter fare like pasta, and makes an excellent sitting-on-the-porch sipping wine. We bought several more of these. John and I sampled the Rosanne ’20, a grassy, citrusy, medium dry white. Also as part of the flight were their Shiraz ’16 and Merlot ’14. But for us, the star of the show was “Deep.” a dark, deep, full-bodied red. the nose has hints of violets!!!! With a rich mouth of berry and cherry and no unpleasant tannic aftertaste. This smooth wine pairs with meats and heartier foods, and it was, by far, our favorite. An amazing wine at a great price. So we bought a case-

Now, about that cabin: Adva was happy to tell us the wild story. It was, in fact, a transplant here. It’s named “Biktat Alan” or Alan’s Cabin. Alan Radley, a nice Jewish boy from the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia, came over to Israel as a Lone Soldier in 1973. He fought during the Yom Kippur War, and afterwards lived on a kibbutz where he made friends with Tzvika Ofir. Besides his love of Israel, he loved building log cabins. Upon his return to the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, he bought an old circa 1840 tobacco shack from a Scottish woman. It was in terrible disrepair, but had potential. Radley had it disassembled and the wood shipped to Israel in 1992. The logs were stored at Tzvika’s meshek (farm). After sitting there idle for a decade, Tzvika offered to buy it from Alan and build the visitor center. He contacted Radley, and for the price of a plane ticket and room and board at the moshav, Alan flew out. With the help of Tzvika and two other friends, had the main frame put together in one day. The logs are all locked together without nails just like Lincoln Logs. By 2004, the panels had been mudded in, windows added, roof put up and an oak plank floor installed. And almost as if it was planned – in Hebrew, alon translates to oak tree. So this oak cabin now sits in Galilee Oaks – thanks to Alan.

Tzvika Ofir, left, sitting with two friends & Alan Radley, right

Everything about this place is a labor of love. Aside from the great atmosphere, excellent service, and top-quality products, their prices are more than reasonable. It’s truly a small family business without pretension. Unlike many of the chi-chi boutique wineries here, Meshek Ofir is a gem and a real bargain. Plus, they offer club membership with a 10% discount on each case. Every Thursday evening Alonei haGalil hosts a local farmer’s market/shuk. The farmers bring their produce fresh-picked from the fields, all organic. There are also artisan cheeses from dairies in the North and artisanal breads as well. Before all the pandemic craziness, Ofir Family Farms hosted regular festivals throughout the year celebrating both the honey and the wine with live music on their sprawling grounds under the oak trees. Hopefully, these fun events will resume later in the summer. Until then, we just can’t wait to return.

Time for a Bit of Fun!!

Oh my goodness! Between elections, lockdowns, Green Passports, ankle bracelets for quarantines, and the news cycle in general – it’s time for a bit of fun. Actually, as a semi-new immigrant in a foreign land, there’s lots that can make you completely crazy – or absolutely uproarious. We choose to take the “let’s just laugh at it all and make fun of everything” route. So – let’s go!!

Let’s start with driving. Israeli style. Hold on to your seatbelts, because the lines on the roads (Israeli’s say “lane” for line and “line” for lane, so THAT’s always confusing!) – those lanes/lines painted in the middle and on the sides – well, they are put there as a subtle suggestion. We live way up North, in the perifery, where many of the highways are still one-lane in each direction. So imagine driving on this two-lane road, winding your way up a mountain. And you get behind a very large truck hauling a tank. Yes. A ginormous army tank. No biggie. Common occurrence. It’s very slow, but it gives you a chance to take in the scenery.

The cars behind you start honking like mad. This too, is a very common occurrence. Israelis talk with their horns: whether it’s to tell you that the light is about to turn green; to speed up because ‘I’m in my line/lane getting ktsat impatient’; or just to say shalom – the horn is there for communication. All the time. So the car behind that’s honking decides he’s had enough and creates a third line/lane right down the middle. The tank pulls waaaaay over to the side. You’re plotzing as you watch the oncoming car get waaaaaaay over without slowing down, and the new middle line/lane takes shape. Yikes!!!

So last week, for some weird reason (I think John did a California Roll instead of coming to a full stop), a cop pulled us over. Of course, at this point we are very nice and speak only English. Despite the policeman’s attempt at communicating in Hebrew, we understand NOTHING (wink, wink). So he switches to very broken English. And it happened again: “You need for me lessons,” he says. “Why do we need lessons? What’s wrong?” John asks. “You give for me lessons.” I’m trying really hard not to crack up. John responds, “I took lessons already.” “No. Your lessons. I not took your lessons.Take from me your lessons.” At this point, I interject -“OH!!! You must mean license!!!! Honey, the policeman wants your LICENSE.” He says, “Yes. Yes. Your lie-sense.” After minutes of back and forth, it’s pretty obvious he’s getting nowhere and lets us off the hook. Still – you had to be there. The whole thing was a complete comedy routine.

Parking: if you thought the rest of the Western world was bad in their parking abilities, then you’ve never been to the MidEast. Welcome. There are never enough parking spaces. This country was designed for only a few cars. Small cars. Miniature cars. So parking over the lanes/lines is just a thing. You’ll see cars half-on/half-off the sidewalks. You’ll see cars parked in places one would never dream of parking anywhere else. A few weeks ago, I went to the supermarket. And when I came out, this was my predicament. I had no idea who the wiseguy was (notice he pulled his side mirror in, a sign he does this shtick regularly). All I could do was shout “Un-be LEEEVE-able!!” five times – and take a picture. (I just notice: I am on the lane/line. Oops)

So I climbed around the other side. Speaking of climbing on/out, I’ve never before been to a country where the following happens: I’m driving on the highway…..the big one, Kveesh Shesh…. the one with three lines/lanes in each direction. And there’s a bus right in front of me that decides it’s time to slow down and then stop right in the middle of line/lane one. And a bunch of Ultra-Orthodox Jews hop off the bus. A whole bunch. Why? Because it’s time for afternoon prayers. And when it’s time, it’s time. So they hop off the bus and line/leyn (sorry, if you’re Jewish – pun intended) up on the side of the road, and in back of the bus, and whip out their prayerbooks and start to sway back and forth in prayer. With cars speeding by in lines/lanes two and three. Then they get back on the bus, as the cars behind me create a fourth line/lane, and drive around the bus blocking up traffic. It’s actually kinda fun to watch. Then there’s the Muslim contingents who stop, whip out their prayer rugs and pray on the side of the road. And it’s not at all uncommon to see the Arab contingent parked on the side of the road, taking a break under a tree. Because when it’s time for coffee and hookah…. they whip out their plastic lawn chairs, bring out the porto-hookah and mini camp stove to make Turkish coffee and take a break. Would I lie to you???

There’s one picture I just refuse to take. Something that totally drives me mishuggah. The men. Yup. The Middle Eastern men. They have this thing about stopping the car to jump out and walk over to the side of the road. They then proceed to whip out… well, you can only guess. ALL THE TIME!!!!! Watch the Seinfeld ‘Uromysetisis’ episode. It’s absolutely ubiquitous here. Un-be-leeeeeeve-able! And while we’re on driving, the road signs can be quite amusing. For one thing: Hebrew uses completely different letters than English, so all the English words are merely transliterations which can be spelled many different ways – like Tsfat/Zefat/Tzfat/Safed or Akko/Aco/Acre. Can be a bit confusing for the uninformed. And the Hebrew signs! This one, for the city of Bnei Brak, an extremely ultra-Orthodox place, announces that the entire freeway ramp leading into the city is blocked off from Friday afternoon- Saturday night because you ain’t gonna drive in this town on Shabbat – or holidays. So we’re just gonna shut it all down. So there!

This is a cool one: the place on the road sign reads “Ma’aynei HaYeshua” which means Springs of Salvation.

Religion here is a pretty thing. Taken quite seriously. So to see semis on the freeway with “Ayn ode milvado” in Hebrew, which means “There’s no other but Him” on the mudflaps is actually nicer than the naked girl on the flaps of American trucks. Yes, I’ve seen Scripture verses on the windows, verses that remind me to refrain from gossip “Lo lishon harah” which is a good thing for me to keep in mind. The city buses will even have Scripture and Shabbat or holiday greetings. Speaking of Shabbat, check out this guy. He reminds us “Keeping the Sabbath is a source of blessings.” Also nice.

This one is seriously funny. We see it in the Golan and it cracks us up every single time. It tells us not to enter the military training ground. Live fire. Feathers???? Obviously, someone needs spellcheck! Oh, and the deer – it’s not a hunting area. It’s the symbol of the Northern Command. No animals harmed here.

We don’t live too far away from the Jordan River. For the Christian tourists, it’s a holy place reserved for baptisms. For the Jewish contingent, it’s a great place to go river rafting and canoeing. There’s this great place for canoeing called Rob Roy. But their logo is a bit of a mixed metaphor. It’s the Jordan. Right? The JORDAN!!! And their logo features a Native American, because we all know Native Americans travel exclusively by canoe. And Rob Roy??? A Scottish highwayman who lived in the 1600s? I just don’t know about that one…

Back to driving with another example of terrible Israeli drivers. We had to follow this guy and snap a photo. What makes it so uproarious is that it’s the test car for someone who is trying to get their driver’s lessons. He was backing into a parking spot and totally hit a pole and tore off the back bumper, crumpling up the trunk. We think he needs more license!

O.K.This next one’s pretty funny. They built a new home here in Karmi’el. A beautiful, expensive, multi-million shekel home. But the builder made a very big mistake. He didn’t measure the owner’s car before he built the garage, which is just a few centimeters too short for the intended vehicle. Gotta get a photo of this one!

The next one is cute: in the neighborhood near ours, the women obviously take pride in their bus stop. For Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, they decorate it with a bamboo stalk roof, and palm branches and decorations. They have a light-up menorah and hanging decorations at Chanukah. Here it is in the summertime with framed prints of artwork. Community beautification. I love it!

I think the same group of ladies who decorate the bus stop are the ones who take care of the cats. Let me back up. In Israel, we don’t have squirrels roaming all over the place. We have cats. Feral cats. Lots of them. They are absolutely everywhere. Maybe that’s why we don’t have huge rodent problems…or squirrels? So these ladies (I’ve never actually caught them in the act, and I think all the old ladies in Israel do this…) leave out food for the cats. On paper plates. In foil pans. In empty plastic ice cream containers. Cans of cat food. Handfulls of kibble. Huge pieces of schnitzel, potatoes, green beans, couscous. Fish tails. Fish heads. Meatballs. Seriously. Go for a walk after dinner on a Friday night, and see what the kitties are feasting on. Not only that, but in the more upscale neighborhood, there are special kitty feeding stations for cats of privilege.

Heaven forbid, anyone should ever go hungry here! With all the Jewish mothers around…. and the cathouses. Yup you read that one correctly. Cat Houses. They are set up in the winter. Everywhere. In the parks. Under bushes. Behind rocks. With blankets. And pillows. And. of course, food. So they stay dry and warm. Everywhere. Because heaven forbid, a kitty should not be cold and wet. I kid you not. This is the WEIRDEST place!!!! We love it!!!!

Grocery shopping is always an adventure here, too. For one thing, to get the agahLAH, grocery cart, you have to put a coin in the slot to unchain it. It took a very long time, and a continually upset husband, for me to realize that the “nickel,” the five shekel coin that’s the same size as a US nickel…. (well it’s actually worth about $1.50) needs to be retrieved from the slot at the end of the shopping trip. And you never know what you’ll find at the store here. We’re always on the lookout for hard-to-come-by American imports, and like the typical freiers that we are, have been known to pay $12 for a box of Poptarts (I never ate them in the States, but hey…. nostalgia kicks in) or $9 for a teeny can of albacore tuna. And when you see that product (Brillo, mandarin oranges in a can, Brianna’s salad dressing, molasses, Crisco), you buy it all, because you’ve learned it’s a fluke and you’ll never see it again. Then there’s the fake news of American products which are usually made in Lithuania or Botswana or Upper Korindia. Beware!!

Some things are really fun. Like the Bazooka flavored milk. Israelis love Bazooka. Gum. Milk. Ice cream. Bazooka cakes. We have hot dog buns imprinted with fun slogans like “Summer’s here” and “Time for some Fun.” And the ever-interesting Russian cans of ???? The CIF jug is always my favorite. I have absolutely no idea what it is: laundry or dishwasher detergent? Floor cleaner? Windows? Toilets? Radiator fluid? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s the yellow jug below. But what makes this ultra hysterical (and I mean HYSTERICAL) for us is that Hebrew name. Hebrew is a language with no vowels. Your guess is as good as mine. Plus the letter “P” is also an “F” except when it’s at the beginning of the word, in which case it’s a “P” except for weird exceptions. So when we see that bright yellow jug, we ALWAYS shake our heads and say “Pants steak?????” But if you look closely, it actually reads “Fantastic!” as is fahn-TAH-steeeek. Every. Single. Time. Pants steak. Gotta love it!

Another fun thing you won’t see too often outside of Israel is this: An every day sight here:

It actually makes us feel really safe knowing there are always soldiers around (he’s probably an American lone soldier. He has a jar of Skippy. Maybe I should invite him over for Shabbat dinner?) I also took a picture of the t-shirt another gentleman in the next line/lane was wearing. He wasn’t American. I have this sneaking suspicion…

OR this one: 2021- the year spelling turned deadly –

We really haven’t gone to restaurants for over a year now, but here are a couple mis-spells to make you scratch your head:

If anyone knows what pettrejane is, please let us know. In the meantime, al snarkiness intent ended. The small salad is exactly as it sounds. Just that. A small salad. And don’t you dare ask for dressing!

Tu b’ Shvat: Fruits and Nuts Galore!

We’re smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season here in Israel. Our summers are hot and dry and much like Southern California, things go from golden brown to crispy rather quickly. We start praying for the early and late rains at the holiday of Sukkot, usually in late October. And we are rarely disappointed! We always get at least a sprinkle. The real rains come in November/December, and if we are fortunate, last until the Passover holiday in April. The hills and mountains and fields come alive again, and Israel begins to look more like Ireland, clothed in her beautiful bright green suit.

Tu b’Shvat is a non-Biblical, minor festival celebrated in January/February (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) – the beginning of the agricultural cycle. In Biblical times, worshippers would bring their offerings of fruit to the Temple. Because the ground is now soft and pliant after soaking up all the rain, it is an optimal time for planting trees, hence the New Year for Trees (we were the first to commemorate an Arbor day or Earth Day). According to the ancient Jewish sages, from this day the fruits begin to flourish revealing their true potential, so these mystics and writers of the Talmud created a new tradition. These sages (in the mountain city of Tsfat, right up the road from us) created a Tu b’Shvat seder, a meal with a set order, much like a Passover seder. Fruits and grains associated with the Land of Israel are consumed along with special prayers and readings – and, of course, four cups of wine from white to rosé to red.

The Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) and Sephardic (Spanish) Jews celebrated this feast heartily from the Renaissance until modern day. For Ashkenazi (European) like me – well, not so much. In the depths of winter, when the ground is hard and frozen, who can plant? And who is eating fresh fruit? Tu b’Shvat was always a minor, minor, rather forgettable day, marked by sending money to the JNF to plant trees in the Holy Land in remembrance of a loved one. Living here in Israel has changed my mindset.

For one thing, it’s a time when all the citrus fruits are exploding off the trees. We are blessed to be renting a home with amazingly productive lemon, pomelo, grapefruit, mandarin and clementine trees, and I’ve been picking and preserving for weeks now! (Recipes to follow!!!) Between rainstorms, we go walking in the neighborhood park (that’s about as far as we’re allowed under lockdown) where I’ve been foraging for wild asparagus. Asparagus in the store is super expensive, with a small bunch running upwards of $12.00 for a tiny bunch. So this is the one time of year when we can totally enjoy roasted asparagus with a little olive oil and some grated lemon rind. I harvested enough to make a cream of asparagus soup last week.

We also have the most wonderful, huge concrete planters outside each window. I have each planter filled with different edible delights: kitchen herbs; edible flowers like rose geranium and lavender; and two garden boxes filled with different types of lettuces, which are going gangbusters right now. My husband’s favorite winter green is mâche (pronounced mosh) which I used to grow in my California garden. I brought the seeds with me when we moved. It has a light, sweet, slightly nutty flavor and is great in the salad below. I picked a pomelo off our tree, and assembled the ingredients for the whole thing in less than ten minutes. So here are a few recipes using our local produce to enjoy for Tu b”Shvat:

Mache Salad with Pomelo (serves 4)

Ingredients:

~ 2 cups washed macho leaves ~ 1 large pomelo, peeled, seeded and segmented with pith removed ~ 1/3 cup bleu cheese crumbles ~ 1/4 cup roasted, salted pecan halves ~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the best you can get) ~ 1 Tbsp dijon mustard ~ sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Wash and dry the mache leaves (you might have to separate the little root) and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle the crumbled bleu cheese on top. Arrange half of the pomelo segments on top of the salad. Sprinkle with pecans. Just before serving, our the dressing over. This is so fresh and delicious, I could eat it all day!

Dressing: Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the pomelo. Place in a small mixing bowl. Add the dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk until a creamy emulsion is reached and pour over the salad.

My grandmother and aunts (from the Polish/Ukrainian shtetl) had the tradition of making the most luxurious eingemacht. They used to serve it during the winter months through the Passover holidays. Eingemacht is a Yiddish word for which there is no real translation. It’s kind of a cross between a chutney and a a preserve or conserve often made with dried fruits (available in the winter) and root veggies like carrots and beets and onions, simmered in honey and spices. Sometimes it would have nuts added in as well. Bubbe used to serve it on warm challah bread, and would use it to fill rugelach, the hamentaschen pastry for the Purim holiday, or spread over matzoh brie (a matzoh and egg frittata). I remember she always had a large crystal jar filled with eingemacht on the table. This is my version-

Eingemacht (makes about 4 pint jars) pareve

Ingredients: ~ 1 pound apples, peeled. cored and chopped ~ 2 cups dried apricots, chopped ~ 2 large brown onions, chopped ~ 1/2 cup brown raisins ~ 1/2 cup large yellow raisins ~ 1 large red bell pepper, chopped ~ 1 cup apple cider vinegar ~ 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar ~ 2 cups honey ~ 2 cinnamon sticks ~ 3-4 garlic cloves, minced ~ 1 tsp each, ground cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger ~ (optional) 1 small red chile or 1/2 tsp dried hot, red pepper flakes ~ 1 orange, rind grated, juice squeezed

Put all the above ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed pot or stainless steel saucepan. (I love my LaCreuset dutch oven for this). Slowly, over medium-high stove, bring to a boil, stirring to mix thoroughly. Let boil for about five minutes, then reduce heat to a low flame. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, on low for about 2 hours, or until a wooden spoon drawn across the base of the pot leaves a thick trail. Make sure to stir so that the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. It should begin to thicken and look glossy. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal. You can then process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Keeps 1 year in pantry. Refrigerate after opening.

Lemon Curd (makes 3 half-pint jars with some left over) dairy

I’ve played around with this recipe until I’ve come up with a smooth, creamy, lemony sweet spread that we love on warm scones or with challah. I mix it into my goat milk yogurt in the morning and top it all off with a teaspoon of halvah granola for crunch. I’ve also whipped up a fancy and easy dessert that looks like you’ve been slaving in the kitchen, but is simple to make, light and elegant – all I do is buy pre-made tart shells, spoon a tablespoon of the lemon curd in, and top with whipped cream and a mint leaf. It’s also wonderful on the Passover or Easter brunch table.

Ingredients: ~ 4 large lemons, scrubbed and dried ~ 6 eggs, beaten ~ 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, diced ~ 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

Finely grate the lemon rind and squeeze out all the juice, straining to remove pips. Place the rind (about 4 TBSP) and juice (about 1 1/3 cups) in a heatproof bowl (I use a pyrex bowl) which fits over a saucepan. Stir in the eggs, and add in the butter pieces and the sugar. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy and coats the back of a spoon. Spoon into hat, sterilized jars. Seal and store in a cool, dark place. Use within three months. Refrigerate after opening.

Just Donut Tempt Me!!!

I’ve been a really, really good girl this entire Chanukah season. I’ve looked, I’ve ogled, I’ve photographed, but I haven’t touched a single donut!!! Until just now. You see, it’s the last bit of Chanukah here in Israel. And the main holiday food is sufganyot (soof-gahn-YOTE), or the filled donut. And my wonderful husband just came back from his errands around town with a Chanukah present: the purple box! Roladin sufganyot!

But first, before I reveal the surprise, let me backtrack. The sufganyot make their appearance right after the Sukkot holiday, typically in October. The ones in the supermarkets are typically more like a dense bread than their light, fluffy and sweet American cousins. Instead of exploding with jelly, they have maybe a scant teaspoon of filling… and frankly, we never shared the excitement over this humble pastry…. until last year, that is.

You see, over the past couple years, Israel has taken the art of the donut to an entirely new level. It’s become a high art form here, culinarily speaking. No longer content with the meager teaspoon of overly sweet, fake raspberry jam, pastry chefs have become more and more creative with flavors like coffee cream, strawberry shortcake, bananas foster, German chocolate, pistachio cream, birthday cake and lemon meringue.

The photos at top left and right are from the Roladin bakery chain. They have their game down. The donuts are light and airy, just the right foundation for the fillings…and toppings…and add-ons. I like that many have squirt tubes filled with chocolate, caramel, coffee, jellies, butters, and creams so you can squeeze in the amount of deliciousness you want inside your pastry. Some donuts are a mere platform for the bananas and caramel custard (bananas foster); chocolate ganache and marshmallows, topped with a layer of donut and finished off with caramel sauce (S’mores); whipped cream, fresh raspberries topped with a French macaron.

Feeling a bit more adventurous? Head to Tel Aviv, where sufganyah artistry reaches its crazy peak. In the picture below are three interesting examples: a tad more exotic, from Lehamim Bakery. The first uses etrog, the fragrant citron used on Sukkot. The inside is filled with a citrus custard and bits of citron. Then comes pomegranate, with pomegranate cream, topped with pomegranate arils – more sour than the expected sugar explosion. And a tropical passionfruit-mango version. Simple, and high quality, with a nod to the local produce. I understand their marzipan filled version is to-die-for. They are open 24 hours a day, literally to satisfy your donut dreams.

Boutique Central, with locations throughout the Tel Aviv area offers baked donuts, which are a bit more healthy??? than the normally fried version. Shemo Bakery also has baked sufganyot. Cafe Soho sells vegan varieties – egg and dairy free. With all natural fillings like almond butter and jelly, and tehine and silan (date syrup). They color their dough with beet, carrot and spinach juice (I understand it just imparts color, not taste). I’m really intrigued by the halvah variety, since this sesame paste/ honey candy is my absolute favorite. To have it as the filling for a donut sounds like heaven.

You see, it’s customary to feast on fried foods during the eight days of Chanukah. Mainly because we celebrate the miracle of the oil to light the ancient golden menorah/lampstand in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was only supposed to last one day, but miraculously burned for eight days until new, pure olive oil could be brought in from the Galilee. So the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent make latkes, fried potato pancakes topped with applesauce or sour cream – which are out of this world. The Moroccan Jews eat svenj, a light puffy donut ball which uses goat yogurt as its rising agent (must say, these have become my favorite). Mizrachi Jews from the Middle East eat falafel, fried meats, and jachnoon, a dense rolled-up bread like pastry that is deep fried and covered in a sticky, sugary rose-water syrup.

Shall we go up to Jerusalem, where the Temple was rededicated over 2000 years ago and the Chanukah party is still raging? This year, I’ve heard that the latest fad is the “Abu Dhabi Donut.” The normalization of relations with UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Bhutan and other Muslim countries is our modern-day miracle. Who would have thought peace in the MidEast could ever be a possibility? To honor this new friendship, one bakery, Cafe Kadosh, has been inspired to create a date-filled confection, lightly dusted with sugar and topped with date cream and currants, sultanas, coconut and gold leaf. The dates were shipped to Israel by the local UAE Jewish community. Donuts in Israel usually sell for anywhere from $2.50-5.00 a piece depending upon where in the country you buy them (Tel Aviv – Jerusalem is always much more expensive than the periphery). The Abu Dhabi version goes for 22 shekel, which is about $6.75. And Cafe Kadosh is hard-pressed to keep up with the demand!

More creative varieties I’ve seen this year include plum-cinnamon; apple-vanilla-brandy; and brioche, which I understand is akin to the American “cronut.” The larger cities offer gluten free confections; children’s varieties topped with miniature toy “prizes” and gold foil-wrapped Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins); and one hipster Tel Aviv cafe is selling dognuts …. yup. You read that correctly. Donuts specifically made for your fur-baby in flavors like carrot cream cheese and peanut butter pretzel. There’s something for everyone.

So, what was in my special Chanukah box? Six melt-in-your-mouth balls of deliciousness. We had cookies and cream (Oreo topped); French kiss (raspberry cream with a raspberry syrup syringe, topped with Chambord glaze and a macaron; dark chocolate caramel (can’t wait to try!!); blueberries and whipped cream with a shot of vanilla syrup (I split this one with John. It was as if an angel from heaven floated down and dropped it into my mouth. Another Chanukah miracle??); mocha – also delicious – filled with a coffee cream, topped with dark chocolate ganache and crunchy amaretti; and one other which is white and mysterious that I shall save for breakfast tomorrow. Who can diet during Chanukah? I did my best! I was so good, but then temptation overtook. The diet will have to wait until New Year’s.

To all my readers celebrating Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza and the New Year, keep safe, keep the faith, be healthy, be happy, be holy. Spread love and light. And may 2021 shape up to be far better than the past year. Oy to the world!!!!