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 Today, in Israel, the Temple Mount has been replaced by the Al Aqsa Mosque, but the mostly agricultural holiday is still celebrated in grand fashion.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)
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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!