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 Today, in Israel, the Temple Mount has been replaced by the Al Aqsa Mosque, but the mostly agricultural holiday is still celebrated in grand fashion.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

Udderly Delicious

Time for the annual Shavuot-in-Israel dairy blog! The holiday where we celebrate eating cheesecake and dairy products (or so it seems) is bearing down hard upon us. Actually, Shavuot is the holiday 50 days after Pesach (Passover), commemorating the end of the barley harvest and beginning of summer, as well as the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai. Because milk is sometimes used as a symbol for the Scriptures (providing us babies spiritual nourishment), we eat lots of dairy and stay up all night studying the Scriptures, reading the book of Ruth, and discussing how bloated we feel after consuming so many milk products. Uuuurrppp -Pass that bowl of whipped cream, please-

It’s also the time when Israelis make their annual pilgrimages to local dairy farms. Goat farms and pasture-fresh goat milk dairies and restaurants are ubiquitous throughout the Galilee region of Northern Israel. All are independent, family-owned and run. Some are Bedouin Arab, some secular Jewish, some following the strictest of Kosher laws. Some offer tours of the cheesemaking process and some have petting zoos attached where little children run around petting the goats and helping with the milking. Each has its own flavor (pun intent ended).

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Galilean goatherd in the wadi below our house

This year I selected two different places, each with their own vibe and each within a fifteen minute drive of home. Due to the easing of the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, all the local roads (many one lane in each direction!) were p’kock and each place jam-packed with locals satisfying their ‘pent-up-for-way-too-long’ and ‘just-let-me-out-in-the-fresh-air’ desires.

Yesterday, my girlfriend, Hadassah, and I decided to take a short morning tiyuul to Kibbutz Shomrat, just across the highway from Akko. (O.K., so we wound up picnicking at nearby Achziv Beach, visiting a distillery, and making new friends at a small kibbutz cafe on the Lebanese border and didn’t get home til after sunset, but we had a blast!!!)

Alto Dairy on Kibbutz Shomrat had been highly recommended as a gourmet Kosher establishment. We found it was a lot more than that. Shomrat has a guesthouse (motel); individual family tzimmerim (lodges); a gourmet restaurant and cafe. It is also the home of the Mazan family’s Alto Dairy. Run by the lively matriarch, Ariel Mazan, she prides herself on the traditional techniques she learned in Europe and the highest standards.

Alto (Italian and Spanish for high, as in their quality) specializes in both hard and soft cheeses made from pasteurized goat milk, which is mild, healthy and easy to digest. They offer over 20 different products including yogurts; two types of bleu cheese; camembert with nuts; camembert in ash; chèvre with herbs or garlic or seeds; salty cheeses; pecorino – all up for tasting. I must admit, this was by far the best dairy I’ve tried here to date. Their Tom cheese is soft and mild, buttery and yet flavorsome. (Even better than the San Francisco, Cowgirl Creamery Tom…. did I just say that????)  I bought a ton. And the goat cheddar -WOW!!!!! Flavor explosion. I bought two tons. And yogurt, and chèvre, and bleu, and halloumi (for sautéing). Their prices were very reasonable, but I wound up spending a small fortune anyway.

Alto has a small cafe-style seating area indoors as well as an adjacent covered-porch sit down restaurant. All the food is beautifully presented and kosher dairy – no meat products are served and they are closed on Shabbat. They offer cheese and wine platters, of course, but their Israeli breakfast is something else. Traditional Israeli dishes with a gourmet twist: stuffed mushrooms with pureed fresh beets and melted cheese; salad with pear, pecan and bleu; roasted eggplant slices on fresh whole-grain sourdough – topped with melted cheeses; a croissant stuffed with wilted spinach and cheese and a perfectly poached egg; shakshuka with lots and lots of cheese; savory quiches; and yogurt parfaits to name just a few items.

The atmosphere is family-friendly, laid-back and very casual with nice views of the farm, fields and coastal plains between Akko and Haifa. You can take a pre-arranged guided tour of the establishment enabling you to learn the entire cheese-making process from udder to shelf. Not only will you learn the nutritional advantages of goat milk and the different types of cheeses, but how to serve and cook with them!

This morning John, Max and I visited a popular hangout for the locals. Located off Route 85 between Karmiel and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), there is a signpost for Ein Camonim, another family-owned goat dairy and restaurant. I first heard about this place from my California-Israeli acupuncturist who was good friends with the Ovrutsky family. Very small world.

Ein Camonim does not have Kosher certification because they are open on Shabbat. Still, it is all natural and dairy only, with a store and adjoining restaurant. They, too, sell a nice variety of hard and semi-soft cheeses as well as goat yogurt. I love their chèvre dipped in volcanic ash and their gouda. The fresh homemade ice cream is to die for creamy, sweet and well-balanced with absolutely no “goaty” taste at all – a hallmark of freshness. It comes in several different flavors and all products are available for take-away.

There is indoor seating in the restaurant as well as dining alfresco under the pine and oak canopy. This place, so typically Israeli, is about as relaxed and mellow and casual as it gets. Jeans, tee shirts, shorts, boots or bare feet – we’ve seen it all. But I’ll save the most interesting surprise for last….

It’s mostly frequented for lazy brunches and long lunches. Yes, there is the requisite cheese platter with local boutique wine pairings, but the Israeli breakfast (not cheap) is simple, fresh food from the local gardens served in huge amounts. Olives picked and cured on site; fresh hummus and simple chopped veggie salads drizzled with fresh olive oil; chavita (kha-vee-TAH) – the flat Galilean omelette, and shakshuka served with fresh warm bread made on the premises. And there’s cheese pizza for the kids. Totally filling. Very plain. Most Israeli.

The part that was so shocking to us the first time we visited, was not just the cats and dogs wandering the premises, visiting the tables. It wasn’t that patrons brought their dogs, who were welcome to loll under the tables, It was the peafowl!!! Peacocks and peahens seem to have the run of this establishment. They wander freely about the tables, inside and outside of both restaurants, occasionally jumping up on the uncleared tables to snatch morsels of food. It’s just part of the charm of the place: it’s a rural, local joint with absolutely no pretenses – and by now we’re used to such… It’s Most Israeli!!!

Have fun eating your cheese this weekend. I’m off to prepare my own cheesecakes and cheese blintz souflée toped with raspberry puree and fresh goat yogurt. Have to put the fridge full of dairy products to use!!!!

To my Jewish friends and family, Happy Shavuot! Chag Shavuot sameach (khag shah-voo-OAT sah-MAY-akh)!!!!! and to my Christian friends and family, Happy Pentacost!!!! And pass me another hunk of brie, please –

The Incredible Israeli Breakfast

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Before I visited Israel for the first time in 2011, I asked an ex-pat Israeli friend what she missed most about her native country. “The breakfasts. Definitely the breakfasts!” was her answer. Was she kidding me or just plain crazy?

Israelis take the most important meal of the day incredibly seriously. If you’ve ever been to Israel (and not stayed at a hostel or pilgrim house), you will know what I mean. I’ll never forget that first morning in Jerusalem’s Dan Panorama Hotel. The breakfast spread was simply overwhelming. Different from anything I’d expected. Delicious!!!! I fell madly in love at first sight, smell and taste. It was so different than anything I’d ever seen. So, what makes this meal so wonderful?

There are several different staple courses. First of all, because of the Kashrut rules (most Jewish people keep Kosher to some degree), the meal is dairy. No meat to be found anywhere at all. No bacon. No ham. No sausage. No meat. Fuhgeddaboudit!

We’ll start with the salad course. There are salads of every kind… not the typical American tossed salad, but chopped fresh vegetables, sprouts, nuts, grains, olives, and eggplant. The national food of this country, found at just about every meal is the Israeli salad: cucumbers and tomatoes diced finely and topped with olive oil, lemon juice, or tehine. There can be cherry tomatoes (did you know they were developed here first?) with cheeses and balsamic vinegar; sprouts with green onions, mushrooms, radishes,  arugula and nuts dressed with olive oil;

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quinoa salad with pomegranate arils, juice, green onions and feta cheese;

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lentil salads; cold eggplant cubes in picante tomato sauce; smoked eggplant with garlic, pureed; carrots in vinaigrette; all types of cabbage salads; anything fresh, colorful and in season cut up and dressed is fair game. Avocado and hard boiled egg with sprouts and walnuts is popular here as are tabbouleh and fattoush. And the beet salads! Don’t get me started-

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An Israeli breakfast is not complete without the dairy, namely wide variety of cheeses: cow, sheep, and especially goat-milk cheeses, both hard and soft. We have whole pieces of gouda, kashkaval, manchego, grana padana at our tables. There are the soft cheeses, like tsahoba (yellow cheese), emmental, and buttery emek cheese. Add to this feta: Tsarfatit and Bulgarit, which is a very salty feta. Cream cheeses; labaneh is a mainstay here – a thick cross between a sour cream and a yogurt, spread on bread, dolloped on salads, on eggs, on veggies and everything in between. A reason I gained so much weight in my first three years here. And yogurt – with fruit, with honey, with nuts, with granola, usually fresh goat yogurt. I eat this every morning. The darned delicious cheeses!

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Fish!!!!! Lots of fish!!!!! Thank the Russians and Eastern Europeans for this course. There is always tuna fish – whipped into a mousse, plain, tuna salad (dark tuna is used – white unavailable here, so if you visit me, bring the Albacore!). Also included are assorted smoked fishes and pickled fishes – whitefish, sable, herring, salmon (lox), to name a few. Pickled herring with onions, herring in cream sauce. Fish. Fish. Fish (It’s not considered meat, so breakfast usually is the time to eat it).

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I certainly hope you’re not full yet, because we are only getting started! Olives of all types (stuffed with almonds, lemon, chiles, garlic) and all colors. Of course humus. Lots and lots of humus and pita. Mix it into your salads (I have humus, cucumber and hard boiled egg chopped small every morning). Humus with a soft egg on top. Humus with gargarim (whole chickpeas), with olive oil and zata’ar spice, hot humus. It’s ubiquitous in Israel. And of course, there’s bread. Wholegrain. Pita. Dark flour breads. Flatbreads. Crackers. Sorry, but you won’t find Wonderbread here no matter how hard you try. There are lakhmaniot (little hand-held buns and breads) of all varieties. Just recently the American-Jewish bagel started making an appearance. The Yememites introduced Jachnoon, a tight roll of filo dough that is deep-fried and soaked in a sugar syrup, usually orange blossom flavored.

You won’t find pancakes or French toast here. Unhuhh. Nope. We have bourekas, another national breakfast food that is also a snack food. The boureka is found on every breakfast buffet, in every grocery store, and in bakeries. There are stores everywhere that sell only bourekas (I have my favorite place. If you come, we’ll go. It was one of the places my daughter, Liz, requested from her last visit, they are just that good!!!). They’re sold by the kilo. So the boureka came to us from Turkey. They are thin, fluffy paper-like filo dough pockets filled with savories like mushroom and onion, cheese, spinach and feta, potato. They come in bite-size and hand-held size. Some fillings are sweet with jams and fruit butters, some have nutella or chocolate centers. A popular variety is the pizza boureka, and they are all best eaten piping hot.

Would you believe, that the rabbinate (board of Chief Rabbis) ruled in 2013 that each type of boureka has to have a pre-determined shaped based on the filling (the triangular are dairy; the square are potato; semi-circles are mushroom; pizza spirals; fruit filled have open patchwork on top)? That way, people would not get confused? Oy va voy! I’m so confused…..

Are you ready for the eggs? Another national dish is shakshuka. There are several different takes on this, but basically it’s a mildly spiced tomato sauce with eggs cracked on top and cooked by the heat of the sauce. Sop it up with that hearty bread. Put a spoonful of white labaneh cheese on top.

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I love chavita (khah vee tah), our version of an omelette. I’ll include the recipe at the end. For those who want breakfast to go, try sabikh. It’s a warm, thick (think eating a cloud) pita stuffed with pieces of boiled potato, grilled eggplant, hard-boiled egg and tehine on top. And pickles. And Israeli salad. Sometimes fries. Serious food for starting the morning. Street food. Great breakfast.

Yes, there are fruits. All seasonal. Melons, fresh dates, figs, stone fruits, pomegranate, mango in the summer. In the winter dried fruits, stewed fruit compotes, citrus and apples. Sweets. Pastries and quick breads and cakes and rugelach. DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT EATING THE HALVAH!!!!!! One of my favorites since I was a kid. Halvah is made of sesame seed paste and honey compressed to form a brick shaped bar of awesomeness. Flavors that are traditional are plain, chocolate, marble, pistachio, and espresso. Now you can get many different flavors (Halvah King, Mechane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem) like chile, passionfruit, whiskey, cherry….there are over 100 varieties!

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I’m sure by now you’re thirsty. Very, very thirsty with all that salty cheese and fish, the humus and the halvah. Every Israeli breakfast comes with freshly squeezed juices. Max likes apple carrot. I prefer the lemon with fresh ground mint over ice or the orange pomegranate. John, well he sticks to plain old orange, which if you’ve ever tasted the Jaffa Orange isn’t so plain, nor is it old. Add tea or coffee. No Starbucks here. The coffee is usually a strong Turkish blend with cardamom. Or have it aufrukh, upside down, a cross between a cappuccino and a latte with lots of foam on top.

From the grand hotels to the small cafes, to the kibbutz or bed and breakfast, this meal is usually a big deal. The kibbutzniks used to work very long, hard days in factories or in the fields, and needed hearty fare to keep them going until the afternoon. Most all of the food was locally sourced, seasonal, and abundant. The Israeli breakfast has become this country’s gift to the culinary world. When people come visit, I serve a big breakfast. It’s how we roll now. Lunch here is a medium sized meal, or is grabbed on-the-go like falafel or shawarma. Many people have their breakfast early and lunch around 1:00-3:00. Shops, clinics, government offices close during the hottest part of the day so people can pick up kids from school, run errands and eat lunch. Dinner is usually a smaller, large snack affair… unless of course, it’s a special occasion.

But if you visit Israel, and I hope you do, make sure you sample Israeli breakfast at several different places. You’ll fall in love and never want to leave. That’s a promise!

 

                             GALILEE CHAVITA (serves 1)

  • 1 large egg, cracked into a bowl and scrambled
  • 2 TBSP raw red/purple onion minced very finely
  • 2 Tbsp assorted fresh herbs, chopped very finely – Parsley, chives, and either thyme, oregano or basil are good.
  • 1 tsp butter or PAM
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a small skillet sprayed with PAM or coated in melted butter. Pour the scrambled egg in and let sizzle. Do not mix!!!! you can tilt the pan a little bit, or move the edge a wee bit with a fork so extra runny egg will cover the pan, but just leave it to bubble and sizzle. Add the chopped onion and herbs all over the top. Turn off the heat and let the herbs and onion sit a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Can be folded in half and served as a sandwich between pita or bread. I like mine plain with a chopped Israeli salad and a ramekin of goat yogurt on the side. (The onions should keep their crunch)

SHAKSHUKA (my favorite recipe is Yotam Ottolenghi’s, serves 4)

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  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 190 ml olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 red & 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs thyme, leaves plucked
  • 2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander/cilantro, chopped
  • 6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt & pepper
  • 8 eggs

In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin seeds on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and two tablespoons of the coriander/cilantro, and cook on high heat to get a nice color. Add the tomatoes, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low heat 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorsome. Break the eggs into the pan (can split into four individual little skillets and crack 2 eggs onto each). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook gently on low for `10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with chunky bread.

 

When I have guests, I usually make this Broccoli Egg Cake, my version of Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower cake (not a cake at all). It keeps well in the fridge and can be enjoyed hot or cold.

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Broccoli Egg Bake  (serves 6-8)

  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1 bunch broccoli
  • 1 red/purple onion
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 7 eggs
  • 120 g/1 cup flour
  • 1/3 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 150 g/ 1 1/2 cups grated gouda cheese
  • 100 g 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 75ml / 5 Tbsp  olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp nigella seeds
  • 1 Tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 180*/400*F.

Cook the broccoli in florets in a large pot of salted boiling water. Simmer for 506 minutes until the broccoli has softened a bit. Strain and run the florets under cold water. Drain well.

Cut 4 round slices off one end of the red onion. Set aside. Chop the rest. Place in a small pan with the rosemary and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, until soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add the chopped basil ribbons, flour, turmeric, salt and pepper. Mix until you have a smooth batter. Fold in the onion and cheeses carefully. Do not overmix! Add the cooled broccoli and fold in thoroughly. Do not break up the florets.

Line the base and sides of a springform pan (9 1/2 inch/ 24 cm) with parchment paper/ baking paper. brush the sides with melted butter. Sprinkle the nigella and sesame seeds on the bottom and sides so they stick to butter. Pour in the broccoli egg batter, spreading evenly. Arrange the onion rings in concentric circles over the top. Place in the center oven rack and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown, puffy, and set. Remove from oven and let cool before releasing from pan.