A TASTE OF ISRAEL
Ask anyone if he or she has any particularly fond culinary memories of a trip to Israel. The respondent will probably not wax with nostalgia about the sushi bars or even the falafel but, rather, the famous Israeli breakfast.
This smorgasbord — whose origins stem from the do-it-yourself kibbutz breakfast of the past — evolved into the 5-star hotel experience many tourists remember fondly and look forward to.
To avoid the hot sun, Israel's pioneer farmers would work in the early morning after downing just a cup of "botz" (Turkish coffee). After the day heated up and their appetites grew, they would break and return to the communal dining hall for a hearty meal of bread, jam, olives, herring, white cheese, hard-boiled eggs and vegetables (whatever was available).
The hotels in Israel adopted this spread and for years, many offered tables and tables of fresh vegetables, scrambled or fried eggs, cottage or white soft cheese, and fresh bread.
As the Israeli economy grew, so did the choices, and the breakfasts have become more upscale. Now guests can look forward to a plethora of olives, marinated fish, at least 10 kinds of "white cheese," jams and jellies, tuna and avocado salads, a choice of breads, sweet baked goods and the like.
Kugels and other hot baked dishes are also on display. Surprisingly, by the way, often conspicuously absent are freshly squeezed orange juice and good coffee (although Israel has a record number of coffee shops, their coffee has not made it to the hotels).
Shakshuka is basically a North African version of an omelet or poached eggs. Typical Israeli breakfast fare, it's just as good at any meal. Add cubed potatoes, if you wish, and feel free to substitute or add other vegetables, but be sure to leave in the tomatoes, or you won't have shakshuka.
2 Tbsps. oil (preferably olive oil)
1 large onion, sliced into rings
6 medium tomatoes, sliced into rings
3 medium red bell peppers, deribbed, seeded and cubed
3 medium zucchini, cubed
1/2 tsp. salt (or more, to taste)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 large garlic clove, minced (optional)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
Heat the oil in a large skillet. Saute onion rings until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato rings, bell peppers and zucchini. Add seasonings and tomato paste. Stir together.
Cover, lower heat to simmer and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Whisk eggs. Pour into skillet on top of the vegetables. Do not mix.
Cook for 5 to 7 minutes without stirring, until eggs are firm. Remove from heat, cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Makes 6 to 8 main-dish servings.
Olive Spread or Dip
1 small onion, diced
4 Tbsps. olive oil (divided)
1 can pitted green olives, drained
1 container (8 oz.) tomato paste
1/2 cup water
Saute onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 40 minutes, checking periodically to see if more water is needed.
Smoked Fish Salad
8 oz. smoked white fish (substitute low-salt lox)
5 hard boiled eggs
1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
Simply combine all ingredients, adding mayonnaise to taste. Store in a covered container in refrigerator; serve cold.
Quick Cinnamon Sweet Rolls
4 cups flour, sifted
4 tsps. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 and 1/3 cups milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine, melted (divided)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup flaked coconut
2 tsps. cinnamon
2 tsps. grated lemon peel
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add milk and 1/3 cup melted margarine. Stir to thoroughly combine.
Gather dough into a ball and chill, covered, to facilitate rolling out.
Preheat oven to 400°. Remove dough from refrigerator. Divide into two parts. Roll first ball into a rectangle, about 12 x 8 inches. Brush with half of remaining margarine.
Sprinkle with half of sugar, raisins, coconut, cinnamon and lemon peel. Roll into a log, tucking ends in.
Place on a parchment paper-covered baking tray, seam-side down. Score every 3/4-inches with a sharp knife. Repeat with second ball.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until golden. Slice. Serve immediately.
Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 45 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at: [email protected]