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Happy Birthday, Israel!

May 1, 2008 By:
Ethel Hofman, Jewish Exponent Feature
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In Israel and for Jews around the world, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, is the realization of a nearly 2,000-year-old hope for the Jewish people to have a free homeland. It's a day of joyous celebration -- for on May 14, 1948, on the fifth day of Iyar, the State of Israel was established. This year, Yom Ha'atzmaut begins at sunset on Wednesday, May 7.

But it's impossible to talk about Yom Ha'atzmaut without mentioning the day before, Yom Hazikaron. On that day, memorial services are conducted with mournful solemnity in memory of the men and women, young and old, who gave their lives for the country over the years.

In Israel, no matter where you are -- on the street, in traffic, shopping or at home -- the wail of sirens is the signal for everything to come to a grinding halt. Those moments of somber silence mark a solemn remembrance. At the end of the day, sirens sound again to mark the end of Yom Hazikaron and the beginning of Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Even in the midst of enmity from Gaza and neighboring nations, Israelis will still celebrate. Indeed, this year will be especially festive, with the country's 60th anniversary. Flags will be flown from balconies; friends and family will get together for picnics; and all over there will be concerts and other entertainment.

Likewise, America's Jewish communities will be celebrating with parades, parties and gala events honoring the birth of the State of Israel, with both local and Israeli talent.

After the parades, bring family and friends home for a smorgasbord of tapas, Israeli-style -- an array of little dishes featuring the taste and essence of the Jewish homeland. All can be prepared ahead of time.

Red-Lentil Hummus With Olives
(Pareve)

Tahini, which comes canned, should be stirred well before using, as it tends to separate.

1/2 cup red lentils 
1 can (15 oz.) chick peas, undrained 
1/2 cup tahini 
2 tsps. minced garlic 
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
1/4 tsp. salt 
pinch white pepper 
1/4 cup diced black olives 
2 tsps. extra-virgin olive oil

Rinse the lentils in cold water. Drain.

Place in a pot and cover with enough cold water to come to about 11/2 inches over the lentils.

Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Skim off any foam.

Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook 35 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Drain.

Place the chickpeas and their liquid in the food processor. Add the drained lentils, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Process until creamy, or, if preferred, to a coarser texture.

Correct seasonings to taste.

Transfer to a serving dish.

Spoon the olives in center of mixture and drizzle the olive oil over. Serve at room temperature.

Makes about 3 cups.

Approximate nutrients per tablespoon: calories, 33; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 39 mg.

Cucumber-Dill Salad With Red Peppers
(Dairy)

2 cucumbers, peeled, cut in half and seeds removed 
11/2 cups plain, low-fat yogurt 
1/2 cup snipped fresh dill, loosely packed 
2 small cloves garlic, minced 
1 tsp. sugar 
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced 
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Grate the cucumbers on the large side of the grater. Place in a towel and roll up to squeeze out excess liquids. Set aside.

Put yogurt in a medium bowl. Stir in the dill, garlic and sugar.

Add the grated cucumbers and diced peppers. Stir gently to mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to serving dish and drizzle the olive oil over.

Serve chilled.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 61; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 5 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 4 g; sodium, 43 mg.

Tabouleh
(Pareve)

This bulgur-wheat salad is a healthy side dish or a lunch entree, served with goat cheese or mozzarella and warm, whole-grain rolls.

1/2 cup bulgur 
hot water to cover 
2 bunches fresh parsley, finely snipped 
1 bunch fresh mint, finely snipped 
3 large green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced 
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced 
1 medium yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced 
2 medium tomatoes, diced 
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice 
3 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil 
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Cover with hot water and soak for 15 minutes. Drain well.

Add all the remaining ingredients, except salt and pepper.

Stir gently to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 100; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 9 g; fat, 7 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 2 mg.

Aromatic Chickpeas and Black Beans
(Pareve)

1 can (15 oz.) chick peas, rinsed and drained 
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained 
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion 
4 radishes, thinly sliced 
2 Tbsps. grated ginger root 
2-3 Tbsps. snipped cilantro

Dressing Ingredients:

2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice 
4 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil 
2 tsps. cumin 
1/4 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning 
kosher salt to taste

In a bowl, toss together the peas, beans, onion, radishes, ginger root and cilantro. Set aside while you make the dressing:

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and lemon-pepper seasoning to taste.

Pour over the vegetable mixture. Stir gently to mix.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 190; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 20 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 317 mg.

Toasted Cumin-Scented Pita Bread
(Pareve)

4 whole-wheat pita breads 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
cumin 
dried oregano 
freshly ground pepper

Separate presliced pita bread, then cut each into 4 pieces.

Brush liberally with olive oil.

Sprinkle with cumin, oregano and pepper.

Toast under preheated broiler 2-3 minutes, or until edges are beginning to brown.

Serve at room temperature.

Makes 32 pieces.

Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 36; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 4 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 43 mg.

Golden Honeyed Pineapple
(Pareve)

1/2 cup honey 
1 Tbsp. fresh lime or lemon juice 
1 Tbsp. freshly ground pepper 
1 medium pineapple, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Heat the grill or broiler. Line a jelly-roll pan with aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a shallow dish, mix together the honey, lime or lemon juice, and the pepper.

Add the pineapple chunks and turn to coat with the honey mixture.

Spread in one layer on the prepared pan and drizzle with any leftover honey mixture.

Broil until the pineapple begins to bubble and turn golden.

With a spatula, turn pineapple to lightly brown the other sides.

Serve hot with a dish of ice-cream or frozen yogurt.

Serves 6 to 8.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 93; protein, 0 mg; carbohydrates, 25 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 1 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman, author of the recent Mackerel at Midnight, is also a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

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