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Israel: It's Now a Feast for Foodies

July 7, 2011 By:
Louise Fiszer, Jewish Exponent Feature
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Photo courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

BEYOND CHICKEN SOUP

There used to be a joke that went: "If there was an Israeli guide to fine dining, it would begin and end on page one." Happily, today, there is a wealth of excellent Israeli restaurants to choose from and they could fill many books and many pages.

Israel is indeed a feast for foodies, a melting pot of culinary traditions drawn from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. There is even a monthly food-and-wine magazine called Al Hashulchan (On the Table) and there are star chefs who have their own cooking shows.

On my most recent visit to Israel, deciding where to go for dinner elicited a list of fabulous restaurants. The following recipes are my adaptations of some of their special dishes.

Harira

(Meat)

This is an updated version of a classic Moroccan soup that I had at Susannah, a restaurant in Neve Tzedeck.

1/4 cup olive oil
11/2 lbs. lamb (shoulder or neck), cut into bite-sized chunks
3 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
21/2 quarts chicken stock or water
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup brown lentils
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. dry ginger
1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
pinch of cinnamon
4 tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup rice
freshly squeezed lemon juice or 1/4 lemon per diner
fresh chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a heavy pan and brown the lamb. Transfer to a large soup pot with a slotted spoon.

Add the remaining ingredients to the soup pot, except the chicken and rice. Season and cook for one hour.

Add the rice and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is soft. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Before serving, add lemon juice and parsley and serve with freshly-baked white bread and a hot condiment, such as harissa.

Serves 10.

Chopped Chicken Livers

(Meat)

From Janna Gur, a chef and cooking teacher, a new take on chopped liver.

2 lbs. chicken livers
3/4 cup fruity olive oil
5-6 large leeks (white and green parts) thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. whole white peppercorns
1 Tbsp. whole green peppercorns
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. whole mustard seeds
coarse sea salt

Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a large skillet or a wide shallow pan and gently sauté the leeks uncovered for half an hour, until they are very soft. Make sure they don't brown.

Crush peppercorns, cumin and mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee/spice grinder.

Brush livers with a little oil and coat them with spices.

Thoroughly heat a heavy cast-iron skillet and brown the livers 2 to 3 minutes on each side, being careful not to overcook them.

Chop the livers with a large heavy knife, mix with leeks and serve promptly.

Serves 12.

Orange and Olive Salad

(Pareve)

From Chef Guy Peretz

1 cup dried black olives, pitted and halved
2 oranges, peeled and diced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsps. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl and let stand for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Za'atar Pesto

(Pareve)

From Moshe Basson, the chef-owner of Eucalyptus in Jerusalem. His food incorporates biblical herbs, spices and fruits that he forages for in the countryside.

1 cup toasted, blanched almonds
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. za'atar (available at stores with a good spice selection)
2 large, fresh garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice

Place the almonds in a food processor. Process until coarsely ground, not pasty.

Add the remaining ingredients. Process for a few minutes till you have obtained a spreadable pesto.

Enjoy it as a shmear on sandwiches, to top pasta (as with basil pesto) or as a dip for raw vegetables.

Makes about 2 cups.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. Email her at: loufiszer@aol.com.

 

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