Hummus and a hearty Israeli breakfast was about all you could expect as far as a culinary experience was concerned. These days, tourists can sample world-class wines, sip a perfect espresso at a seaside cafe, and taste a variety of fine cheeses from Galili goat and sheep farms.
Outdoor markets are redolent of exotic spices like zatar, cumin, hyssop and sumac, in addition to offering the freshest produce I've seen anywhere.
The restaurant scene is dominated by young chefs experimenting with fusing classic European and traditional dishes with those of the Middle East. There are TV cooking shows and classes given by famous chefs.
Stores are full of cookbooks, and one that captured my attention is a beauty -- The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey by Janna Gur. Photographs by Eilon Paz make the recipes jump off the page. In sum, the work reflects how far Israeli cuisine has come from a simple meal of falafel and salad to dishes that now match any in the world.
Chef Erez Komarovsky at the Erez Restaurant
3-4 small fennel bulbs
1/2 cup peeled and pithed lemon sections
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small hot green pepper, seeded and finely minced
2 Tbsps. honey
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, shelled, toasted and crushed
Cut fennel bulbs into thin lengthwise slices
Soak in ice water 30 minutes.
Drain, mix the fennel with the lemon slices, sprinkle with salt and let rest 15 minutes.
Mix fennel with lemon with olive oil, hot pepper and honey.
Sprinkle with pistachio nuts and serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
Orna and Ella Restaurant
1 cup fresh mint
1/2 cup fresh basil
1 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup chives
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
4 tomatoes, diced
4 cucumbers, peeled and diced
2 cups arugula
6 leaves Romaine, shredded
2 Tbsps. fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsps. fresh mint, chopped
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup croutons
Combine the dressing ingredients in a food processor and process until well-blended.
Toss salad ingredients with dressing.
Roasted-Eggplant- and-Goat-Cheese Soup
Yaron Kestenbaum of Food Art Catering
1/3 cup olive oil
3 carrots, diced
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
3 eggplants, roasted, peeled and chopped
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 fresh thyme sprigs
6 oz. fresh goat cheese
2 tomatoes, diced
Heat oil in large pot.
Add vegetables, garlic and bay leaves.
Cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the wine, salt and pepper, and cook until mixture thickens.
Add the eggplant, milk, cream and thyme sprigs.
Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Purée the soup in a blender until smooth.
Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese and diced tomatoes.
Moroccan-Style Hot Fish
Guy Peretz of Restaurant Gazpacho
4 hot red peppers, or to taste, cut into strips
2 sweet red peppers, cut into strips
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup fresh coriander, chopped
8 Tbsps. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1 olive oil
8 pieces (6 oz. each) of white fleshed fish (halibut, snapper, cod)
20 cloves of garlic, peeled
Line a wide saucepan with peppers and herbs.
In a small bowl, combine paprika, salt and 1/3 cup olive oil.
Spread mixture on fish and arrange over peppers. Mix remaining oil with garlic and 3/4 cup water; pour over the fish.
Cook for 10-12 minutes over high heat. Lower heat, cover and continue to cook another 15 minutes, or until sauce thickens.
Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. Among the six books she's co-authored is Jewish Holiday Feasts.