Is there such a thing as Israeli cuisine? After all, Israel is a nation of immigrants; they came from Eastern Europe, Russia, Yemen, Ethiopia … from all corners of the world. They arrived in Palestine with their own culinary customs and culture, with cooking pots slung over their shoulders and recipes carried in their memories.
But they soon found that familiar dishes did not fit in with the hot arid climates of their new country. In those early days, food was plain and filling, based on local dairy ingredients and fresh produce and little or no meat.
Note that the now famous Israeli breakfast, originally eaten by pioneers, is now a popular attraction in hotels. The sensational array of salads, fishes, fruits, compotes, cheeses, juices and grainy breads (and I’m sure I’ve omitted some items) washed down with tea scented with fresh mint, will set you up for a day of sightseeing.
Israeli food celebrities are overjoyed at what they term Israel’s culinary revolution. Phyllis Glazer, cookbook author, has said that “even the Intifada had an influence.” When 200,000 workers were brought in from the Far East, they demanded the foods and flavors of their own countries. This caught on and have been integrated into Israeli dishes.
Today, Israeli cooking, at home and in restaurants, has evolved to become excitingly diverse.
Marmalade Fig Tart
(Pareve or Dairy)
Use a store-bought chunky orange marmalade or, after Sukkot, make a marmalade from the etrog. Muerbe Teig is a rich pastry used in many European cake recipes.
Muerbe Teig Ingredients:
1⁄2 cup unsalted margarine or butter at room temperature
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 and 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 cup chunky orange marmalade
1 package (6 oz.) dried figs, stems removed and halved
2 Tbsps. orange liqueur or apple juice
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
fresh orange wedges to garnish
Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray a deep 10-inch pie dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Cut the margarine into 8 pieces. Place in the food processor along with the sugar, egg and 1⁄2 cup of the flour. Pulse 3 to 4 times to mix. Pulse while adding the remaining cup of flour to form a ball.
Press the dough into the bottom and sides of prepared pie dish. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil weighted down with 3⁄4 to 1 cup dried beans or pie weights. Prick all over with a fork to prevent rising. Bake for 15 minutes or until edges are beginning to brown. Remove the beans and foil. Cool on a wire rack
To prepare the filling: Place the marmalade, figs, orange liqueur or apple juice, and ginger in a medium pan. Warm over low heat until marmalade is completely melted and figs are coated. Cool slightly.
To assemble: Spoon fig mixture into the cooled, baked pie shell, arranging the figs attractively, cut side down. Before serving, garnish with orange wedges.
Note: The pie shell may be baked ahead, wrapped and stored at cool room temperature for 2 days. Or wrap tightly in foil and freeze. Thaw at room temperature for an hour or so before filling.
Serves 8 to 10.
Grape Leaf Pesto
1 cup pickled grape leaves, packed
3 Tbsps. good olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1⁄2 tsp. finely minced garlic
freshly ground pepper to taste
Rinse the grape leaves. Remove the moisture by patting with paper towels.
Place in a food processor with the olive oil, lemon juice and rind and the garlic. Process until the grape leaves are finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl. Season to taste with pepper. Serve at room temperature with warm pita bread.
Makes about 3⁄4 cup.
Cream of Garlic Soup With Root Vegetables
Celeriac is the root of a special celery cultivated specifically for its root. It’s knobby and brown with a taste that’s a cross between celery and parsley. Two to three leafy celery stalks and a handful of parsley may be substituted.
25 cloves garlic, peeled, divided
1⁄2 cup extra virgin oil, divided
1 large potato peeled and cubed
1 medium carrot, scraped and cubed
2 and 1⁄2 medium onions, cubed
1 medium celeriac, peeled and cubed
1 small parsnip, peeled and cubed
3 quarts water
salt and black pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh thyme
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 375˚.
Place 20 cloves garlic in a small baking pan. Pour 1⁄4 cup olive oil over. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until tender.
In a large pot, heat the remaining 1⁄4 cup oil over medium heat. Add the vegetables and remaining 5 garlic cloves. Saute 5 to 8 minutes. Add the water, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cook over medium low heat for 40 minutes.
Add the baked garlic with its oil to the soup. Cool slightly before pureeing in the food processor. Stir in the cream. Reheat but do not boil. Adjust seasonings and serve.
Note: For a decorative presentation, top with puff pastry “croutons.” Cut small squares of prepared puff pastry, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with black sesame seeds or sesame seeds. Bake in preheated 400˚ oven for 15 minutes till golden. Float in the soup.
Dizengoff Garlic Confit
Rich and buttery, this simple recipe, served in Dizengoff Street cafes and made with good Israeli ingredients, is spread on warm pita bread or crackers.
1 cup garlic cloves
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsps. honey
salt and pepper to taste
Place the garlic, oil and honey in a small, heavy saucepan. Cover and cook over lowest heat for 2 hours or until garlic is golden and so soft it can be mashed with a fork. Stir often and make sure the mixture does not boil. Season to taste. Serve at room temperature.
Makes about 1 and 1⁄4 cups.
Thyme Scented Figs in Syrup
1 lb. fresh figs
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 Tbsps. sesame seeds
2 Tbsps. blanched almonds
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 sprig thyme or 1⁄4 tsp. dried thyme
Prick each fig 2 to 3 times with a fork. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, stir the sugar with the water. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the sesame seeds, almonds, lemon juice and thyme. Reduce to lowest heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the figs, partially cover and simmer for 1 hour. Figs should be almost transparent. Serve at room temperature.
Serves 6 to 8.
This is a syrupy, Asian-scented preserve that has become popular on Israeli breakfast tables. Spread on whole grain toast or, for dessert, spoon over mango sorbet.
1 lb. seedless green grapes
1 lb. seedless red grapes
5 cups sugar
4 cardamom pods
juice of 1 and 1⁄2 large lemons
Cut the grapes in half. Place in a deep bowl. Pour the sugar over and let stand at cool room temperature overnight or for 6 to 8 hours.
Transfer to a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce to simmer. Cook for 1⁄2 hours, stirring often. Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and add to the jam along with the lemon juice. Continue simmering for 45 minutes longer or until the jam becomes a clear red. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Note: If preferred, place the cardamom seeds in a muslin bag to add to the jam. Remove before pouring into jars.
Makes 4 to 5 cups.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email her at: [email protected] .