Celebrate Israel's Independence Day with a family pot luck dinner featuring bona fide Israeli food.
As we celebrate Israel’s 67th birthday, I can’t help but link all these thoughts in my head. How this country was largely built by survivors of wars, oppression, and persecution. How the events that led up to the declaration of the State of Israel riveted and united every Jew in the world.
I also can’t help but think about my grandparents, and how they would have loved to be here with me, right now. How they would take pride in my little ones prattling away in Hebrew at a pace I am still able to follow, but not for long.
Celebrate the holiday with a family pot luck dinner featuring bona fide Israeli food in honor of the holiday. Here are some of my favorite recipes to share with you.
Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken with Rice, Currant, and Pine Nut Stuffing
3 Tbsps. pine nuts
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground chicken
1⁄4 tsp. allspice
1⁄4 tsp. coriander
1⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
11⁄2 cups cooked rice
2 Tbsps. currants
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
fresh mint sprigs for garnish
1 whole chicken, giblets removed (about 5 lbs.)
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 small onions, peeled and cut into large dice
2 turnips, peeled and cut into large dice
2 cups chicken broth
In a medium-sized skillet, toast pine nuts over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until they are browned and fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes (be careful not to burn). Remove nuts to small bowl and reserve.
In same pan, add olive oil and heat. Add the ground chicken, allspice, coriander, cinnamon, garlic, salt and pepper. Saute the chicken, breaking it up into small pieces, until cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off heat. To chicken mixture add rice, reserved pine nuts, currants and mint. Stir to combine and cool completely. (Stuffing may be made ahead of time.)
When stuffing mixture is cool, stuff into chicken cavity and into neck area under skin. Sprinkle outside of chicken with salt and pepper. Reserve remaining stuffing to serve with finished dish.
Heat oven to 350˚. Place chicken in roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes. Add vegetables to bottom of roasting pan and pour stock over chicken. Roast for another 60 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 170˚.
Remove chicken from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Remove stuffing from chicken and place on heated serving platter. Remove drumsticks and thighs from bird, then remove breast meat. Slice breast crosswise. Place on platter alongside of rice stuffing. Place vegetables on platter and spoon sauce over chicken. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.
Oven Roasted Falafel
Traditionally, falafel are cooked in a hot skillet, but these are brushed with canola oil and roasted at a high heat, creating a crisp exterior.
1 can (19 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
pinch dried chili flakes
1⁄4 cup whole wheat flour (plus extra, if needed)
1 tsp. baking powder
canola oil for cooking
fresh pitas, tzatziki, chopped cucumber, tomatoes and purple onion for serving
Preheat oven to 425˚.
Place chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro, cumin, salt and chili flakes in bowl of food processor and pulse until combined but still chunky.
Add flour and baking powder and pulse until it turns into a soft mixture that you can roll into balls without it sticking to your hands. (Add another spoonful of flour if it seems too sticky.)
Roll dough into meatball-sized balls and gently flatten each into a little patty.
Place patties on heavy-rimmed baking sheet, preferably one that’s dark in color. Brush each patty with canola oil, flip them over and brush other side.
Roast for 15 minutes, then flip them over and roast for another 10, until crisp and golden on both sides.
Serve warm, wrapped in pitas, with tzatziki, chopped cucumber, tomatoes and purple onion.
Serves 6 to 7.
‘Beefed-Up’ Israeli Salad
When anyone in Israel tells you they are sending over a salad they mostly mean Israeli Salad. Chopped vegetables — usually just tomatoes and cucumbers but oftentimes with peppers as well, seasoned simply with lemon juice and salt. Notice no leafy greens, which are so common in the U.S. I love this practice and have quickly succumbed to it myself because the salad can be prepped way in advance and it never wilts. But, being me, I needed to dress it up, make it more hearty — “beefy” if you will. So here I go adding crumbled salty cheese and fresh mint leaves and my most favorite condiment in the entire world: extra virgin olive oil.
3 Persian cucumbers, unpeeled, diced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded, veins removed, diced
2 tomatoes on the vine, diced or 10 large grape tomatoes, quartered
3 Tbsps. finely diced red onion or finely chopped chives
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 cup crumbled feta, goat or Bulgarian cheese
1 Tbsp. small mint leaves, packed
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, optional
Place cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and onions in a medium bowl. Gently toss with lemon juice and salt. Just before serving top with cheese, scatter mint leaves, add a few turns of the pepper mill and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.
Keep the skin on those cucumbers — Persian cucumbers have a dark green, flavorful skin full of vitamins!
Lamb, Cherry Tomato and Red Onion Kebabs
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄2 tsp. ground cardamom
1⁄2 tsp. ground coriander
juice of 1 lime
2 lbs. cubed lamb, 3⁄4-inch cubes
24 cherry tomatoes
3 small red onions, cut into eighths
In a large bowl, combine oil with salt, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, coriander and lime juice and stir to mix well. Add lamb, tomatoes and onions and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
To make kebabs, skewer one piece of lamb, followed by a tomato, add another piece of lamb, followed by an onion. Repeat so that each skewer is full of lamb, 2 tomatoes and 2 onions.
Broil on high for 8 to 10 minutes for medium doneness or 12 to 14 minutes for well done.
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, drained
1⁄3 cup sesame (tahini) paste
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 juice of 1⁄2 lemon (about 2 Tbsps.)
1 tsp. salt
3⁄4-1 cup water
1⁄2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1⁄2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 clove garlic
Place chickpeas, sesame paste, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a food processor. Blend, adding water slowly until desired thickness — a dip-like consistency — is reached. Chill in refrigerator 1 hour before serving.
Tip: When serving a single flavor of hummus, serve on a flat plate and use the back of a spoon in a circular motion to smooth out the hummus. Top with a few dashes of sumac or paprika, and drizzle with olive oil.
Serves 7 (1⁄4 cup each).
Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus — Combine 1 cup prepared classic hummus and 1⁄2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained in the bowl of a food processor. Blend, adding water slowly until desired thickness is reached. Chill for 1 hour before serving.
Spinach & Garlic Hummus — Combine 1 cup prepared classic chummus and 1⁄2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Blend, adding water slowly until desired thickness is reached. Add salt to taste. Chill for 1 hour before serving.
Zesty Walnut Hummus
1⁄2 cup California walnuts, toasted
1 can (19 oz.) chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
1⁄4 cup Italian salad dressing
1⁄2 tsp. cayenne pepper
In a blender or food processor, puree walnuts, chickpeas, salad dressing and cayenne pepper together until smooth.
Serve with vegetable sticks or pita triangles.
Charif is the Hebrew word for sharp — and boy, does this recipe have a kick! It’s not for the faint of heart. But that's the beauty of preparing a dish like this from scratch. You can make it mild or burning hot.
1 can (20 oz.) whole tomatoes, drained
1⁄4 cup white vinegar
1⁄2 cup oil
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cumin
11⁄2 tsps. kosher salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
4 jalapeños hot pepper rings (from jar)
quartered pita breads (optional)
Combine tomatoes, vinegar, oil, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt, cayenne and jalapeño peppers in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth.
Chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Serve as a dip with warm pita bread, if desired.
Jamie Geller is a bestselling cookbook author and the force behind JoyofKosher.com and Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine.