Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving in Israel

I had the best turkey of my life this past Thursday.

The Turkey on the smoker.


I'll get back to the Turkey in a paragraph or two, but first a little background. Thanksgiving is easily my favorite US holiday. Ironically, Yom Kippur is now my favorite holiday, but only in Israel. I love that nobody drives, the air is clear, and that I can take bike rides on major highways without fear of being run over. Thanksgiving though will always be a special day for me, even in Israel, and every year that I've lived here I've made a point of making a full on turkey dinner. I use my mother's excellent Paul Simon recipe. I call it that because it calls for putting chopped Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme under the skin of the bird. It is a great recipe and the turkey always comes out well.


7 hours later...it is the best turkey I've ever had
This year I decided not to make a turkey or host a dinner, and was kindly invited by my friends Susi and Dave to their house for dinner. I made the trek out to Jerusalem, and just entering their house you could tell something special was going on. Susi and Dave decided to smoke their turkey, and I had never tasted smoked turkey before. The turkey was smoked on low heat for over seven hours, and the result was amazing. Instead of trying to use a dozen different superlatives to describe the taste, I'll just use three. It was just the moistest, juiciest, tastiest turkey I'd ever had. The smoke flavor really came through, and it was just an awesome, awesome turkey.

A lot of happy people
Every once in a while I get a culinary eye opening, eureka type moment. My first time at Abu Hassan, Adora's foie gras baklava, tasting cold pressed olive oil from olives you picked a few hours earlier are some of the recent ones from the past few years. This turkey definitely goes on this list if not going straight to the top of it. The whole night was a lot fun between the tasty turkey, good friends, and lots of wine. Thanksgiving lives on in Israel quite strongly for me and I'm already thinking about next year's smoked turkey.
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Burikot - Hebrew for "great fried food"

Recently I went to Or Yehuda with my friends Ran and Ilana to have Burikot (plural for Burik or Burika), a traditional North African dish that is basically a filled triangle of fried dough. Ran had been telling me about this place for sometime, and we finally found the time to go try them.

The thin dough is filled with either a potato filling, that has the consistency of mashed potatoes, or an egg. The dough is then folded over the filling to make a triangle shape and then deep fried. The dough gets a great fried crisp, while the filling is cooked enough to heat it up without overcooking the filling. The potato has a great taste and consistency, while the egg is perfectly poached. My favorite version was the egg, which was cooked really nicely in mine. The Burik can be eaten on its own or made into a sandwich with hot pilpel chuma (or just chuma) sauce spread inside.


Our burikot being fried


A perfectly cooked egg burik

The dish is considered North Africa, specifically being attributed to Tunisia and Libya. I'll let the Tunisians and Libyans fight over who is the real originator of the Burik. The use of pilpel chuma would tend to lend credence to the Libyan claim. However, chuma is so similar to Tunisian Harissa, that its really difficult to say.


Our sandwich bread and chuma sauce waiting for the burikot


Stacks of burikot dough and chuma sauce

Or Yehuda has a bad reputation amongst many Israelis. It is a poor town, and it suffers from higher rates of crime and other societal ills than lets say...Northern Tel Aviv. However, Or Yehuda does have a strong representation from a variety of different ethnic groups. Jews from Georgia, North Africa, and Ethiopia, amongst others call Or Yehuda home and Burikot are only one of the culinary reasons worth visiting if you have the time.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Cooking Technique - Octopus

On our tour yesterday I learned a new technique for cooking octopus that I want to share. A couple on the tour told me that their landlord in Cyprus, after killing the octopuses/octopi, puts them in a washing machine and turns on the spin cycle (no water) for 15 minutes to tenderize them. So next time you buy a new washing machine, don't throw away the old one, rather keep it as an octopus tenderizer.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review of army food

I just got back from milium (reserve duty) this past week and I have prepared the following review of the food I ate:

"It's not so good."

Having said that, there was enough food, nothing served was inedible, and I have no complaints. 

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Olive Harvest 2010

I made olive oil for the first time this past weekend, and its been a bittersweet experience. Picking olives all day and seeing the fruits of this labor in the form of truly incredible olive oil is an exceptionally gratifying experience. On the other hand, you can only really do it once every two years. Perhaps that makes it more special, but it really does suck to have to wait too.

My friend/cousin/older brother Yarden lives in a small town called Shaked in northern Shomron/Samaria overlooking the Jezre’el Valley. He has three olive trees in his front yard, and his relatives who live in Shaked have a few more trees as well. Beyond these trees, he has a piece of land just outside Shaked where he has already planted over 130 olive trees and his goal is to have a thousand. These trees are too young to bear fruit, so we only picked olives from his front yard. This was quite enough, because between the six trees from various places in Shaked around 250 kilos of olives were picked. It is awesome, but tiring as one can imagine. You can shake the trees all you want, and a lot of olives fall this way, but you still have to go branch by branch and get what is left. A ton of olives don’t fall on the mats you lay on the ground, so you have to pick those up to. Its a very tiring job.

By Saturday afternoon we had all of our olives and we went down the hill to a nearby Arab town, Kfar Qara, where there is an olive press where you can make olive oil. Making olive oil has gone high tech for some time now. Initially you put the olives in a vat, where they are led up a conveyer belt. The olives go through a deep wash before they are crushed. The oil, juices, and other olive liquids go into a series of machines that use  some kind of centrifugal force process (my physics knowledge is not the best) that separates the oil from the rest of the liquids. The end product is an amazing oil that I’m not going to even try to describe in this post. The 200+ kilos we picked ended up being 27 liters of oil, and this might last Yarden and the Shaked family a year.

Picking olives and making your own oil is something I really recommend to anyone who has the chance. You can only do it every other year, as olives trees only bear fruit every other year, so don’t pass up any opportunity you have.  So this is all I have to say about olive oil until 2012…


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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Olive Time!

Every two years I make olives. Olives only bear fruit, or at least only bear the most fruit, every two years. It seems like all the olive trees in Israel seem to be on the same clock, because people only get excited about the olive harvest on the same second year.

The first time I made olives in Israel was while I was in the army. There were some olive trees on my base and I picked all the olives and made some really good varieties. My army buddies hated the base we were serving at so much they refused to eat the olives, but they missed out on a good batch. The second time I made olives I picked the olives from Ramat HaNadiv, near Zichron Ya'akov. Those also came out very well. This year I picked olives from my friend Yarden's olive trees at his home in Shaked. Yarden actually has an olive orchard just outside of Shaked, but they're young trees and won't bear fruit for a few more years. I have no doubt they'll be excellent olives when they'll be ready, but in the meantime the trees in his front yard are just fine.

Making olives is really, really, really easy. First, just pick them. Then, in order for them to soften and soak up flavors you have to make a slit in each one or crush them. Most people take their olives to a place with a crushing machine. These machines make slits in the olives automatically. I like to punish myself, so I make a slit in each one on my own. It takes a bit of time, but you feel more of a connection to each olive this way;-)

Once you've made a slit, somehow, in all of the olives put them in a bowl and cover them with water. The olives will start turning from the bright green color they are on the trees when ripe to the darker olive green color one is used to seeing when eating olives. This will take about a week to two weeks and you need to replace the water each day during this time.

Once your olives are the right olive green color you get to flavor them. Put them in an airtight jar and cover them only to the top with water. For each cup of water needed add one spoonful of salt. At this point you can add whatever you want to them. Lemon and garlic, hot pepper, red wine, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, and the list can go on forever. This year I'm keeping it simple with just lemon and really hot peppers that I also picked from Yarden's garden. Once you have everything mixed around together cover the jar so its air tight and put it in a cabinet for at least 3 weeks and even up to a year. The longer the better. I usually wait a couple of months at least before opening them up.




The olives with the lemon, hot pepper, salt and olive oil. They're ready to soak up flavors for the next few months. 



Next weekend I'm going back to Shaked to harvest olives for oil. Stay tuned for my post on that. Also....stay stuned for my post in a few months when the olives are ready.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shana Tova from Savor Israel

I want to wish you all a belated Shana Tova and hope everybody had a great start to their new year, and if you're not Jewish that the past few days have been great for you in any case. My holiday has been full of great food, relaxing in Tel Aviv, seeing friends that have become like family to me and enjoying the unique atmosphere of the holidays in Israel.

Be sure to check out the yearly Rosh Hashanah food article Joan Nathan writes for the New York Times. This year's article about North African Jewish cuisine meets her regular high standard of excellence and there are some great recipes too.

Finally, I also want to share my friend Liz's blogpost about our trip to Ramle a few weeks ago to explore the area's food. Savor Israel has just started a new tour, Ramle and Schunat HaTikva, and this trip helped me solidy the trip's itinerary.
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Atayef

It is currently the month of Ramadan, and the other day a co-worker brought the whole division some incredible Atayef that his wife had prepared. Atayef is a pancake-y type dough that is folded over and filled with various fillings. The Atayef that I had at work the other day were filled with walnuts, honey and coconut. Custard filling is common in Atayef, and you can pretty much make whatever you want. I'm generally not a fan of sweets, but Atayef is so light, because of the pancake type dough that I really enjoy eating them.

You can click on the following links for two different Atayef recipes.
















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Monday, August 9, 2010

A Gazan Cuisine Cookbook

I just stumbled across this blog documenting one woman's ongoing trip to the Gaza Strip researching Gazan cuisine in order to write a cookbook.

It appears that she just crossed in to Gaza via Rafiah the other day so it will be interesting to follow her trip as she posts on her blog. I'm also interested to see how politics will play in a role in her cookbook. I may not agree with her view of how politics affects the culinary reality today, but it will be interesting to read nonetheless.
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Israeli Sangria Recipe

In honor of this week's wine festival I'm posting a recipe for Israeli sangria. Sangria is typically red wine, mixed with lemonade/sprite and various cut up fruits. You mix all of the components together, let it all sit for a while, and and it tastes really, really good.

To make sangria "Israeli" my first thought was to replace the lemonade with limonana. Limonana (Hebrew for lemon and mint) is a very popular drink in Israel that is basically lemonade with lots of mint added to it. The mint makes the drink very refreshing, and its one of the better coping mechanisms for the summer heat.

The fruits I would use for the Israeli sangria would be determined by the season. Plums, oranges, nectarines are all classic fruits for sangria and you can't go wrong with them. To mix things up a little you can also add Lychee, a seasonal summer fruit in Israel. While overall a sweet fruit, the natural small amounts of acidity in the Lychee add a nice element to the drink.

Sangria is a great drink with almost any meal and will sure to go over well at your next summer picnic.



Israeli Sangria Recipe

Ingredients:
Bottle of dry red wine
Lemons
Mint
Sugar
Plum
Orange
Nectarine
Lychee
Instructions:
1. Cut up one plum, one orange, one nectarine, and a handful of lychees. You can make a small dice or keep them as larger sized pieces.
2. To make the limonana squeeze the juice of four lemons into a liter and a half bottle. Add 10 mint sprigs and 3 spoonfulls of sugar. Fill the bottle with water and add a tray of ice cubes. Chill.
3. Mix a whole bottle of wine, half a liter of limonana and fruit together. Let sit for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the fridge.
4. Sangria is best served chilled, but you can let the temperature return to room temperature if that's your preference.
5. Once it runs out, make some more!

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Israeli Wine Festival

This week is the annual Israeli wine festival held at the Israel Museum. The festival started yesterday and runs through Thursday evening. I plan on attending Thursday and will write about the festival this weekend.

In the meantime take the time to read this article about the wine industry in the Middle East and stay tuned for an Israeli Sangria recipe in tomorrow's post...
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Amare Stoudemire is an excellent food critic

Amare Stoudemire has been in Israel for a little bit (article in Hebrew) now, and in one of his latest tweets he praised the city's great restaurants. You can follow him on twitter @amareisreal and if you follow him you should follow Savor Israel too! @savorisrael



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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bellini's - Israeli Style

Its summer right now so it goes without saying that its really hot in Israel right now. One of the best ways to cool down, in my opinion at least, is a refreshing cocktail. Therefore, the next several posts will be great summer cocktails adapted to make them more "Israeli". 



A classic Bellini

Today's cocktail recipe will be an Israeli style Bellini. A Bellini is quite simple to make and is traditionally made up of two parts Prosecco and one part peach puree. Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine, but you can use a white Lambrusco, Cava or Champagne for this recipe. Any white sparkling wine that is not too dry will work just fine for this cocktail. The peach puree is very simple, as its literally just blended peeled peaches. To make the Bellini find a champagne flute and fill it about one third with peach puree and then fill the rest with the sparkling wine. Mix, make sure its very cold and you've got a great Bellini and refreshing summer cocktail. 

I'd been thinking for this blog for some time about how to best make it "Israeli" and it was actually my friend Liz (check out her blog) who had the best idea. Replace the peach with shesek! Shesek (in Hebrew) is a loquat and while not native or exclusive to Israel has become "Israeli" in my mind. Sheseks are available for only a month a year (around April) and a lot people (myself included) get really excited when they start showing up in the shuk. They have a subtle yet distinct flavor and are a great replacement for peaches in this recipe. 


Some beautiful Shesekim

So...my Israeli Bellini recipe is the following:

Ingredients:
Chilled Prosecco or any white sparkling wine
Shesek puree
Sugar (optional)
Mint


Instructions:
1. To make the shesek puree, peel the sheseks and remove the seed. Dice and blend well. Shesek is less sweet than peaches, so some may want to add some sugar or simple syrup to the puree depending on their taste. 
2. Fill a champagne flute one third full with the shesek puree. Slowly fill the flute the rest of the way with the sparkling wine. 
3. Mix well, and since this is an Israeli Bellini add a mint sprig for garnish. Enjoy!


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Monday, July 19, 2010

Is Kosher Healthier?

There has been a long break from posts on the blog, but starting with today's few sentences there will be more consistent postings.

A recent NY Times article talks about Hebrew National Hot Dogs and the perception that they are healthier because they are kosher. Whether it is true or not there is definitely a perception in the US that kosher foods are more than likely healtheir than their non kosher counteparts. In Israel that perception does not hold as true. Much more food in Israel is kosher than the US, and it is more often than not whether one's kitchen is maintained as kosher or not that determines whether the food is kosher. Kosher food may more often be associated with traditional meals like Cholent, Blintzes, Kugles and other foods that are not considered very healthy. Its an interesting debate in any case.

Check back soon as I'm going to post a series of cocktail recipes, adapted to make them "Israeli", that are perfect for the summer.
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rundown of some of this week's food articles

Wow, it seems like food has been in the news a ton recently. There are a lot of great articles to talk about, in fact too many to go into in an in depth manner on one blog post. So, here's a summary of what I find to be some very interesting articles.

First, tonight is the airing of what should be a great documentary on the legendary Tel Aviv cafe, Cafe Cassit. While no longer in business, the Dizengoff St. cafe was a unique place where one could find govt. politicians, intellectuals, tv stars, singers, and the average joe all mingling and exchanging ideas in one place. Cafe Cassit has had no equal in this regard since its closing and there may never be as well.

An interesting argument from the NY Times Freakonomics blog about the effects of organic farming on carbon dioxide emissions and the environment in general. You'll be very surprised to see what scientists say about these farming practices.

In another farming related article, this one decidedly more Israel focused, the LA Times talks about designer food seeds. One Israeli company in particular, Hazera (meaning "the seed" in Hebrew), is one of the world's leaders in genetically engineered tomatoes and other kinds of vegetables. Hazera has tomato varieties with higher sugar contents, all sorts of colors, you name it. Israel is well known for its agro-technologies and Hazera is one of the industry leaders in the field of seed development.

Finally, a few events this week have lead to a renewed discussion about the humaneness of kosher slaughter. New Zealand became the fourth country in the world this week to outlaw kosher slaughter as they require cattle to be stunned before being killed, a practice not  allowed in the kosher slaughter rituals. Many people are up in arms, claiming there is religious discrimination in this law. However, many people are not (myself included). One other such person is Jonathan Safran Foer, a well known advocate for vegetarianism. With his latest book being set to be introduced in Israel this week he wrote an article for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz about the New Zealand kosher slaughter issue and the ethical issues regarding killing and eating animals in general.

I hope you all find the article as interesting as I do, and feel free to let me know what you think about any or all of them. Its also getting really hot in Tel Aviv. Painful Tel Aviv Summer Hot! So...I'm going to have to start making some dishes to cool off. The first things that come to mind are refreshing cocktails (mojitos and caipirinhas) and cold soups and salads. No meat for sure, and I'm sure Jonathan Safran Foer would be happy about that. I'll post some good summer recipes to help deal with the Tel Aviv heat shortly.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

I want my hummus...more hummus-ey

My friend from childhood, Miriam Gottfried, has a new food article in the Wall Street Journal I highly recommend. Her article, entitled "A Taste for Hotter, Mintier, Fruitier" talks about America's (and much of the world's) need for more bold, innovative and pronounced flavors, and the work that goes into developing these flavors in a wide variety of food products. Its a very interesting read as is all of her posts over at the her delicious food blog The Mango Lassie.
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Orb/ganic

Yesterday I went with my friend Sarah to visit a newly renovated and opened part of Tel Aviv, the Tachana (station). The Tachana is specifically where the old Jaffa train station was located on the old Jaffa to Jerusalem line. For years the area (old Manshiya) was in complete disrepair, but a few years ago the Tachana was renovated and has been used for art exhibits for some time. Only a few weeks ago, however, was the place opened up for private businesses. Today you can eat at several different cafes and restaurants, see a monthly changing photo exhibit, cool down on a hot day with ice cream, and also peruse through an organic farmer’s market each Friday.

The market is called Orb/ganic which is a play on words. Orbanic combines the obvious “organic” with “urbani”, which means urban in Hebrew. Hence an urban organic market. There are not a lot of vendors at the market, but you can find some really good heirloom tomatoes, greens of all kinds, potatoes and much more. I bought some nice looking swiss chard, and I’m still thinking of exactly how to use it. I’m leaning towards making a rice dish where I cover the rice with the swiss chard as it cooks, but I’m open to any suggestions. Have a look at some of the pictures of the market.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Hummus Wars Continue!

The Lebanese have done it...for now. This past weekend the Lebanese set a record for cooking the world's largest bowl of hummus. The bowl's weight came in at......wait...I forgot... who gives a sh$*t?!?!


Not only did they make a ton of hummus they set the world's record for largest falafel dish. The expansion of the absurd sizes of bite sized food wars to falafel, which is considered Egyptian in origin, threatens to spread this war to Egypt as well. If Egypt gets involved it is impossible to tell how severe this situation may become. The Turks may make the largest doner kebab, the Iranians may make the largest bowl of persian rice, and we might have a world food war before we know it. 

I have no doubt that this latest episode will not be the final battle in the Hummus Wars, so stay tuned...


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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rising Star

Congrats to Yonatan Roshfeld for being named Food & Wine Magazine's #1 rising star chef worldwide. I am a little embarassed to say that I have not eaten at either Herbert Samuel nor Tapas Ahad Ha'am, but I've heard really positive things about both, and will try to visit at least one shortly.

If you've eaten at either please feel free to leave a comment on your impressions, which dishes you liked or disliked, etc...
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Choresht Sabzi

Written by Alon Lewin-Espstein:
Growing up in an Ashkenazi house, I was not exposed until much later in life to Sephardic/North African cuisine, such as Kubeh, Jachnun, and Sabich which are some of my favorite dishes these days. Fortunately, it is easier to find restaurants or eateries in Israel that serve Sephardic inspired dishes than Polish, Russian or Romanian restaurants.

It was when one of my good friends, that is half Persian himself, took me to an authentic Persian restaurant in southern Tel Aviv, that I discovered the unique flavors the Persian kitchen has to offer. That day we went to a little place called Salimi, which is on Nachlat Binyamin street, caught right in the middle of the bustle of Tel Aviv.

The place is small with not many tables, and has a tiny kitchen where the whole extended family who owns the place crowds in together. There is always a long line of people outside waiting for the next table to leave, eager to grab a precious seat.

Salimi during lunch is quite hectic and if you take your time on deciding what to order you might find out your waiter had already done it for you, which was what happened in my case. However, since my knowledge regarding Persian dishes wasn’t vast, it worked out pretty well for me. Among several dishes we had, one of my favorites was the Choresht Sabzi, a beef stew served with red beans over rice with an extraordinary green sauce made from a large variety of herbs including mint, cilantro, dill and celery. The dish brought such a circus of flavors to my mouth that I had to look for a recipe and cook it myself.

Choresht Sabzi

Ingredients:
750 grams of beef (cut up to chunks)
100 grams of red beans (soaked over night)
2 cups of washed and dried cilantro
2 cups of washed and dried dill
1 cup of washed and dried parsley
1 cup of washed and dried mint
300 grams of washed and dried spinach leaves
2 stems of washed and dried celery
1 peeled and washed celery root (diced)
3 peeled onions (finely chopped)
1 tbl of dried fenugreek leaves
4 black dried Persian lemons
4 regular lemons (squeezed)

Instructions:
1. Put all the herbs in a food processor and blend by using the pulse function until they are finely chopped (be careful to not reach the point where it gets pasty)
2. Heat an oiled frying pan and add the diced celery root and the finely chopped herbs. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes until the liquids have evaporated. Take off of the heat and let it cool
3. Oil a big pot and put it on high heat. Stir-fry the chopped onions until the liquids have evaporated (do not wait until they turn golden)
4. Add the beef chunks and sear them until sealed
5. Add the beans
6. Add 2 liters of water and let cook on low heat for about 3 hours until the beans are ready and the beef is tender
7. Add the chopped herbs mix and the fenugreek leaves and cook for another 30-40 minutes as the liquids reduce
8. Add the Persian lemon, salt and pepper to taste, the squeezed lemon juice and cook for another 40 minutes on low heat
9. Serve on white rice








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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Not only humans enjoy Tel Aviv's culinary scene...

so do bats!!!!!!!!



One of the coolest things about Tel Aviv, in my opinion, is the large bat population that can be seen flying around the city at night. Tel Aviv has a large number of ficus (fig) and other fruit trees that feed a large bat population. The bats also feed on the mosquitos, preventing what would be an intolerable mosquito infestation in the city without them. The fruits of the fig tree are in full bloom at the moment and the bats are everywhere, proof that Tel Aviv is a great food city for humans and bats alike.

Here are some pictures I took the other day of figs blooming in the middle of King George St.








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Friday, April 30, 2010

A Damn Good Sandwich

I hope everyone has a nice Shabbat dinner this week. Tonight Jodie and I had a heck of a good sandwich, and here's how we made it with some pictures.

Ingredients:
Challah roll
Red Onion
Avocado
Tomato
Rocket leaves
Parsley
Cilantro
Egg
Mayo - Hellmann's
Goat's Manchego Cheese
Lemon
Olive Oil
Salt Pepper

Instructions:
1. Slice the tomato and avocado
2. Carmelize the onion
3. Mix the rocket leaves with the parsley and cilantro. Drizzle with lemon juice, olive oil. Salt and pepper.
4. Fry the egg!
5. Toast the challah roll and spread some good mayo on each side. Layer with the avocado, tomato, onion, slices of  cheese, green's mixture and fried egg.
6. Enjoy a great sandwich!








Unfortunately, its all gone. Cool place mats made out of banana bark from Uganda though. 

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Organic Oregon Wine

Its not related to Israel, but here's a great article about sustainability in my my native Oregon's wine industry. Stay tuned for my next post which will detail what I hope is the greatest veggie sandwich of all time!
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Some Tech Updates

This isn't a food related post, so I'll keep it short. I added a new feature to the blog recently some of you may have noticed. Its a Meebo bar, and you'll see it at the bottom of the page. It allows you to share my blog posts and picture very easily on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email. You can share individual pages, the whole blog, or even the pictures you see (like the one in this post) with just one click. I'm of course happy if anybody wants to share my blog on their various social media pages and I hope you all find it to be a convenient tool. Alright, enough of the tech info and I promise the next post will be about food:-)

Here's a picture of some figs I saw up north near Mt. Meron that appear to be months ahead of schedule.


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Jasquila

I was in the Upper Galil this past weekend with my Dad and my Israeli family. We went on some beautiful hikes in and around Mt. Meron and even in late April one can see a lot of wildflowers.

For dinner we went to a Lebanese restaurant that my Israeli family had been to several times and had fond memories of. They knew the restaurant as Jasquila, and enjoyed the homey atmosphere, complete with a fireplace. It was a family operation and the matriarch of the family would make special Lebanese specialties, primarily various stuffed dishes. Stuffed grape leaves, peppers, okra, zucchini, etc…

So we all went to Jish (Gush Halav) hungry and excited for some good home style Lebanese food. Upon arrival to where Jasquila has been we discovered that the restaurant has gone through a few changes. For one, it is no longer called Jasquila, rather Ha’arezim (Cedars). It is no longer has the home feel with the fireplace, but looks like any modern restaurant. While it is unfortunate the restaurant lost its identity and is not really distinguishable in appearance from newly renovated “modern” place, the food was still great.

I ordered the Molouchiya (a green leaf actually associated more with Egyptian cuisine) soup with rice. The soup was simple in composition, but tasty. The Machluya adds a little sourness and kick to the soup. They served us the gazillions of salads one receives at a typical Arab restaurant, all of which were really good. The olives were a step above everything else, though. A little spicy, very lemony, and really tasty. My Dad had the lamb shishlik, which was, according to him, “extremely well spiced” and “very tender and juicy”.

All in all, it was a really tasty meal and I would recommend to the place to anyone in the area. Its just a shame they thought they had to lose their authentic style, name, and partial identity to appeal to the masses, whoever that is.

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Ha’arezim (Cedars) restaurant. Formally known as Jasquila.

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I never knew children came in portions of sausage, schnitzel, or chicken skewers. Hmmm, which kid will I eat?

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Don’t eat me! I’m too cute…

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Excellent lamb shishlik

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Some of the best olives I’ve had in a long while

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Molouchiya, a kind of spinach-ish soup with rice.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blackout

My folks are in town, and last Thursday we went to dinner at one of the most unique dining experiences in Tel Aviv and probably the world as well. We had dinner at Mercaz Na Laga’at (The Please Touch Center). Na Laga’at is a center that puts on plays by actors who are both blind and deaf, a cafe run by deaf people, and a restaurant (Blackout) in pitch darkness run by blind waiters. The combination of these different elements involving deaf, blind, and deaf and blind people make it literally the only center of its kind in the world. Located in a renovated building in the Yafo port, it is truly one of the highlights of Yafo and the country.

The Blackout Restaurant puts forward a dining experience that makes you truly blind. A darkness is created in the restaurant that prevents you from seeing your hand an inch from your face, and you don’t ever adjust to it, no matter how long you stay inside. The most amazing part of the restaurant is that the waiters are blind as well. Using their knowledge of the layout of the restaurant and their acute sense of sound, the waiters are able to manage inside with no problem. Inside Blackout the tables are turned. Those who can see on the outside are at the mercy of those who cannot. The waiters lead you inside the restaurant with you grasping their shoulders as you adjust to not being able to see a thing. They bring you to your seat and culinary experience begins.

Eating while blind is an enhanced culinary experience, in my opinion, and by no means a drawback. There is an expression that you first "eat with your eyes". While this is true, people don't realize the culinary benefits of not being able to use your eyes while eating. Flavors become bolder, textures are more pronounced, and pouring your glass of water actually requires thought. I ordered the vegetarian “surprise”, meaning I did not know beforehand what I was going to be served, and clearly I couldn't see it either. The "surprise" ended up being an excellent ravioli with artichokes, peas, and jerusalem artichoke. For those that want to know what they’re eating beforehand you can choose from a set menu. Bibs are provided for those who worry about spilling food in the dark, but my experience is that you adjust quite easily and eat normally with only a fork.

Blackout is such a unique experience that I think it is a must eat location for anyone with some spare time in their visit to Tel Aviv-Yafo. However, as the restaurant is only open three days a week be sure to plan ahead and make a reservation.

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What your dining experience looks like
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Mercaz Na Laga’at located in the Yafo Port
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The entrance to the Blackout Restaurant
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The Blackout Restaurant from the outside
 
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Monday, April 5, 2010

Review of Tel Aviv's Culinary Scene

Check out this very well written and glowing review of Tel Aviv's culinary scene in the Washington Post my friend Liz sent me. One part, in particular, I very much connected with. The author mentions that even in your downtime from eating out you can watch cooking shows Friday evenings in your hotel room. I have family that I have dinner with on Friday nights a few times a month, and we often watch cookings shows before dinner. Whether it be Aharoni (named after Chef Aharoni), Te'amim (Flavors), or Shum, Pilpel, v'Shemen Zayit (Garlic, Pepper, and Olive Oil) watching parts of these shows is something I very much associate with Friday evenings and I was happy to see the article mention the programs as well.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Government Stole Our Idea!

Savor Israel is not the only organization that is trying to expose people to Israel's culinary achievements. The Foreign Ministry recently had a number of high profile food writers, restaurateurs and other food industry leaders come to Israel for a food tour. Check out the article below, written in the Jerusalem Post, and hopefully next time the Foreign Ministry will contact Savor Israel to lead the tour:-)


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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spicy Cactus


Sabrasim!


In the past few days I've eaten 300 grams, or an entire bottle, of schug. Schug is a Yemenite hot sauce, but what makes the kind I've been devouring unique is that it is primarily made up of sabrasim. Sabrasim, or prickly pears as they are referred to in English, are sweet cactus fruits that are popular in Israel. The sabrasim schug is still plenty hot, but has a unique sweet taste to it that the sabrasim provide.During the summer, when the sabrasim are the most in season, you can count on a sabras vendor at almost every major highway offramp/intersection. I'll be sure to buy some and make my own sabras schug. 







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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Green in the Desert

I was in the Negev yesterday doing some food research and was blown away by how green everything was. The Negev region has received more rain so far this year than the yearly average, and it shows. The hills are dotted in with green plants everywhere, grasses are growing, flowers blooming, and its quite an overall sight. I just wanted to share this picture of wildflowers blooming near the ruins of the Nabataean city of Avdat. Most of the year the only colors you see in this landscape are golden yellow and brown, so the greens and purples are a nice treat.

Wildflowers outside of Avdat



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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Can Apples Bring Peace to the Middle East?

Probably not...but this week marks the beginning of the now annual trade between Israel and Syria. Dozens of trucks, apparently driven by Kenyans in Red Cross vehicles, will be allowed to cross from Israel to Syria to sell the surplus of apples grown by Druze in the Golan Heights.

The trade results from a combination of the basic economics principle of supply and demand mixed with some regional politics. First and foremost, more apples are grown in the Golan Heights than is needed for the Israeli domestic demand. On the other side of the coin, the Syrians don't grown enough apples to meet their domestic demand. While Syria might not appear to the most likely of destinations for this excess of apples, since 2004, this is where many of apples are shipped to.

The Druze in the Golan Heights were Syrian citizens before the 6 day war, and many of them still view themselves as Syrian. Many of the Druze were also cut off from their relatives at the conclusion of the war, yet still maintain contact with their Syrian relatives. The apple trade represents an opportunity for the Druze on both sides of the border to show their support for each other and solve a simple agricultural trade issue. Some political analysts view the apple trade as a sign of thawed relations between Israel and Syria, and proof that a peace agreement is possible. We'll just have to wait and see...In the meantime check out this recipe for apple pie.


The new symbol of peace?




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Monday, March 1, 2010

Schwarma and McDonald's Don't Mix

I was in line at HaKosem, one of my favorite falafel/sabich/schwarma places in Tel Aviv, when the person in front of me asked for "chips" (fries in Israel, amongst other countries) in their schwarma.

Before I finish the story, I want to share a culinary pet peeve of mine. Chips in schwarma!!! I just don't think they belong. I'm not one that says a food has to stay traditional, but chips/fries just don't belong in a schwarma. In Israel I am in the clear minority as most people consider them almost as important as the hummus and tahina. (that may be a slight exaggeration) In any case, HaKosem, despite its strong reputation and high prices reflecting as much, is taking a risk by not offering them.

HaKosem takes pride in not offering chips, and the worker had a huge grin on his face as he responded to the customer's request by saying, "go to McDonald's if you want chips". I couldn't agree more I thought to myself as I then proceeded to order...sabich.


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Sunday, February 28, 2010

NY Times and Russian Culture (food) in Israel

First, I want to wish the US Hockey team luck tonight against Canada.

Second, there was a very interesting article published in the New York Times the other day about Russian culture in Israel. It was written by the Times' Moscow bureau chief, and it was published in the travel section. The author writes about the impact, with his primary focus being culinary, of the 1.5 million immigrants from countries that comprised the former Soviet Union to Israel in the last 20 years.

The article is definitely worth a read, and he even mentions a restaurant, Nanushka, that I've reviewed on this blog in the past. My only concern is that people will flock to Ashdod expecting a more grandiose place than the reality...at least from my experience.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Happy Purim!


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