The great chefs of our time are often measured by their originality and unabashed breaking of culinary rules. They're expected to exhibit bravery in their kitchens, combining ingredients one would never imagine seeing on the same plate. But what if the world's great cuisines were measured by the same standards? Israeli cuisine would, without a doubt, stand out. Along with diverse culture, language and customs, the Jews gathered in Israel coming from more than 70 nations bringing their traditional food recipes as well. And so, as the cultures started merging into a new Israeli identity, the flavors started merging as well. In a typical Israeli meal one could find a schnitzel that originated in Austria, couscous that originated in Morocco, and pickles that originated in Poland. Literally a melting pot of aromas and flavors! Tradition meets innovation and curiosity while all along showcasing Israel's incredibly fresh produce.
Traditional holiday fare can be quite basic in its culinary choices: for the most part kebobs, steaks and other meats, grilled outdoors throughout the country. But these five Israeli recipes below are all super fresh and easy to make, and showcase the strong flavors of the nation’s cuisine and its reliance on fresh vegetables and herbs—the perfect way to celebrate Israel’s 63rd year of independence.
Beets and Pomegranate Salad
4 medium beetroots
1 cup pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate
3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 dried chili peppers, crushed
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
Coarse sea salt to taste
Boil or bake the beets until tender. Cool, peel and cut into small pieces. In a mixing bowl mix the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, peppers and salt and set a side for 20 minutes. Mix the beets with the pomegranate seeds, cilantro and the sauce. Pour olive oil on top and serve.
4 medium eggplants
10 tablespoons goat milk yogurt
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch of fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon chopped hot green pepper
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place a whole eggplant on a rack over an open flame and roast, turning occasionally, until the skin is blackened and the flesh feels soft. The eggplants can also be broiled in the oven. Cool slightly and cut open. Place the eggplants in the center of 4 serving plates and flatten slightly with a fork. Pour small amounts of the yogurt, olive oil and lemon juice over the eggplants. Spoon out the contents of one tomato over each eggplant. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and hot green pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and serve immediately.
10 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced (canned tomatoes of high quality will do as well)
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, remove seeds and finely dice
3 tbs. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. paprika
2 tbs. tomato paste
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped parsley
In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the peppers and cook them while stirring often for about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cover the pan, and simmer for 2-4 minutes. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper and paprika. Taste for seasoning; the sauce should be highly flavored. Cook the sauce on a low-medium heat, while stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce seems set. One by one, break the eggs into the tomato sauce, shaking the pan a bit to spread the egg whites. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 3 minutes or until the egg whites set (cook longer if you like your eggs firm). In a cup, mix the lemon juice, the raw garlic and the chopped parsley and pour on the sizzling shakshuka when serving.
Cauliflower and Tahini Salad
Canola oil for frying
For the sauce:
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
Juice from 2 lemons
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
Half cup raw tahini
Wash and clean the cauliflower and divide into florets. Beat the eggs and mix them with salt to a smooth texture. Dip the cauliflower florets in the eggs and then fry them in a preheated pan. Fry the florets till they turn golden, then remove from the pan and set aside and let them chill. Mix in a mixing bowl the raw tahini with tap water. Gradually and sparingly add water while stirring the tahini quickly with a fork. You should get a texture between a paste and a sauce (not too watery). Add the lemon juice, cilantro and salt. Mix the cauliflower florets with the tahini sauce. Serve at room temperature.
Aromatic Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
1 1/2 lb Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 leek (white part only), chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and white pepper
Heat butter in large pot and sauté the leeks until translucent. Add the garlic, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes cubes and sauté for a few minutes. Add the stock and the thyme sprigs and bring to boil. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg and cover the pot. Cook over a low heat until the artichokes are very tender (approximately 45 minutes). Take out the thyme sprigs and let it set for a few minutes. Using a hand food processor, puree the soup. Bring to boil, add the cream, taste and adjust seasoning. Bake in a preheated 400° oven for 15-20 min till the florets get nicely golden.
All recipes were adapted from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur.
Naama Shefi is the Project Manager for the Department of Public Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York. Her work focuses on promoting the delicious flavors of her home country as part of the Consulate's larger mission of spreading Israeli culture in the Tri-State Area. After growing up eating in the communal dining room of her kibbutz and then moving to Tel Aviv and exploring its diverse restaurant scene, she now lives in culinary heaven that is New York City. However, she still misses the flavors of Israel.