Many years ago, while I was working as a counselor at Beth Tfiloh day camp in the Baltimore suburbs, my favorite camper took a trip to Israel. She came back with the best present a 15-year-old counselor could ever ask for: a jar of chocolate spread.
At the time, I’d never encountered such a thing. And it changed my life. Suddenly chocolate peanut butter sandwiches were the stuff dreams were made of.
Fast forward nearly two decades. We live in a world where chocolate and other nutty spreads are prevalent. Just yesterday the maker of Nutella made news by cancelling World Nutella Day!
At the same time, a minor travesty was unfolding in our neighborhood in brownstone Brooklyn. Ample Hills, Prospect Height’s newest and arguably most popular ice cream shop, announced that it is cutting down from 24 ice cream flavors to 16.
In doing so, they may get rid of Nanatella, a delicious organic banana ice cream rippled with — you guessed it — creamy Nutella.
Meet the world’s most accomplished Israeli sommelier. [The NY Jewish Week]
Get ready for the second annual Long Island kosher BBQ cook-off. Trust us, you’ll want to save your appetite for this one. [Yeah That’s Kosher]
Serious Reading: four delicious books to devour this summer. [Serious Eats]
High-end burgers are showing up all over kosher menus in New York City. [Yeah That’s Kosher]
New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells is hitting the road. He’ll be reviewing restaurants around the country. [Diner’s Journal]
True confession: I’ve been a Martha Stewart follower since the early 90s. Her old magazines are stored in my basement and my daughters and I watched her old shows religiously. Parties, changing seasons, holidays, and projects were all sourced through our Martha lens.
So, it makes sense that when our youngest daughter, who made Aliyah this past summer and now serves in the Israeli Air Force, called with news of her engagement, wedding ideas were floating in my mind. Radio on, thoughts flying, errands ticking off the list and then I listened: Martha Stewart was on Sirus Radio taking calls from listeners, and of course, I had to phone in. I was told to hold for Martha as I pulled into our driveway.
There’s nothing like dining with a local when traveling. A homecooked meal is often a welcome reprieve from a week of restaurant dinners and the insider tips you can glean from someone who lives there beat any tour book. If you’re not lucky enough to have friends or family in Israel (or even if you are), a new company called EatWith is your virtual insider friend.
Part supper club and part social experiment, the idea for EatWith came to founder Guy Michlin while on vacation with his family in Greece in 2011. “We always look for the authentic places [when we travel], but we couldn’t find them and fell into every possible tourist trap,” explained Michlin in a phone interview. “On this specific trip almost by accident I managed to get us an invitation to a local family for dinner and this was by far the highlight of the trip.”
Israeli-born and a graduate of Stanford Business School, Michlin had been on the lookout for a start-up idea, and he knew he was onto something. “When I came back to Israel ,” he recalls, “we started thinking about it and brainstorming. How can we take this unique experience and turn it into a business?”
It looks like room service isn’t going to be an option for President Obama when he stays at the Kind David Hotel in Jerusalem on his upcoming trip to Israel. He’ll arrive on March 20, less than a week before Passover begins and according to The Times of Israel, the hotel’s kitchens will have already been made kosher for the holiday. (We’re taking this to mean that a pancake breakfast or late-night shwarma in bed are out of the question.)
We wouldn’t want Obama to go hungry, so we took it upon ourselves to ask some of Israel’s best food critics and most dedicated eaters where the president should go to get a taste of the Holy Land. (While we created the list with the president in mind, we won’t mind if you take advantage of it too!)
A Taste of Tel Aviv
Janna Gur, chief editor of Al Hashulchan (On The Table) magazine, suggests the president spend 24 hours in Tel Aviv focusing on gastronomy rather than diplomacy. “He’ll have a hard time pushing the peace process, so he should have some fun in Tel Aviv,” she said. Here are her recommendations:
A new stunning Israeli book aims to bridge the space between the ocean and the table. Half cookbook, half artful seafood encyclopedia, the book is a project of famed Tel Aviv port restaurant Mul-Yam (or, Across the Sea).
“Mul-Yam is known for bringing unusual fish to Israel,” the book’s designer Dan Alexander said about the 17-year-old restaurant. “We wanted to show [the owner] Shalom Maharovsky’s obsession in bringing the best raw material. He was the first to bring lobsters, oysters and rare seafood to Israel.” In 2003, Mul-Yam was the first Mediterranean-region restaurant to be added to the elite Les Grandes Tables du Monde group.
The first section of the book, which is also called “Mul-Yam,” contains stunningly artful photographs of a wide selection of domestic and imported fish and edible sea creatures — with their names given in seven languages. Culinary information along with scientific and even mythological anecdotes accompany the photographs. The book’s second part consists of recipes from the restaurant, along with beautiful photographs of the prepared dishes.
“The challenge was to create something people wanted to look at,” Alexander explained. “Creating a catalogue of fish was risky. It could have ended up just a book of dead fish.”
Only in Israel can you find a lawyer-by-day-religious-Jew-by-night, a Muslim nurse and a settler duking it out for culinary bragging rights on the country’s most watched tv program ever.
Modeled on the British reality cooking competition of the same name, the show features amateur chefs battling it out for the MasterChef title and a kitchen remodel as they are judged by a panel of celebrity restaurateurs. The incredibly popular contest includes a variety of culinary trials, such as the “mystery box challenge,” “the invention test,” and “the dish recreation test.”
Adam Ziv feels he was destined to make ice cream and own a gelateria. “No one in Israel knows more about ice cream that I do,” he said. “I think I have tried every kind of ice cream on offer anywhere in the country.”
Ziv, 27, has taken this lifetime of tasting and combined it with training in ice cream making in Europe to open “Bouza,” a much talked about ice cream shop in the Arab town Tarshisha, in northern Israel. The name “Bouza,” Arabic for ice cream, was chosen as a nod to Ziv’s business partnership with a local Palestinian restaurateur Alaa Sawitat.
But Ziv, who lives on nearby Kibbutz Sasa, told The Forward that he and Sawitat are not operating under any grand illusions that they are going to bring about Mid-East peace through a frozen dessert. “But one thing for sure is that if we are to have a normal life here, then we need to speak and live with one another, and to do business with one another,” Ziv said.
One of the signatures of modern Israeli cuisine is fresh, flavorful food made with fruits and vegetables that grow almost year round in the country’s temperate Mediterranean climate. So, it might be a bit surprising to learn that Israeli kids are eating school lunches that are as lacking in freshness and good nutrition as some of the worst American school lunches.
Armed with examples of fixes for the problem, like First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative and British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution campaign, Jerusalem City Councilmember Rachel Azaria is leading the fight for healthier school lunches in her city and throughout Israel.
With the Israeli elections imminent, it is well to consider the issue of public policy and food. For instance, the Green Movement, as Israel’s green party has recently joined Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah party and considers regulation of food production to be a significant componet in improving the country’s environmental policies. Livni, herself a vegetarian since age 12, will be convening a gathering of vegetarians next week to highlight areas where a more sustainable food policy should be pursued.
There are two underlying motivations behind the necessary policy reform. Environmentally, the pollution produced by agricultural operations, particularly from livestock is enormous. Six years ago, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the international meat industry produces18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, even more than transportation. The contribution of pesticides and fertilizers to water pollution is well known. In a recent long-term study of Israel’s stream, a research team I headed found that non-point source pollution, largely from agricultural sources, were the primary contributor of pollutants to Israel’s streams, rather than industry or even sewage.
It’s no secret that the kosher-keeping set in America often look longingly at the options available to our non-kosher-keeping friends. Gooey ripe cheeses. Local meats. Restaurants with certain character and flair. Even fresh-baked bread isn’t as easy to find as we might like. So when the chance came to take a vacation – the first in several years – my husband and I immediately knew we were headed to Israel. To eat.
The trip did not disappoint, and for a couple of foodies – albeit already well-connected in the kosher sustainable food world – we found delight after delight of kosher foods that we just can’t get at home, many of them also local, sustainable and reflecting the specific palate of Israel. Here are a few highlights:
The atmosphere in Tel Aviv last week, as residents ran to bomb shelters in response to incoming missile warning sirens, was far from pleasant. So Danielle Levy, proprietor of I Love Cupcakes, did her part to try to lighten the tense mood that had settled over the city by offering her customers some Operation Pillar of Defense themed cupcakes.
“It was hard to live in Tel Aviv last week,” Levy told The Forward. “Everyone was very stressed. It was a big shock for everybody.” A few people had asked her to make cupcakes with army-themed decorations like little helmets, uniforms, and boots. However, she decided to go in a different direction and decorate her cupcakes in a way that would “make people smile, brighten their day.” The little doves, hearts, peace signs, Israeli flags and IDF insignia decorations were a gesture of moral support to the citizens and army of Israel. She even topped some cupcakes with miniature “Make cupcakes not war” signs.
This will be my third Thanksgiving in Israel, marking yet another year that has slipped by. It’s the day when I miss America and my family most, but also the time when I realize the extent to which the foods of the Mediterranean and the Middle East have seeped into my cooking, making my life more flavorful.
The first year, I had been in Israel less than two months when Thanksgiving arrived and hadn’t found my sea legs at the grocery store yet. Tracking down all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving feast was daunting. Luckily, my in-laws came to the rescue by visiting just before the holiday, stocking us with essentials like canned pumpkin.
We had a huge potluck meal with close to 50 of my husband’s medical school classmates, all of whom brought their favorite Thanksgiving dishes to the table. It was a feast of epic proportions with traditions from every corner of my home-country represented. I contributed brisket and my mother-in-law’s famous pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, both favorites in my husband’s family.
Craft beer brewing is an art. The craft brewer is self-mandated to blend the complex flavors from water, malts, hops and yeasts into a harmony of delight. There is also a creed of the craft brewer as described by the Brewer’s Association:
• The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.
• Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients like malted barley; interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness.
• Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteerism, and sponsorship of events.
• Craft brewers have distinctive, individualistic approaches to connecting with their customers.
• Craft brewers maintain integrity by what they brew and their general independence, free from a substantial interest by a non-craft brewer.
About a year and a half ago, I had a cold. My itchy eyes were constantly tearing, my nose was both raw and runny at the same time. For someone who rarely gets sick and takes over the counter drugs on even rarer occasions it was a particularly out of body experience. I contracted this insufferable cold in December of 2010 while I was WWOOFing in Israel during my winter break at Hebrew University. I was staying in a quaint Moroccan moshav called Te’enim, where I learned how to cook delicious food and was offered a hand in marriage by just about every man who lived there. In this Salach Shabbati-eque town, I volunteered with a man whom I believe is one of Israel’s best kept secrets: Nissim Krispil.
Nissim is one of Israel’s leading herbalists (which explains his incredible immune system) and has written more than a dozen books about Israel’s foliage. He has a fascinating anthropological approach to Israel’s plants and their healing properties, and his incredible talent with a camera makes his books let your mind race in day dreams. Nissim is well over six feet tall, and yet as graceful as the blossoming plants which he studies. His skin is the color of afternoon coffee, leathery from spending years outside in the heat of the Moroccan and Israeli desert land. His voice, like an Israeli radio host, is comforting and familiar, even if you have never spoken a word to him in your life. Apart from giving me the worst cold I have ever contracted, Nissim started me on a path of fascination with the healing properties of flora, from Yemenite etrogs to wormwood to lemon verbena. This is Nissim’s story:
With Shavuot around the corner, I’m thinking about milk chocolate and Israel, where there are several unique local options. As Janna Gur, Editor of Israel’s Al Hashulchan–The Israeli Gastronomic Monthly explained to me in a phone conversation, Israelis love chocolate and have a distinct preference for milk chocolate. The history of these chocolates tells us something about the growing years of the country itself.
The Elite brand developed several favorites in the milky realm. M’kupelet, bars of thinly folded milk chocolate similar to the Flake Bar of Cadbury from 1920, have been produced by Elite since 1935. The fondly remembered Hayal-Hayelet, a fifty-gram milk chocolate bar, was sold to Israeli soldiers at subsidized prices at canteens. Chocolate eating in the Tzava, the Israeli army, provided, as one person described to me, another means to klitah or absorption into Israeli society for what he called “exotic populations, immigrant groups from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia.”
My first date with my husband was at Hummus Place, a small Israeli owned restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. At that point, I thought I knew what hummus was: a healthy chickpea spread we’d buy in college to dip baby carrots in or spread on bread for sandwiches. What else was there to know? Well, according to my Israeli date, a lot. Lucky for me, I had him, a dedicated hummus “connoisseur,” to show me the error of my foolish American thinking.
Our server, like all the servers, seemed to have just emerged from some sort of magical Tel Aviv-New York pipeline hidden in the restaurant’s kitchen. I watched my future husband order for the two of us in Hebrew with relief, because really, I had no idea what I wanted despite the limited menu, which featured four different types of hummus. He chose hummus masabacha (hummus with whole chickpeas and tahini) and hummus ful (hummus with fava beans). The hummus ful came with a sliced hardboiled egg, and both were served warm with a smattering of olive oil, paprika, parsley and a little zing of spice. Also available was the classic hummus with just tahini or hummus with mushrooms.
Well, it is indeed winter here in the Holy Land. The warming lights of Hannukah have passed us by, and the days are still feeling short. Temperatures in the Tel Aviv area usually fall between 10C and 22C (50F-72F), while folks in the Jerusalem area suffer a bit more with temperatures getting as low as 0C (32F). Perhaps this seems laughable to folks in colder regions of North America, but keep in mind that our homes are not equipped for the cold, with most everyone depending on space heaters or dual heating/cooling air conditioner units. Luckily, Israelis are a warm and open people and are perfectly comfortable snuggling up with one another during these cold months. We all get by.
Yet winter is a time of growth and renewal in Israel. Winter satiates the earth’s thirst with its rains, and with that comes a blanket of green that envelops the land. As it has for thousands of years, the land continues to feed and nourish its inhabitants despite the temperature shifts. Fall and early winter offerings, fruits like guavas and persimmons, and nuts like walnuts and pecans, are nearing the end of their time, while the citrus trees continue to bless the land with their beauty and their tasty fruits. A quick drive through any residential area will reveal a multitude of lemon, orange, clementine, pomello, kumquat, and limequat (a key-lime and kumquat hybrid) trees, lovely and heavy with fruit. Meanwhile, closer to the earth grow the brassicas, one of nature’s nutritional monarchs, packed full of fiber and anti-cancer compounds. Broccoli, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, and mustards all fit into this category and thrive during Israel’s colder, wetter months. Not to be forgotten, spinach, beets, carrots, and peas are also flourishing these days.
At one time every Israeli, especially male soccer fans, knew how to crack sunflower seeds. It was a perquisite to living in Israel, along with not so subtle line jumping. Those without this talent were looked upon as outcasts.
Chucking the shells directly on the sidewalk was part of the local custom. At bus stations piles would accumulate to the size of termite hills. By a quick glance at the height of the mound, it was possible to estimate the duration of the commuter’s wait, and indirectly the efficiency of the town’s public transportation.
While most Israelis are proficient with single seed shelling, some have become professional. They load fistfuls in their mouths and fire the shells like a submachine gun. Attempting to imitate this feat will only lead to appendicitis from swallowing the wrong parts, or the very least indigestion.
A recent development in kosher meat is stirring up controversy among Jews both observant and secular. It’s Spanish goose. Spanish farmers discovered that the flesh of their organically-raised geese tastes exactly like pork. Two entrepreneurs caught wind of this culinary phenomenon and immediately foresaw a market for the swinish treat: treyf-curious Jews. Now, all it needs is rabbinical approval.
Ynet reports that Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Yonah Metzger, enthusiastically endorses importing the pork-flavored goose to Israel.
To be sure that the flavor is authentically porcine, Metzger sent samples to three non-Jewish chefs. All agreed that the flavor of the Spanish goose is astonishing — just like pork. (What kind of pork it tastes like, we don’t know yet. Fried chops? Sugar-cured ham? Bacon?) With flavor stamp of approval at hand, Metzger argues that an authentic-tasting alternative to pork might persuade secular Jews to choose kosher.
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