The Jew And The Carrot

Nouveau Middle East Food Goes West

By Leah Koenig

Kramer and her business partner ate at Haj Kalil, an Arab restaurant in Jaffa, Israel. / Photo courtesy of Sara Kramer

Sara Kramer is not the first busy New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast. But she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar, Middle Eastern herbs, in her suitcase.

Until February of this year, Kramer, 28, was the executive chef at Glasserie, a celebrated Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant in Brooklyn that she co-founded. Now, she and her business partner (and former Glasserie sous chef) Sarah Hymanson, plan to open two new restaurants in Los Angeles — a downtown falafel and sandwich shop first, and later, an upscale-but-approachable shared plates eatery that will draw on flavors and ingredients from the same region.

Kramer’s restaurants are part of the burgeoning New Middle Eastern food movement, which has introduced ingredients like labneh cheese and pomegranate molasses to home cooks’ pantries, and vaulted chefs like Philadelphia’s Michael Solomonov (who owns the restaurant Zahav) and London’s Yotam Ottolenghi (co-author of the best-selling 2012 cookbook “Jerusalem”) into superstardom. In Los Angeles, Kramer’s work is preceded by chef Micah Wexler, whose modern Mediterranean restaurant, Mezze, was a hit with critics and diners until it closed in 2012.

On the face of it Kramer’s decision to uproot her life might seem spontaneous. Raised in Manhattan, she has deep personal and professional ties to the city. Furthermore, she started Glasserie just one year ago.

In an interview with Grub Street last February, she hinted that creative differences with Glasserie co-founder Sara Conklin were proving insurmountable. Relocating to California offers Kramer a chance to cook on her own terms. (The fact that her boyfriend is originally from Los Angeles sweetens the deal.)

In addition, Los Angeles’s sultry climate and its proximity to abundant produce year-round make it a better fit for her Mediterranean-focused vision. “We are interested in getting food straight from the source,” she said. “And the variety of produce at the farmers markets in California far surpasses what you find in New York.” From its date farms to its perfect tomatoes, “it just makes sense to make this kind of food here,” she said of her new home.

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Don't F— With My Knafeh!

By Ronit Vered

Dan Peretz // Haaretz

(Haaretz) — Danny Phillips’ knafeh place was supposed to satisfy practically every sector in this postmodern world of multiple identities and conflicts. There’s a menu based almost entirely on knafeh – one of the best loved of local foods – put together after extensive research, that gives pride of place to an ancient recipe. He uses local ingredients, including kadaif noodles made by a small local producer from the Nazareth area and cheeses from small boutique dairies. Prices are reasonable (“Knafeh is a food that makes people happy, so everyone should be able to afford to buy it,” declares the optimistic entrepreneur). And there are special items for vegans or customers with special health needs.

But there are those for whom the knafeh place Phillips opened in Jaffa’s Noga neighborhood exemplifies the bourgeois Jewish influx that is pushing some Arab residents out of the mixed city. And there is his audacity: Only an Englishman (Phillips was born in London in 1971) could come up with such completely unorthodox, savory versions of knafeh. Two dishes – knafeh with shakshouka (a nest of kadaif filled with Circassian cheese, tomatoes and egg yolks) and knafeh with spinach (a bed of noodles holds a mixture of feta cheese and spinach seasoned with sumac, lemon zest and cashew nuts) – aroused the ire of Hanin Majadala, a teacher of Arabic and an activist who lives in Jaffa.

The status she posted on her Facebook page on June 27 refers to both the Jewish-Arab and the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi conflicts, to the terrible crimes, in her view, being committed against the traditional dessert: “A post about how incredibly shameless Ashkenazim are. Knafeh. An Arab dessert. Not Mediterranean, not Mediterranean basin… Arab, asli, baladi, rasmi… the audacity and chutzpah have gone up yet another notch. Brace yourselves for Ashkenazi knafeh in Jaffa. The nerve, to open places selling Arab food and Arab desserts but with a Western twist. On the menu: Shakshuka on a bed of knafeh – so disgusting. No Arab would open a restaurant serving Ashkenazi food with an Arab twist, because we have self-respect first of all and respect for others, which you all are lacking. Nor are we lacking for good food, so we have no need to go out and adopt and steal the foods of others. And your food doesn’t taste good anyway.”

The status got 376 likes, 150 comments and 46 shares, and – whether for its bluntness or for how it underscored some painful issues – aroused a lot of stormy online discussion. The arguments that she and others raised related to socioeconomic matters, but also – as with the fierce debate over hummus and other Middle Eastern foods that are becoming part of Israeli cuisine – to issues of belonging and appropriation.

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United Noshes: The Alphabet Foodies

By Margaret Eby

United Noshes from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

For the past three years, Jesse Friedman and Laura Hadden have been on a quest to explore world cuisine from their modest kitchen in Brooklyn. The married couple is the force behind United Noshes, a project to throw a dinner party featuring the culinary offerings of each of the 193 member states and 2 permanently observing non-members of the United Nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Every month, Hadden and Friedman research recipes, gather ingredients, and prepare two to three feasts to represent the selected countries, going in roughly alphabetical order. Friedman does much of the cooking while Hadden documents the feast and entertains the guests. When possible, they solicit help from people familiar with a country’s culture and good.

Laura Hadden

It’s a project that stretches Friedman and Hadden’s taste buds and cooking prowess, but it also has another added benefit: Forming a loose community of people who love culinary experimentation. Old friends and new ones join the parties, as well as foodies who find out about the project and sign up for the newsletter. The price of admission is a donation to the World Food Program, a humanitarian organization fighting world hunger. Some 500 people have signed up for the newsletter, and Friedman and Hadden have thrown United Noshes events in Boston, D.C., Seattle, and the Bay Area, as well. At Friedman and Hadden’s 83rd party, a celebration of Israeli and Palestinian cuisine, the guests included a handful of writers, a ballet dancer, and an analytics expert, all there to sample offerings that included lamb kebabs, homemade hummus, and rugelach.

“We hit upon the idea because it combined two things we’re interested in,” Friedman said. “Exploring international dishes and meeting new people. We’ve met hundreds of people who are adventurous enough to try what we’re cooking. In New York, people tend not to visit each other in their homes. We wanted to open ours up.”

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Coconut Quinoa Comfort for Tisha B'av

By Molly Yeh

Photo by Molly Yeh

On these days leading up to Tisha B’av — especially in light of the current conflict in the Middle East — thinking about food doesn’t carry the joyous qualities that it typically does. It almost feels trivial.

In my kitchen, this is not a time for cakes or colorful foods — and for many who have begun their observance, not a time for eating meat. As my mind races with thoughts of Israel and Gaza, my stomach seeks out comfort and nourishment and little else. Here is a simple recipe for a multi-use dish that can be eaten in the days prior to Tisha B’av, to break the fast as a Shabbat meal or even Sunday brunch.

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The Year I Ate My Heart Out

By Molly Oberstein-Allen

The second semester of my freshman year of college, I was lucky enough to study abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Although I’d been to Israel before on school, family, and youth group trips, my study abroad experience gave me a deeper experience of, and as a result, commitment to, the country than I’d ever had before. I got to explore the places that don’t usually appear on tourist itineraries and make friends with both native Israelis and Palestinians. Because I was so young when I studied abroad, it also happened that I learned how to do my own grocery shopping in the Israeli shuk. As anyone who’s been to Israel knows, the shuk is loud, colorful, and bustling - a far cry from the tidy fluorescent-lit Costco aisles I was used to commanding with my mother on Thursday afternoons.

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Israel's Pepper Protest — and Solution

By Tom Gordon

In the summer of 2011, “the cottage cheese protest” began In Israel. Israelis had enough with the rising costs of living, and demanded to return the possibility to live in dignity – starting with cottage cheese. This demand is certainly still out there for the government to handle, and there is no doubt that some of the responsibility to lower the costs of living is on the government, but Israeli citizens should not be passive. We can reduce the costs of living, while having a more fair and sustainable economic system even today.

“The pepper protest”, which started several months ago, is a yet another great example of these issues. The protest was initiated by a farmer from the Arava region in the south of Israel who was forced to throw away perfectly good peppers in order to keep high market-price.

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A Taste of Tel Aviv in New Orleans

By Sigal Samuel and Anne Cohen

Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya cooks an eggplant and okra dish in his New Orleans restaurant.

Nearly 300 years after Louis the XIV’s “Code Noir” ordered all Jews out of Louisiana, Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya set up shop in New Orleans.

Shaya’s restaurant, Domenica, opened as a traditional Italian restaurant in 2009. Slowly but surely, however, Israeli flavors started to seep into his menu. The result? Italian staples like slow-roasted goat shoulder and broccoli rabe find themselves folded into shakshuka.

“When you’re Israeli, food is a huge part of your culture,” Shaya said. “There’s no like ‘Oh, I’m not into that.’”

Born in Bat Yam, a coastal town in Israel, Shaya moved with his family to Philadelphia when he was 4 years old. As the head of a struggling immigrant family, his mother worked two jobs to make ends meet. As a result, Shaya would often cook dinner for the family. His meals started off simple: a microwaved potato with cheese. But on those rare special occasions when his Israeli grandparents would come to visit, the kitchen would fill with the comforting smells of roasting vegetables, infused with the flavors of his Savta’s Bulgarian ancestry.

“I fell in love with food because my grandmother would come from Israel every year,” Shaya explained. “I would never know when she was arriving so when I would open the door and smell peppers roasting on an open flame, it was like ‘Oh my God, Savta’s here!’ That started creating a connection between the smell of food and family.”

The next few years were tumultuous to say the least. By his own admission, Shaya was “a shitty little kid” who fell in with “the wrong crowd.” He was constantly getting kicked out of class. His salvation came in the form of a Home Economics teacher who would put him to work chopping onions when others teachers booted him out.

“She really was the turning point for me to get serious about something. She got me my first restaurant job, she drove me there, she checked up on me that I was showing up on time.”

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Shaya spent some time cooking at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Antonio’s Ristorante in St. Louis.

He spent 2007 in Italy to soak up the techniques he would need to open Domenica.

With the restaurant established, he was surprised to find himself introducing Israeli dishes into his repertoire. He started small: a dish of tahini here, an Israeli bottle of wine there. The customers went wild.

“We were selling more Israeli wine here than anywhere in the state of Louisiana,” Shaya laughed.

Today, Shaya hosts Passover and Hannukah meals at the restaurant, serving dishes like zaa’tar buttermilk biscuits with babaganoush, latkes with a side of creole-cream-cheese-stuffed deviled eggs topped with salmon roe, and Sicilian sea-salt matzo with olives and rosemary. The Passover menu can draw in up to 400 people.

Shaya is the first to say that he’s “fallen head over heels” for New Orleans. His kitchen is well-stocked with locally sourced Southern ingredients — and he often blends them with Israeli flavors.

Though Shaya says there have been “many failed experiments,” his fire-roasted eggplant stuffed with okra and drizzled with tahini is not one of them. Each spoonful was a surprising fusion of Tel Aviv and the Big Easy. The chef pointed out that the eggplant and okra are grown in nearby farms — and to him, that’s important.

“Food doesn’t have to be fried chicken for it to be Southern,” Shaya explained. “It just has to be from the South.”

Alon Shaya shared his recipe for okra-stuffed coal-roasted eggplant with the Forward. Try it for yourself at home!

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6 Ways To Put a Jewish Twist on Your Mojito

By Hody Nemes

The mojito is a classic Cuban drink. But who says it can’t be a Jewish one, too?

In honor of National Mojito Day on July 11, we have concocted (and named!) 6 Jewish mojitos that will spice up a summer party. Or a synagogue kiddush.

Start by finding the five classic ingredients of a mojito: rum, lime juice, sugar, mint, and sparkling water.

That’s when the real fun begins:

1) The Borscht Belt

Throw in a tablespoon of beet puree to create a beautiful pink mojito that marches to the beet of its own drum. Add a dash of ginger for an extra refreshing kick.


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Shakshuka Is Israel's Summer Favorite — for Dinner

By Vered Guttman

Shiran Carmel/Haaretz

(Haaretz) — All has already been written about the famous Israeli breakfast of a large chopped Arabic salad, eggs, labneh, feta and other cheeses, Greek style yogurt and bread: that it’s fresh and healthy, that it’s Middle Eastern, that it’s just too much.

Everything was said, except the truth, and the truth is that Israelis have this exact meal for dinner, not breakfast.

Many Israelis still have heavy, hot meals at lunch. Kids come back from school early and have their schnitzel and mashed potatoes. Dinner is light and includes the dishes listed above.

Summer, when light cooking or no cooking at all are a plus, is the best time to try and follow this diet. Tomatoes and cucumbers are at their peak this time of year and yield the best chopped salad. To the regular chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions add grated radishes, chopped peppers and fresh mint and finish with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Offer good bread to absorb all the goodness accumulating at the bottom of the salad bowl. You can also add a simple salad of squashed avocado with chopped egg, green onions and olives to spread on bread.

Finish this Israeli-inspired dinner with a fresh watermelon. You’ll leave the table full but not heavy. You might even sleep better!

There’s one staple that requires cooking, but still fits summer dinners (or brunches) really well, and that is shakshuka. Shakshuka is a Northern African dish of cooked eggs in tomato and red pepper or paprika stew, usually with the addition of hot pepper. It was brought to Israel by the Tunisian Jewish immigrants and is popular both in Israeli homes and restaurants. The most common version is made of cooked tomatoes, crushed garlic and paprika. Some recipes include sliced chorizos, some call for feta cheese, and there’s also a green version of Swiss chard or spinach stew with eggs cooked in it is gaining popularity as well.

Shakshuka made with canned tomatoes can be quite good, but there’s really nothing like one made of fresh summer tomatoes. The dish has such few ingredients- it relies on the tomatoes alone, and those must be of the best flavor. Try mixing different heirloom tomatoes- but any good, red, ripe tomatoes will work well.

With slices of ciabatta or sourdough bread, this is a whole vegetarian meal on its own. I just wish I could say it was cheap, since no meat is saved. Unfortunately, if you’re living in America, tomatoes, even in the summer, can be as expensive as meat, or even more expensive- something I still cannot understand. But you’ll be comforted to know you’re following the MyPlate recommendations of the USDA, and serving your family real goodness in a skillet.

Below are two versions for shakshuka, one is a classic tomato-paprika base with roasted eggplant, the other is a summer version of Swiss chard and fresh corn.

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Your New Favorite Summer Treat: Halva Popsicles

By Molly Yeh

My love affair with halva began in the cafeteria of an IDF base, surrounded by pounds upon pounds of halva bars and a bunch of my best Birthright friends. We sat for an entire afternoon, unwrapping the bars, “quality controlling,” and making enough halva bread pudding to serve a literal army.

Logic would have it that after all of that quality controlling, I’d have gotten sick of it, but it really just made me want more in a way that I now hoard it and try to sneak it into everything. Muffins, pie, even my birthday cake this year was filled with it. Such sweet, nutty, fudgey goodness is only made better by the fact that it brings back wonderful memories of my trip to Israel.

This summer, my favorite way to enjoy halva is in popsicle form. Chopped up pieces of halva scattered throughout tahini and honey yogurt, and then frozen and embellished with chocolate? I could eat a whole batch.

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Israel's 12 Sweetest Treats — And Where To Find Them

By Rotem Maimon

Photo by David Silverman

(Haaretz)— Israel has made great strides in the numbers of patisseries and boulangeries that have opened here, and many of the top pastry chefs have honed their craft abroad, but is there such a thing as a real Israeli dessert? We asked chefs from 12 leading restaurants to describe their most Israeli desserts. Taste and decide for yourself.

1) Catit

The dessert: olive oil sable, blood orange crème, ginger crème, tapioca tuile, buttermilk foam, rose petals and hibiscus dust, olive oil and white chocolate ice cream.

Pastry chef Hila Perry: “The olive oil is Israeli, as is the citrus – the blood orange – that surrounds it. And the buttermilk always reminds me of that childhood treat, Daniela whipped pudding, in its best form.”


2) Herbert Samuel in Herzliya (kosher):

The dessert: Mount Bracha tahini. Tahini sorbet, espresso granite, sesame tuile.

Pastry chef Shlomi Palensya: “We wanted something Israeli that would fit the rules of kashrut and also appeal to tourists. We started with a tahini sorbet then we thought ‘What would make it more interesting?’ So we made a sesame tuile and added coffee granite, and it immediately became one of our signature dishes.”

Photo by David Silverman


3) Kitchen Market:

The dessert: Israeli cheesecake with black olives, strawberries and yogurt sorbet

Pastry chef Yossi Sheetrit: “This cheesecake is something you can find in any Israeli household, except that we’ve added a little twist. The flavors are very Israeli: cheese, olives and olive oil.”

Photo by David Silverman


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From International Journey to Cultural Connection

By Len Zangwill

Len Zangwill

The falafel stand was a key stop on the “tour” of Israel. Organized within my son’s active imagination, the imaginary tour was inspired by a Happy Birthday Israel program at our synagogue. This trip was special because it included a participatory component beyond a float in the Dead Sea, a dip in the Mediterranean, a stop at the Western Wall, or, for that matter, visiting a falafel stand. The extra component was helping to “prepare” a special (birthday) meal for Israel–on a kibbutz no less. The menu, as arranged by our youthful tour guide (age 4), included falafel, pita bread, hummus and Israeli salad along with tahini. We had a wonderful time “preparing” the meal and enjoying it. Our son beamed as his satiated parents expressed their appreciation for his culinary creativity. It added a different dimension to the trip.

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4 Things Sabra Teaches Us About Hummus

By Anne Cohen

Thursday May 15 is National Hummus Day. If you’ve been paying attention to Jewish food trends, you might also be aware that 2014 has been declared “The Year of the Hummus.”

That’s a lot of chickpeas.

To celebrate, Sabra (the official dips sponsor to the NFL!) has written a (not-so) handy guide to teach hummus philistines about Israel’s national dip. Here are just some of the things we learned from “Hummus for Dummies”:

1. How to pronounce “hummus”

Do you end in Oos, in Iss, in Uss? According to “Hummus for Dummies,” hummus is a “fun word,” yet difficult to pronounce. Pretty straightforward so far. Then it gets weird:

Some people will tell you that it starts with a “choo” sound made toward the back of your throat (less “choo-choo train” — more “achtung baby”).

If in doubt, you can always just call it “yummus.”

2. Hummus can be fruity

We are told that hummus is a “rich, smooth, creamy dip” made from chickpeas, tahini, garlic, spices, oils, vegetables — and fruits? Mango in your hummus, really?

If that’s not enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, the guide also offers recipes for hummus-based desserts like “Chocolate Hummus Truffles,” and “Chocolate, Coconut and Caramel Hummus Pastries.”

3. “Chickpeas are sometimes confused with nuts.”

Are they? Why? A section called “Browsing through interesting hummus facts” explains that because you can roast and season chickpeas, innocent bystanders could taste the crunchy — and yes, granted — slightly nutty legume and get confused. So once again, just in case you missed that class: Chickpeas are not nuts.

4. Hummus “loves you back.”

Any fan of the veggie-tray can tell you that it’s the dip that packs on the pounds. But now, you can enjoy those fresh carrot and celery sticks the way God intended you to — ”hummus can be the fresh flavorful answer to the prayers at the center of your vegetable tray.” Glad we cleared that one up.

Just kidding Sabra. We love hummus too.

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Cooking to Heal — On Both Sides of Green Line

By Ronit Vered

From left: Bushra Awad and Robi Damelin, two of the 50 women who took part in the project. Photo by Dan Peretz

(Haaretz) — “This is Subriya,” says Robi Damelin, as she begins introducing the people sitting around the table. “She lives in Nablus, and is one of the best cooks in the group. The pumpkin jam and plum jam, two of the best recipes in the book, are hers. This is Tamara Rabinovich from Jaffa, who contributed an amazing recipe for pickled cucumbers in a bag, and this is Umm Ahmed, who also makes all kinds of pickled vegetables, some so spicy they can bring you to tears. Tell the truth, Umm Ahmed — weren’t you trying to kill the Jewish women with your pickles?” A translator renders Damelin’s comments into Arabic, and Umm Ahmed laughs heartily. “Not all the Jewish women, Robi. Just you.”

Black humor is an integral part of the group dynamic. The common denominator for all these women, Israeli and Palestinian, is bereavement. All have lost close family members to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all are members of the Parents Circle – Family Forum, an organization that seeks to foster dialogue between the opposing sides based on a common sense of pain. “The understanding that the pain of loss is the same pain is always the starting point,” says Damelin, who became very active in the forum after her son David was killed in 2002.

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Chocolate Shwarma — Is This Necessary?

By Danielle Ziri

New food crazes pop up every few months in Israel: chocolate-filled syringes, the cupcake, the kurtosh (a Hungarian cylinder shaped cake which comes in many flavors), and even the cronut made its debut in Tel Aviv this year. So it was only a matter of time until someone created a gimmicky dessert with Israeli sugar addicts in mind. Introducing: the Chocolate Shwarma.

The concept is simple: replace the rotating meat pole with a chocolate one. The chocolate is simply shaved off the pole the way shawarma meat is and put inside a crepe which stands in for pita.

Like any good shwarma sandwich in Israel, toppings are abundant at ChocoKebab in Jerusalem. Here you can choose from halva, marshmallows, chocolate chips and nuts. If you’re looking for a creamy base, you can add a schmear of maple syrup, whipped cream or even dulce de leche to the crepe.

There is definitely something appealing about creating a sweet version of a savory dish. Many have done it before, like Max Brenner’s Chocolate Pizza. But to be honest, the ChocoKebab is nothing more than a crepe, and crepes are not new around here. They have been sold in stands in almost every mall in Israel for years. So the only new thing about the chocolate shawarma the preparation and the packaging.

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Although it “screams Israel”, the Choco-Kebab was not actually invented in the country: it was brought to the holy land by Oded Cohen, a newbie to the food industry who came across a similar concept during a trip to Sicily.

The first branch opened in Jerusalem a few months ago. Today, there are choco-shawarma stands in Hod HaSharon, Modi’in, and Ness Ziona. More branches are expected to open across the country, including in Tel Aviv.

But Israel’s love for ever-changing trends means they usually don’t last very long — the average life expectancy of a Tel Aviv bar is approximately one year. After that, they usually close, make a few upgrades in decoration and re-open under a new name. Only time will tell the fate of the Choco-shawarma, but be assured: chocolate and crepe connoisseurs will not be fooled.

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Susie Fishbein Takes Israel — Well, Its Upscale Parts

By Miriam Kresh

If you have a lot of money and time to spend in the holy land, you would be lucky to find yourself on one of kosher cookbook author Susie Fishbein’s tours. She recently led a group of 34 from the Negev to Sfat to Tel Aviv — with stops at the artisanal Lachma Baker, a chocolate workshop, the Carmel winery and a Yemenite garden meal in a grove with 120 exotic trees — all while offering cooking demos on a moving bus.

I caught up with her group early in the tour, at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv. The ladies (only four men tagged along) were learning how to stuff ravioli at the hotel’s restaurant, Blue Sky. The hotel sous-chefs had prepared the pasta and rolled it out in advance, so that all the participants needed to do was cut out pasta circles, squeeze a prepared filling of ricotta and spinach over them, then top them with other pasta circles. The ravioli found their way to the lunch table. It reminded me a bit of the challah my daughters used to bring home from school, where the teacher had prepared the dough and the girls only braided and egg-washed the little loaves.

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Telling the Story of Israel's Trees

By Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen

Following his successful Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel leading Israeli environmental lawyer and activist Alon Tal has produced another must read for anyone interested in learning more about the land of Israel; in this case the trees that call that land home. His latest book, All the Trees of the Forest: Israel’s Woodlands from the Bible to the Present reads like a combination of a Sherlock Holmes novel filled with characters working to solve the case of what is best for the land of Israel when it comes to trees, and a tractate of the Talmud where divergent issues are explored that all add to a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.

While the focus of the book is Israel, with only “1/60,000 of the wooded area of the planet,” the information and lessons presented are, as Tal points out, both universal in nature and scope. As Tal writes, “In 1948, the planted stands and remnants of natural woodlands occupied less than 2 percent of the area of the State. By 2005 that figure had increased t some 8.5 percent, and should easily cross the 10 percent mark before stabilizing in a couple of decades. A land that was synonymous with erosion, desertification, and human neglect, is enjoying an environmental makeover.” He then continues, “This exercise in ecological rehabilitation occurred in a country where 97 percent of the ground is classified as ‘drylands,’ making it particular relevant for half of the planet where water will be scarce.”

Not that this has been an easy journey.

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Our Favorite New Israeli Wines

By Liz Steinberg

Liz Steinberg

Wine may have been produced in the land of Israel since biblical times, but Israel’s wine industry is relatively new and it’s growing handsomely. Last week’s Sommelier Wine Expo in Tel Aviv offered an excellent opportunity to drink (and drink to) the wines of country’s budding boutique wineries.

We tasted, sipped, swirled wine in our glasses and narrowed it down to our three favorite wineries and one award-winning boutique liquor. We can’t wait to putt these bottles on our table. You’re unlikely to find these products being sold in too many places outside Israel — in fact, you’re unlikely to find them outside specialty wine stores even within Israel — but keep your eyes open, the search is half the fun.

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The First Israeli Whisky Distillery

By Simon Fried

Picture a bar in Tel Aviv, it’s early 2012 and a group of friends are joking about starting a whisky distillery – in Israel. It may sound funny, but this is no joke, and since those first meetings, I have been part of a team working tirelessly to make it a reality. Our efforts to open the first Israeli distillery – Milk & Honey - are moving along, but we have reached a critical stage and we are looking to Israel supporters, whisky lovers, and anyone who loves a crazy idea to become part of the story.

This may sound like an incredible challenge, to make a product that competes with the traditional masters in Scotland or with America’s famous bourbons. But we see an opportunity to put Israel on the whisky map, and this is what has helped push us forward. When we set out to make the first Israeli whisky, we knew we were undertaking a challenge that no one had succeeded in before. We needed to find the right recipe to get the job done. Much like making a good whisky we had to be methodical and precise. So here is our recipe for building the first Israeli distillery from scratch:

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Behind the Scenes of 'The Search for Israeli Cuisine'

By Liz Steinberg

Courtesy of Florentine Films
Chef Michael Solomonov and filmmaker Roger Sherman shopping at a spice store in Levinsky market.

It was an overcast Monday afternoon in Tel Aviv’s beleaguered Hatikva neighborhood, and Chef Michael Solomonov was gamely accepting dish after dish at Bosi, a small-family owned restaurant, surrounded by cameras and sound men. Facing skewers of meat, a mounting stack of fresh flatbreads and a dozen salads including beet, several eggplant dishes, coleslaws and hummus, he rattled off descriptions for the camera. Using the salads to illustrate the Israeli melting pot, he attempted to name the origin of each one — one is probably Yemenite, another looks Palestinian — and turned around to feed a bite of kebab to his cameraman, documentary filmmaker Roger Sherman, who was towering over him.

Solomonov is partnered with Sherman, a two-time Academy Award nominee, to film an upcoming PBS documentary on Israeli food, “The Search for Israeli Cuisine.” They have traveled the country up and down, from Metullah to Mitzpeh Ramon, in search of what Solomonov termed “grassroots” food experiences. Along the way, they visited vintners, farmers, cheesemakers. Solomonov also stopped in the homes of talented cooks and attended a poyke dinner after dark in the desert. The list of sites was pulled together by Solomonov, Sherman. producer Karen Shakerdge, who is half Israeli, and Avichai Tsabari, a local tour guide and sommelier. All in all, the trip was the result of one and a half years’ worth of planning and fundraising to date, to be packaged into four half-hour episodes scheduled to air next year.

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