I’ve lived in Israel for many years and grew to like the flavors and colors of the local food. It happened gradually and took a few years for me to learn and appreciate some of the ingredients. What is Israeli food? To me its the street food, the simple basic things all people love and are accessible to most, the things you find in every single grocery store small or large. To me, Israeli food is the following five:
1) Hummus – a combination of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and Tahini (sesame seed paste) with some spices.
2) Pita bread, or Pita pockets – a very important feature as it must be stuffed to the fullest with anything that comes to mind whether its Hummus, salads, meat, cheese and everything in between or the combination of all.
3) Spicy condiments eaten on many occasions as an accompaniment to Hummus, things called Matbuha or a Turkish salad which are combinations of sauteed tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, onions, garlic and spices.
4) Labaneh – a sort of soft yogurt cheese, often served with olive oil and Zaatar which leads me to number 5.
5) Zaatar – is actually a mixture of spices and sesame seeds that share the Arabic name of the herb used as the main ingredient. Latin names for the herb Zaatar include Origanum majorana (sweet marjoram), Origanum syriacum (also known as Bible hyssop, Syrian oregano and wild marjoram), and Thymus capitatus(thyme). Zaatar birri (“wild zaatar”) is identified as Origanum vulgarewhich in English can refer to European oregano, oregano, pot marjoram, wild marjoram, winter majoram, and wintersweet [Wikipedia].
I felt creative the other day and decided to make some of those things at home and here is how its done:
I never measure exact quantities so those are approximations and should be adjusted to your personal taste and preferences.
3 cups cooked chickpeas
6 cloves of garlic – minced.
Juice of one lemon.
4-5 Tbs quality Tahini (good Tahini would have a layer of oil on top, don’t forget to stir before using), since its liquid and gooey its a bit difficult to be exact.
1/2 to 1 tsp ground Cumin
Salt to taste
Instruction for making Hummus:
1) Soak chickpeas over night (or just 2-3 hours), cook in water until very soft, soft enough to mush with two fingers, drain reserving a cup of the water.
2) In a blender or using an immersion blender puree chickpeas with lemon juice and garlic; start adding Tahini and taste after 4 Tbsp add more if you wish, add salt and Cumin to taste.
3) Taste again, adjust all flavors the way you like. If too thick add some of the reserved water to loosen it up. Remember it will thicken a bit when cooled.
My version of the traditional spicy condiments I love having with Hummus:
4 cloves of garlic – minces
1 hot red pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
Handful of chopped parsley or cilantro – whichever you have or whichever you like best.
Pinch of Paprika
Large pinch of ground Cumin
1) Chop all vegetables very fine so they are all the same size; I like doing it using the chopping function of my blender (the one with the rotating blade).
2) On a low heat, put the veggies (except for the parsley) in a pan with a bit of olive oil. Add salt, Paprika and Cumin. When heated through add 1/4 cup of water and let absorb, add more water and let simmer until evaporated again…repeat another 3 times or so until all veggies are soft and just a bit of the liquid remains.
3) Mix in chopped Parsley/Cilantro.
1 large plastic container (650ml) of good quality plain yogurt (I used cow’s milk this time but could be dome with goat or sheep’s milk as well).
2/3 Tbsp salt
1) Mix yogurt with the salt
2) Transfer to the center of a multi layered (I used about 6-8 layers) cheese cloth and close with a kitchen twine or a rubber band so it looks like a ball. Why so many layers? Yogurt is fairly liquid and cheese cloth has large gaps between the threads so if you ised one or two layers your yogurt would just drip out in 2 minutes; many layers reduce the gaps and only the water drips out.
3) Hang over a bowl (into which the water will drip) overnight.
4) Eat plain or drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle with Zaatar.
*** I used 2% fat yogurt because this was what I had at home and it turned out great but the lower the fat content the more water the yogurt contains and you will be left with less cheese in the morning (volume-wise I had probably a 1/3 left) so keep it in mind :)
One last recipe, it was not included in the top five foods which remind me of Israel but it is out there and I made it as well… Eggplant is also very popular in Israel and it is the main component of various salads and spreads. This recipe was given to me by a lady I know only by her virtual nickname – thank you Shapirit :) and it turned out delicious! Me being me, of course I had to monkey around with quantities so I am gonna write it the way I did it – to my taste:
Roasted Eggplant Mousse
1 shallot – chopped
2 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter (a little less even)
1/4 cup white wine
1/3-1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
30-50gr Feta cheese (depending how salty and pungent it is)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1) Grill or roast the eggplant (400F in the oven for around an hour until soft); cool until you are able to handle it and take off the skin. Chop very coarsely (into 6-8 pieces).
2) Over medium heat saute shallot and garlic in olive oil and butter; add eggplant and wine and let it absorb.
3) Add 1/4 cup of cream and allow it to be absorbed.
4) Puree with an immersion blender, return to the heat and add 25gr of the feta cheese; mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
5) Add more of the cheese and cream to your personal taste and preferred consistency.
6) Let cool and eat. I sprinkled some black sesame seeds on top as well.
NO MORE PHOTOS THIS TIME -ALL WAS EATEN BEFORE I HAD THE CHANCE…