Israel’s culinary traditions have been shaped by influences from Asia, Africa and Europe. Thus, becoming a culinary melting pot. The food of the Israelites has ‘seven species’ – olives, figs, dates, pomegranates, wheat, barley and grapes that play an important role in Israeli cuisine.
Some of the popular Israeli food are borekas (fresh vegetables, eggs and cheeses), Shakshouka (eggs in the morning) , Baba Ganoush– a tangy eggplant spread, falafel-deep fried chickpea balls with pita bread, Hummus– a mashed chickpea spread,( Hummus is a staple in Israeli households), Pita bread-national bread of Israel, Schnitzel -chicken cutlets in bread and fried, Shawarma-grilled lamb or other meat that is then sliced or ‘shaved’ and is enjoyed with pita bread and Tahini-a delicious spread made from sesame seeds. For lovers of desserts, baklava– a sweet layered enjoyed in Israel and its surrounding countries – Mediterranean and the middle east, crepes– fresh crepes with different fillings.
So, when Israel’s Chef Gil Hovav was in town, I attended his Masterclass. Chef Gil Hovav is a leading culinary journalists and television personality who comes from one of the respected families in the Jewish world. He is the great-grandson of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the reviver of the Hebrew language; the grandson of Itamar Ben-Avi who began modern Hebrew journalism; and the son of Moshe & Drora Hovav, “founding members” of Israel’s modern-day public radio.
Mr Hovav himself, with his illustrious career in journalism, in television and as an author, has played a major role in changing Israeli cuisine from one of the basic traditional foods to one of enviable gourmet dining. He began his career as a restaurant critic, moved on to become a newspaper editor, and was involved in creating, producing and presenting some of Israel’s most viewed and loved television food shows. These include the classic “Pepper, Garlic and Olive Oil”, “Captain Cook” (which reviewed the world’s best restaurants), and “Going to the Market”. These series later turned into best-selling cookbooks.
As an author, Chef Gil Hovav has published three best-selling novels all related to his family’s colourful history, exposing with humour and emotion the Jerusalem of his childhood that no longer exists. He has lectured around the world about Wartime Cooking in Jerusalem, My Great (and short) Grandfather Eliezer Ben Yehuda and Being Gay in Israel Today and has led cooking demonstrations and seminars focusing on Israeli cuisine, combined with his unique personal stories. Source
Hummus is as common in Israeli cuisine just as peanut butter is for America. Hummus is usually had with pita bread.
Serves: 25 portions
Ingredients: 400 gms small dry chickpeas,
4 peeled garlic cloves,
½ hot green pepper,
½ cup parsley,
1 cup good raw tahini,
(tahini is a sesame seed paste. A staple of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Cooking. It is essential ingredient in Hummus)
Juice of 1 lemon,
½ tsp cumin,
1 tbsp. salt
- Soak chickpeas for at least 6 hours.
- Drain and wash. Cook in fresh water until soft not mushy (this takes about 3 hours). While cooking, discard any foam on top of the water.
- When soft, take off the stove, let cool and drain but save about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
- Put garlic, fresh hot pepper and parsley in the food processor, and puree.
- Add chickpeas, and process. Add as much cooking liquid as needed to form a rather smooth paste. Do not over-process.
- Add tahini, lemon juice, cumin and salt and process again.
- Do not refrigerate. Serve at once, topped with olive oil and garnished with hot paprika, cumin and chopped parsley.
(couscous Vegetable salad)
Tabbouleh is a Levantine vegetarian dish or a salad that is made from tomatoes, chopped parsley, mint, bulgur and onion and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. At times, it is made with pomegranate seeds.
Ingredients: 1 bag instant couscous, (couscous is a dish made from granules of wheat flour usually prepared by steaming until they are light and fluffy).
6 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. coarse salt,
2 tbsp. ground black pepper,
½ cup pine nuts (lightly toasted),
1 cup pomegranate seeds,
½ cup chopped coriander,
½ cup chopped parsley,
½ cup chopped dill.
-Prepare instant couscous.
– Prepare salad from tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions. Dice well.
-Grind the peel of one lemon and squeeze the juice from both. Add to the salad.
– Add the rest of the ingredients (including couscous) and mix well.
– The salad keeps well in the fridge up to 24 hours.
(Hot Yemenite Salsa)
This hot salsa is eaten with everything by Yemenite Jews.
2 bunches fresh cilantro, (A Spanish word for coriander, also derived from Coriandrum).
15 hot green peppers,
1 bulb garlic,
1 tbsp. ground black pepper,
1 tbsp. ground cardamom,
1 tbsp. ground cumin,
1 tbsp. salt.
-Peel garlic cloves. Discard stems of green peppers. Put in food processor and make a rough paste.
– Roughly chop cilantro and add to the food processor together with the rest of the ingredients.
– Process until you get a shiny green paste.
– Put in jars and store in the fridge.
It was a wonderful evening, where we tasted all the above made by Gil Hovav. It was simply awesome.