Music seems to be inspiring a fair amount of my cooking these days. No big surprise since I like to consider myself a dancer.
One of the most amazing groups to come out of Israel over the past few years is the Idan Raichel Project. My Frenchie friend Lau did it once again — she introduced me to this collaborative a couple years ago and I find them utterly inspiring and a taste of the beauty of Israel.
- Raichel’s start in the army rock band – such a common career starter for many Israelis where compulsory conscription is a way of life
- His rare ability to bring together the different musical styles that have coalesced upon Israel, mixing and matching instruments and languages without the cacophony that sometimes exists in real life
- The sheer variety of his work, from mystic notes that seem to emanate from Tzfat to prayer and verses that might be heard at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem to reggae or electronica that could hold its own in a club in Tel Aviv to ballads that are universal anywhere in the world
For Israel’s 60th anniversary, Raichel was interviewed for the “My Hatikva” project and speaks about his hope (“hatikva,” also the name of Israel’s national anthem) for Israel as a melting pot and land of immigrants while still maintaining tolerance for different cultural and religious identities.
The official video on the “My Hatikva” website is at http://www.myhatikva.com/MultiMedia.aspx?MI=68
When I learned that the Idan Raichel Project would be performing here in Boston, I booked my ticket and organized a group of friends to come with me immediately. I was just that excited (I don’t normally plan very far in advance!). And the concert last week did not disappoint.
The music performed was a mix of their prior two albums and their newest one that has a bit more of a global feel but is still distinctly Israeli. Despite the Project being named after him, Raichel seemed content to sit off to stage right, playing his keyboard most of the time and leaving most of the stage work to the three vocalists who not only sang but swayed, rocked, and even jumped to the music – not to entertain an audience, but because they really seemed to enjoy their work.
Musicians were also given a chance to shine — for example, the percussionist responsible for the water sounds in the following clip, Mei Nahar (“River Waters”), performed a several minute long solo on a few wooden bowls filled with water. The audience, judging by the silence that allowed us to hear (miked) water drops and rhythms played on the surface of water, was enraptured.
The namesake song of Raichel’s third album, Mima’amakim – “Out of the Depths,” starts with what I have come to learn is a typical traditional Ethiopian melody (“Nah no nah no na’ay…”) that is emblematic of his earlier work and leads into a haunting song in Hebrew.
The concert last week and songs like this inspired me to make a lentil dish that can go either Ethiopian or Yemenite depending on which spice mixture is used — berbere (which can be approximated with red chile powder and onions in a pinch) or cumin, respectively.
“Salata Idan” – East African Fusion Lentil Dip, the Yemenite Version
Adapted from Gil Marks’ Olive Trees and Honey. In celebration of Idan Raichel’s artistry, bringing together the diversity of Israel’s people, and sharing our rich and varied culture with the world.
Makes about 3 cups. Best served at room temperature; flavor improves after ingredients mingle for a day or two.
- 1 C brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed (use plain lentils; save the fancy French de Puy lentils for when you want to make a salad (like the Ethiopian version below) of soup since these keep their shape nicely and do not break down as easily)
- 4 C water
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ t dried thyme
- ½ C tehina – I use Joyva, which is a pure puree of sesame seeds, many others contain chickpeas and other ingredients, so they are closer to tehina spreads
- ½ C lemon juice (2 lemons) + zest of 1 lemon (why not!)
- 1 C of fresh green herbs — my preference is a mix of cilantro and mint, but you can also use parsley
- 1 t kosher salt
- Scant ½ t ground black pepper
- 1 clove garlic (can substitute 1t garlic powder or 1t garlic salt and reduce regular salt if you don’t have fresh garlic)
- 1 t ground cumin
- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
In large saucepan, combine lentils, water, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low; simmer until tender but not mushy, ~ 25 minutes.
Remove bay leaf, drain (if any water remains, especially if using de Puy lentils) and put in large bowl.
Add all ingredients to lentils and use mortar and pestle, potato masher, or (my personal favorite) immersion blender to smush the combined salad into a paste.
Serve at room temperature with pita or fresh vegetable crudité. I made some toasted lavash crisps lightly sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic salt.
To make the Ethiopian version: This is more of a lentil salad, so de Puy lentils will work better. Saute one onion and 1-2 seeded and minced jalepeño or other hot peppers in vegetable oil and add to lentils. Adjust dressing as follows – omit tehina and reduce lemon juice to 2 T.
And I’ll just leave you with one more video — a trailer of Tomer Heymann‘s documentary, Black Over White, about the Idan Raichel project concert tour to Ethiopia with a short exerpt of the song Milim Yafot Me’eleh (Words More Beautiful than These).