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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

gils-picture

photo by Gil R., desserts by Andrew

You know you’re going to an Israeli event when the invitation states:

If you do attend, you’ll need a valid ID with you, no extra bags will be allowed nor weapons.

And there was nowhere else I wanted to be last night but surrounded by Israelis when the sun was setting and Yom HaZikaron — Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror — bled  into Yom HaAtzmaut — Independence Day. No strangers to symbolism, Israel starts Yom HaZikaron with a 2 minute siren and the country stops and stands in silence. It knows that its birth and continued existence are owed to the soldiers who protect its citizens, those who have been lost to terror attacks, and those who continue to be missing in action or in captivity. In a land of mandatory conscription, no one needs a reminder of this connection.

But you get a group of Israelis in a room and about the only thing (besides that um, interesting Maxim women of the IDF PR attempt by the Israeli government which in my opinion was creative though clearly a bit unbalanced) that can get their attention before the speakers begin is a video on a big screen that sounds something like Stomp (a personal favorite, given my previous tap dancing percussive days).

Starring Shekatek and created for Israel’s 60th Birthday last year; shows some of the best of Israel – its agriculture, technology (especially the biotech that I love!), cultural diversity, the beach, powerful women, tall dark men, all those religions, the serenity, the street culture and foods, the diversity, the beach (oh, did I mention that already?)

Nadav Tamir, Consul General of Israel to New England, then spoke, followed by Massachusetts Attorney General, Martha Coakley. The themes of their comments focused on friendship and partnership between the US and Israel, the importance of Israel as a strong democracy, and Israel as a country of high tech innovation (with Coakley citing statistics such as Israel having one of the highest per-capita rates of patents and companies on the NASDAQ). I was also personally touched by Coakley’s mention of Israel’s significant work in the area of  family violence given that my last visit centered on some of these issues.

flowers for Yom HaAtzmaut

Full of Israeli pride, I decided to make a dish from my new favorite cookbook with the “burnt eggplant” technique that Janna Gur demonstrated in her class and that I have mastered over the past few weeks. Gur said that her mother used to call this dish “the reds and the blues” because of the tomatoes juxtaposed against the eggplants. Eggplants are called chatzilim in Hebrew and are ubiquitous in the country. When rationing was in effect during the early years of statehood, newspapers and radio gave advice on making the most out of available food, and eggplant recipes abounded, yielding a mock chopped liver that most of my NY friends won’t have a Central Park picnic without. Traditional chatzilim salad adds some garlic, oil or mayo, and lemon juice. I like Gur’s milder tomato addition. Need I point out the symbolism of the red tomatoes and one of Israel’s (“blue”) national dishes, paired together like the the flags? Probably not, but subtlety has never been my forté.

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Yom HaAtzmaut Chatzilim, or “the Reds and the Blues”

chatzilim on toast

Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food and dedicated to Israel and the US’s continued strong relationship, a safe return for soldiers in captivity, and fewer new things for all sides to have to remember.

I “burn” the eggplants in my oven since I do not have a gas stove — make sure to prick the eggplants a few times so that they do not explode. The main adaptation I made to Gur’s recipe is that I leave out the garlic and add both onion and tomatoes. I also significantly reduced the amount of oil.

When buying (standard) eggplants like the one on the upper left, they should be dark purple, unblemished, and should feel light for their size. Store them in the refrigerator.

Makes about 3-4 C of salad/dip.

- 2 medium eggplants (or 4-5 slender Thai eggplants)

- 2 tomatoes (to get ~ 1 C grated)

- 1/4 onion (will  use ~1 T grated)

- 2 T vegetable oil

- Salt and pepper (to taste)

Preheat your broiler.

Prick skin of eggplants with a fork or knife to prevent an explosion all over your oven. Place eggplants on a foil-lined baking sheet just below broiler and check on them every 10 minutes or so, turning them as necessary. The thinner Thai eggplants took about 20-25 minutes and were ready when they turn brown and dry.

One Thai eggplant ready after 20 minutes

The larger eggplant took about 25-30 minutes and you can tell that it is ready when the skin gets thin and papery, turns black in some places, and the eggplant softens and releases juices.

While the eggplants are broiling, prepare the other ingredients. Grate the two tomatoes on the medium sized holes of a box grater – this should yield about 1 cup of  tomato pulp and seeds without skin. Grate a quarter of an onion on the same side of the grater to get a pretty fine (without much work) onion liquid and paste-type consistency. There will be some onion left over — use it in guac or anywhere you like raw onion for a slightly milder flavor, or just use it in place of cooked minced onion. burnt eggplant, grated onion, grated tomato

Allow eggplants to cool – at least 10 minutes. Once cool, you can very easily separate the skins from the flesh.

eggplant flesh removed from skins

Mash the eggplant with a fork or put into a food processor. My preference is a fork. Drain any extra liquid so that the final salad isn’t too watery. Add the grated tomatoes (try to get mainly pulp and less liquid), 1 T grated onion, a few generous pinches of salt and some serious grinds of pepper, and stir everything together. Add 2T oil last.

I love spreading this on toast, or setting atop a plate of greens.

Romanian-style Roasted Eggplant Salad

Am Yisrael Chai! The People of Israel live (and prosper peacefully)!

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Erez Komarovsky's monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad

One of my main rules of cooking is that I never make anything that I don’t like. And I have never liked anything with an anise flavor. Never. I have even returned dishes in restaurants if they have too strong of a tarragon or anise basil seasoning.

A few years ago, I overheard my friend Naomi saying, “don’t yuck someone’s yum.” A pithy little phrase, but one that I sometimes have difficulty following. However, writing here has taken my cooking and exploration of food to a new level, and is an opportunity to check out things that I have not normally been particularly keen on.

So, when I went to a cooking demonstration at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts last week, I was thrilled to discover that of the dishes made, my favorite was a fennel and pistachio salad. Janna Gur, the Chief Editor of Al HaShulchan, Israel’s monthly foodie magazine, taught the course and took the participants on a gastronomic tour of Israel.

Janna Gur making lemon "fillets" (supremes)
Janna Gur making lemon “fillets” (suprêmes) for the fennel and pistachio salad; note, eggplants roasting on stove in background

The two main written recipes that Gur shared with us were actually ones she received from chef/ restaurateur/ artisan bread baker Erez Komarovsky (owner of Lechem Erez/Erez Breads); they were tied together by what she called “the beauty of their monochromatic palettes.” First, there was my favorite, the fennel salad with its yellow sand greens, and then a beetroot and pomegranate salad that Gur described as “a tiny jewel box” with its ruby colors and whose flavors together “sing.”

Erez Komarovsky's monochromatic salads

Gur also demonstrated a technique for “burnt eggplant” roasted on a gas burner or in the oven (prick the skin if you’re making in the oven to prevent an explosion) until the skin is charred and flesh is soft. She then shared a few variations on how to serve:

- traditional eggplant salad with mayonnaise and lemon

- “baba deconstructed”:  split burnt eggplant and flatten on plate; top with baba ingredients – tahina, lemon juice, tomato seeds, honey, fresh herbs, and then serve – eater scoops out the eggplant with its toppings

- Gur’s Romanian mother’s eggplant salad (she called it the “reds and the blues” – for the tomatoes and eggplants): scoop flesh out of the eggplant and chop; mix with grated tomatos (liquid reserved), chopped tomatoes, grated onions (so less sharp), chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and vegetable oil (not olive oil)

Janna Gur scooping out flesh from "burnt eggplant"

Woven throughout the demonstration were pictures and anecdotes of Israel’s progression from a literal culinary wasteland in the 1980s when Gur was an El Al flight attendant, carrying oranges from Florida and olives from Greece, to its current reclaiming of its historical title, “eretz chalav u’dvash” — the land flowing with milk and honey. Today you can find groves of pomegranates. A rich melting pot of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish, Arabic, Mediterranean, and North African flavors and influences. Wineries rivaling those in France. Classics reinvented like Turkish malabi, a pudding made with rose water, turned into a rosewater-topped cheesecake.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to devour the cookbook that Gur signed for me and, given the success of the fennel salad, I can’t wait to try more recipes.

Erez Komarovsky’s Monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad

Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey.

There must be some chemisty (magic?) involved in the technique of submerging the cut fennel in ice water and then mingling with lemon suprêmes (in Israel, apparently these are called “fillets”) before adding a honey-based dressing with a little kick from a hot pepper. Whatever it is, I was determined to recreate the recipe as soon as I could buy some fennel for the first time in my life! Coming from an anise “yucker” that’s saying a lot. Perhaps my taste buds are changing. [For example, recently I bought some Absenthe on a whim and found it not altogether distasteful. And I did not have more than a few sips, so I can't blame my judgment or lack thereof on la fée verte.] Or perhaps, Janna Gur and Erez Komarovsky are just that good. I’m betting on the latter.

If the acid in the lemon is too strong for you, try some Granny Smith apple, sliced into thin segments to provide tartness with less acidity and keeping with the color palette. Add a splash of lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown.

Serves 6

- 2 large of 3-4 small fennel bulbs

- 1/2 C lemon suprêmes (or, as Gur calls them, filleted lemon segments) – 3-4 lemons at least

- Coarse sea salt

- 1/4 C delicate olive oil

- 1 hot green pepper, chopped finely (I used a serrano pepper)

- 2 T honey

- 1/2 C pistachio nuts, roasted and crushed (I used unsalted ones)

Cut the fennel bulbs in half and then into thin longitudinal slices. Soak in ice water for about 30 minutes (I just stuck in a bowl of cold water and then in my freezer).

While soaking, roast pistachio nuts in 350ºF for about 10 minutes and allow to cool.

Drain and mix the fennel slices with the lemon segments (reserve juice for later). Sprinkle coarse sea salt on top and set aside to rest for 15 more minutes.

Mix fennel and lemon salad with olive oil, hot pepper, and honey. Add nuts immediately before serving.

B’tay Avon!

I had a little bit of leftover salad and, after marinating for 2 more days, it was great thrown on baby mixed greens with a few more roasted pistachios.

Fennel and Pistachio salad thrown on some mixed baby greens

** DOCTOR’S NOTE: Proceed with caution due to the recent salmonella scare  and recall associated with pistachios. Roasting is supposed to kill the bacteria, and I always roast nuts myself. Do what makes you comfortable in this respect. The salad can obviously be made without pistachios. Try pinenuts instead.

Erez Komarovsky’s “Jewel Box” Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad

From Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey. I have not yet tried to make this salad at home, but it was also excellent (but I like beets!).

Serves 6

- 3-4 medium beets (if you want to cheat, you can probably use canned)

-2 T pomegranate concentrate (Pomi juice should work)

- 2-3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

- 2-3 dried chili peppers, crushed

- Coarse sea salt

- 1/4 C delicate olive oil

- 1/2 C fresh cilantro leaves

- 1 C pomegranate seeds – we used pre-packaged pomegranate seeds in the class; the trick to removing seeds from a pomegranate is to cut into quarters and then submerge in cold water – many of the seeds will rise to the surface; you can gently tease the remaining seeds from the white membranes with your fingers under water

Boil beets in water until tender. Cool, peel, and cut into a very small dice.

Mix with the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, peppers, and coarse sea salt. Set aside for ~15 minutes.

Mix the salad with the cilantro leaves and pomegranate seeds. Pour olive oil on top and serve.

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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

Salata Idan

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

For dressing:

- 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.

Cooked lentils

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.

lentils and dressing

no need to make the dressing in a separate bowl...I just did it for illustrative purposes

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.

"salata Idan"

funny...it looks almost exactly like the dressing alone

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).

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we can work it out

salad close-up

When my friend Lau (the one who gave me the piggy and likes compote aux pommes) played a few songs off of Israeli singer Noa‘s “best of” CD from France (“Le Meilleur de Noa“) a few years ago, I was hooked. Within a year, I had bought almost all of her CDs, importing many from Israel. In particular, I love her 2002 remake of the Beatles hit “We Can Work it Out” with Palestinian Mira Awad. A note on Awad’s nationality — on her website, she refers to herself as Palestinian, so I am deferring to her preference; I have elsewhere seen her called “Israeli Arab” and “Israeli Arab Christian.” I think this song is a beautiful cover with a great message.  And it appealed to my love of music and art (and dance) bringing people together.

 NOTE: This video is from a Dutch TV show that includes Noa’s and Mira’s opinions on the political situation in Israel. The  song is on Noa’s CD “Now” and on iTunes.

And then about 2 months ago, I learned that Noa and Mira Awad are again collaborating and I have been eagerly waiting to find out what they would come up with: they will represent Israel in the Eurovision song contest in May 2009. They composed 4 different duets and the winner, “Einayich” means “Your Eyes;” the English title is “There Must be Another Way” and it is sung in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.  Since I first heard it a few weeks ago, I have found myself humming its refrain, loving how Noa and Mira’s voices mix so beautifully.

Here are the words to the song, from Noa’s website:

There Must Be Another Way

Words and music: Noa, Gil Dor, Mira Awad

There must be another way
There must be another way

עינייך אחות
– your eyes, sister -
כל מה שליבי מבקש אומרות
– say everything my heart wants to say -
עברנו עד כה
– we’ve come a great distance -
דרך ארוכה
דרך כה קשה
– our road has been long and hard -
יד ביד
– hand in hand -

והדמעות זולגות זורמות לשוא
– and the tears fall, flow, in vain -
כאב ללא שם
– our pain has no name -
אנחנו מחכות
– we are both waiting -
רק ליום שיבוא אחרי …
– for the day ‘after’ -
There must be another way
There must be another way

عينيك بتقول  (עינייך אומרות)
– your eyes say -
راح ييجي يوم وكل الخوف يزول (יבוא יום וכל הפחד ייעלם)
– one day, the fear will be gone.. -
بعينيك اصرار (בעינייך נחישות)
– in your eyes there is determination -
انه عنا خيار (שיש אפשרות)
نكمل هالمسار (להמשיך את הדרך)
– that we can continue our journey -
مهما طال (כמה שתיארך)
– for as long as it takes -

لانه ما في عنوان وحيد  للاحزان (כי אין כתובת אחת לצער)
– for there is no address to sorrow -
بنادي للمدى, للسما العنيده (אני קוראת למרחבים, לשמיים העיקשים)

– I cry to the open plains, to the merciless sky -
There must be another way
There must be another way
There must be another, must be another way

דרך ארוכה נעבור,
– a long and hard journey lies before us -
דרך כה קשה,
יחד אל האור,

– together, on our way to the light… -
عينيك بتقول (עינייך אומרות),
– your eyes say -
كل الخوف يزول (כל הפחד ייעלם)
– all the fear will someday disappear -

And when I cry I cry for both of us
My pain has no name
And when I cry I cry to the merciless sky and say
There must be another way

והדמעות זולגות זורמות לשוא
– and the tears fall, flow, in vain -
כאב ללא שם
– our pain has no name -
אנחנו מחכות
– we are both waiting -
רק ליום שיבוא אחרי
– for the day ‘after’ -
There must be another way
There must be another way
There must be another, must be another way

Obviously I’m not the only one to recognize the overt symbolism here (for example, there was an article written in Time about it last week) — an Israeli and a Palestinian, their voices rising together on the same stage, representing one country.

But, perhaps I was one of the few people inspired to make a salad!

The first time I made this particular salad was for my graduate school’s multicultural food festival. I managed to step into a little controversy by being an American helping out the Israeli club and not quite following directions. We divvied up responsibilities – falafel, hummus, tabbouli, and Israeli salad — and I chose to make the salad because it was the healthiest.  Plus, I figured I knew how to make typical Israeli salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley or mint because  when I volunteered with the Israeli army through Sar El after my freshman year in college, we ate this salad with every single meal including breakfast.

of course I'm smiling, I'm 18, in a kitchen, surrounded by tall handsome Israeli soldiers!

of course I'm smiling, I'm 18, in a kitchen, surrounded by tall dark Israeli soldiers!

Never satisfied to leave simple enough alone, I had just bought a new cookbook — Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today — and browsing through it, found a recipe called “Kibbutz Vegetable Salad” that was described as follows:

Sometimes called Turkish Salad, this typical Israeli salad, served at almost every meal, has many variations. But one thing remains the same: the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cucumbers must be cut into tiny pieces, a practice of the Ottoman Empire…

It sounded to me like a traditional “Israeli salad” with some peppers thrown in. I actually think of “Turkish” salad as a cooked salad, almost like a tomato sauce spiced with roasted peppers. In my mind, the salad described in the recipe seemed like a more colorful version of traditional “Israeli salad.”

1354

But when I brough this salad to the food festival, proud of my beautiful confetti of colors, one of my Israeli classmates looked at it, sneered, and said, “that’s not Israeli salad, that’s Arab salad.” Hers looked something like this:

tomato-cucumber

just tomatoes and cucumbers

While perhaps not perfectly authentic, my salad didn’t deserve a snub. This comment  just made me want to throw my hands up in the air and say, “Can’t we all just get along?”.

And, actually, in doing my research, my understanding is that “Arabic salad” is more similar to “Israeli salad” than it is different. Both have finely diced cucumber and tomatoes. Both usually add onion,  often spring onion. Both are dressed with olive oil and lemon. Both add a green herb, either parsley or mint or both. Neither ever includes lettuce.

So what was my classmate objecting to? The peppers? Was that supposed to be a statement? Please! The food festival was about food and sharing culture, not political statements. Granted, never having lived in Israel, I know I cannot understand the intricacies of Arab/Palestinian-Israeli relations nor can I fully appreciate the depth of the feelings and animosity between these two groups.

But I love the message that Noa and Mira Awad have shared with each other, with their communities, and, now more than ever, with the world. The current situation is unsustainable. There must be another way. And if Israelis and Palestinians come together and find common ground, slowly … eventually… we can work it out.

Yes, I am an idealist.

So, I used to call this Israeli salad. I no longer know what it actually is. But now I’m reclaiming it and renaming it.

Salade Mira-Noa vegetable still life with za'atar

Salade Mira-Noa

Adapted from Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today. Dedicated to Noa and Mira Awad, and wishing them luck at Eurovision 2009 in Moscow.

This does take a long time to prepare because there is a lot of fine chopping. The salad is best eaten fresh alongside hummus and pita.

Serves about 10 people.

- 1 onion (I prefer red for its beautiful color)

- 1-2 T mild vinegar, either white vinegar or cider vinegar

- 2 cucumbers

- 5-6 tomatoes

- Peppers – I like a multicolor mix – 1 each of green, red, yellow, and orange to get that colorful confetti effect

- 2-3T olive oil

- 1 or 2 lemons

- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

- 1/2 – 1 t za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix that includes sesame and sumac)

Prepare onion first: chop and allow to soak in 1-2 T vinegar and a pinch or two of salt for ~30 minutes while you chop the rest of the veggies. Essentially this will  give it a quick pickling to cut the onion’s sharpness.

quick pickled chopped onions

quick pickled chopped onions

Finely chop the remaining vegetables – cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers — and mix in a large bowl with the onions.

salad ingredients, ready to mix

Dress with juice of 1-2 lemons, a few pinches of salt, a few grinds of pepper, 2-3 T olive oil, and za’atar. Mix again.

Enjoy with friends.

[A very special thank you to Veronica and Joanna for helping me edit and edit and edit this posting, and to Judy for lending me the glass bowls.]

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I never brought cool lunches to school. I actually can’t remember what I used to bring at all. But I do remember that Tali, one of the Israeli kids in my class, used to bring chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches. Chocolate and peanut butter! How was this a sandwich? But it was. And her mom (or dad) packed it for her almost every day. hashahar parve

This was before Nutella was on all the grocery store shelves. And it was a pure chocolate spread on one piece of bread, peanut butter on the other. Let’s just say that Tali was pretty popular at lunch time.

I assume the chocolate spread her parents had brought over from Israel was the the famous Hashahar which I just learned has been part of Israeli memory and taste buds for over 50 years:

The [Hashahar] factory is a Romanian invention. It was established by six brothers and two sisters from the Weidberg family – Yaakov, Shaul, Haim, Alter, Yeshayahu, Shabtai, Rivka and Elka – who immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s from Romania. The family settled in a hut in Kiryat Ata, near Haifa, which the eldest sibling, Yaakov, had organized ahead of their arrival. Among the make-work jobs they did, a few of the siblings specialized in the production of sweets at the Davidovich factory in the Ir Ganin neighborhood.

“They were a poor family and were looking for a way to make a living,” says Moshe Weidberg, Alter’s son, who today heads the factory together with others from the family’s second generation.

In the 1940s the brothers decided to join forces. They found an investor, bought a plot of land in the industrial zone of Haifa Bay and in 1949 opened the factory. At first they made a range of sweets. “They started with candies, chocolate substitutes and boxes of chocolates,” Weidberg continues. “But what really caught on was the chocolate spread.”

When candy imports increased in the 1980s, they decided to abandon most of their products and concentrate on the main thing. Today the plant, which has 50 employees on two production lines, also makes baking chocolate and cocoa powder, but mainly chocolate spread. It comes in three flavors: classic dairy, parve and nuts. “They are a traditionalist, modest family,” says Weitz, who is also connected to the family, by marriage. “They did not want to be an empire and they are not looking for gimmicks.”

The factory produces many tons of chocolate spread a month. Sales figures place it first in the chocolate spread market in Israel, ahead of competitors such as Elite and Ferraro. The company also exports goods to Australia, Europe and America. “In the United States our main competition is from peanut butter,” Weitz notes. “But recently there is an increased demand there for substitutes, because it turns out that many children are allergic to nuts.”

- Haaretz.com: Things Only Israelis Know, Part 1: Hashahar Chocolate Spread

Now, eating chocolate spread in Israel feels like part of the cultural experience and a rite of passage to me. I’m sure there are other rites of passage that people will be more than happy to share about their teen tours of Israel, but let’s keep this blog about food, OK?

When I went to Israel for a month in college with Sar-El/Volunteers for Israel to work on an army base, some of my fondest memories include the three marriage proposals I got (in English, Hebrew and French) from soldiers driving through the fence pictured below as I painted it (if only the proposals would keep coming….), fixing nagmashim (non-armored personnel carriers), and late night conversations over spoonfuls of chocolate spread that Orit (we gave one of our fellow volunteers a Hebrew/Israeli name since she didn’t have one) bought in town as she shared with us her gems and pearls of wisdom. Orit was about 5 years my senior, so she had a lot of gems and pearls to share.

Sar-El

I painted this fence. It was the site of several marriage proposals. 3 to be exact.

On a trip to the Netherlands last year, where I visited friends in Amsterdam and Den Haag (I love pronouncing it the Dutch way — with the guttural “h” ending), I learned about a very different version of a chocolate sandwich spread which is also kosher (dairy) and has a fair bit of history and local tradition.

De Ruijter has been around since 1860, making chocolate (and other flavors) sprinkles and flakes. Apparently the pink and white sprinkles (“muisjes”) are traditionally used to decorate cookies when a girls is born and the blue and white ones for a boy. The chocolate sprinkles and flakes are eaten on toast for breakfast. I didn’t have a chance to buy any when I was in the Netherlands since I had very limited luggage space, but when I moved to Cambridge  I was thrilled to find that Cardullo’s in Harvard Square carries them!

Rejoice — another version of the chocolate fix. I bough a box of milk chocolate flakes and and every once in a while, I make a little midnight snack, recalling my time in Holland. The flakes have a slightly gritty texture when eaten out of the box, but they manage to keep their shape while melting ever so slightly on a warm piece of buttered toast, and the grittiness fades.

De Ruijters chocolate sprinkles on toast

the flakes are starting to melt

What I also find so clever about the DeRuijters packaging is that the opening for pouring out the flakes is in the shape of a classic piece of bread.

check out the spout...a little slice of bread!

check out the spout...a little slice of bread!

I think I’ll buy some sprinkles next.

KASHRUT NOTE:

In the Netherlands, there is a local Dutch kosher list available in a searchable format online in English and Dutch. The Dutch one seems to be more comprehensive for some reason. On the English list, these flakes and sprinkles are listed under the category “sandwich spreads” and are spelled “de Ruyter.” The pink and white sprinkles are not kosher for some reason — hmmm….gender discrimination? Unlikely. Probably the red dye.

I also have a friend in Amsterdam whose family runs a kosher grocery store and will gladly answer questions or help out with local kashrut issues. I can put people in touch if you’re going to visit and want help.

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