Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shakshouka and Israeli Salad

Shakshouka and Israeli Salad

Many years ago I found a recipe for Shakshouka and decided to make some for a brunch I was having. I really liked it, and it is something I still make from time to time, if I have the time to prepare it. I had never eaten anyone else's though, so it was something I intended to search out when we decided to go to Israel. 

Shakshouka is a breakfast dish, and I found some at a buffet in one of the hotels we were staying at. At another hotel, the famous King David Hotel, I had it made for me for my breakfast. Both shakshoukas were very nice, but not “wow”, and the upshot was that I am very happy with my own version and don't see any reason to change it. 

The dish is very like Huevos Rancheros, and if you told someone that it was Huevos Rancheros, they would not bat an eyelash. For mine, I use plenty of garlic, an onion, whatever I have for tomatoes (sometimes fresh, sometimes canned) and a red pepper. If I have yellow or green peppers, I might add those too. One ought to put some red pepper flakes in it as well; sometimes I do, sometimes, I don't. Saute all those vegetables in a small amount of oil, and then put a lid on it for about fifteen to twenty minutes. When the vegetables are cooked down well, break some eggs into the mixture to poach and put the lid back on. Check it in a few minutes to make sure you don't overcook the eggs. One article I saw called for doing the poaching in the oven and then serving the shakshouka and the eggs on sliced fresh tomatoes. That's a little bit too much work for me, and stovetop works perfectly well.

Israeli Salad is also a tomato dish. The salad is everywhere in Israel. I don't think I saw a restaurant without a version of it. The basic salad is chopped cucumbers and chopped tomatoes. All the salads that I saw looked liked they were cut with a mandoline.* (There were a lot of other chopped salads as well, and those too were very uniform. The mandoline must be the Israeli equivalent of the Chef's Knife.) The dressing for the Israeli Salad is lemon juice and olive oil. When the salad was served at a buffet, the cucumbers and tomatoes were in separate bowls, and there were other bowls of chopped vegetables as well, like cabbage or red and green peppers and red onions. Beside the bowls would be a carafe of olive oil and a carafe of lemon juice, so that you could prepare the dressing to your own taste. In addition to the Israeli salad “fixings” on the buffets there were other salad “fixings” that were more American style, with tomato wedges and pepper rings and large pieces of lettuce. All of the salads were served at both lunches and breakfasts. Breakfast buffets were bit like Las Vegas style buffets (but on a smaller scale) with different ethnic dishes together with dishes that you might serve at either breakfast or lunch normally, but not both. I had salads of various kinds at every meal we ate in Israel. That's to be expected as a celiac, but it helped that salads are a really big part of the Israeli cuisine.

*I asked for and got a mandoline for Christmas, but it weighed a ton and would be a lot harder to use than a knife and cutting boards. That means my own chopped salads are less than uniform, but I do still have all my fingers.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gluten Free in Jerusalem

We were culinary cowards in Israel.  I admit it. 

Between the language barrier and being celiac, it was just too hard. The few times we did not eat in our own hotel were those times we were with our guide, Aviv Jasman ( a native born Israeli, who knows Israel and particularly Jerusalem very well. On Friday night, on our way to tour the Old City and to see the crush of pilgrims at the Western Wall, we went to the rooftop cafe of the Mamilla Hotel, a hip boutique hotel with a very cool vibe. The view of the Old City from the cafe on the rooftop was marvelous. It was late afternoon and the sun was not very warm, but the view was breathtaking.

Friday night is the beginning of the Sabbath and it is a serious business in Israel. Everyone quits work mid-afternoon and everything shuts down. (We were the last people out of Yad Vashem, which also closes early on Fridays, which you might keep in mind if you are going there on a visit.) So, restaurants change from their regular menus to the Sabbath menu, which is always cold food. Also, nearly all the restaurants in Israel are Kosher, so the menus are either dairy or meat, not both. Luckily for me, fish is pareve and can be served with either meal.

The choices were salads and we shared a green salad that had the most wonderful roasted pecans on it. (All the nuts we had in Israel were superior. I have no idea why, although some were roasted with honey, which was really nice.) For our entree, we had smoked salmon plates. That meal was one of the highlights dining wise for me. Although the food was simple, it was very fresh and elegantly prepared. We had to wait awhile for our food though (no big deal the conversation over the day was intense. We had just left Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum of Israel.) But the reason why we had to wait is interesting. The food on the new menu had to have a special Sabbath blessing before it could be served, and the restaurant was waiting on the person who could do that. We had arrived right at the transition between the two parts of the week, the regular, and the sacred. From then till Saturday evening restaurants that were kosher and still open would be serving cold dishes .

The dinner we had that night, after our tour of the Old City, must not have been in a kosher restaurant because we were served grilled fish and a kind of mashed potatoes with some greens mashed in it. I'm not going to recommend the potatoes, but the meringue dessert with raspberry sorbet and raspberry sauce was great. This was all in a little restaurant called The Colony, also a very young vibrant place, hand-picked by our guide, who seemed to know the place well and knew that, unlike many restaurants in Jerusalem, they would be open on the Sabbath. There was a long bar along one wall and there were comfy looking couches in the bar area. Our waiter had Rastafarian locks and was very well attuned to gluten issues, as were pretty much all the restaurants. The place was packed and humming. A good choice for a Friday night out on the town.  

Jerusalem, folks, is a happening town. If you get a chance to go there, take it.  You will be amazed, entertained, moved, and delighted.