Oct 182013

image roasted vegetables polenta

The radio was burbling a nice mix of easy-going blues and jazz. The DJ introduced “Stormy Weather” and right before the song started,  I was startled to hear him murmur, “Just let the rain come, already.”

A secular prayer.

The radio forecast says it’ll rain soon – yes, please God. I know that in other countries, the rain has been no blessing these past months. But here, we pray that rain should come, each in his own way.

Still,  this cool, sunny weather has its pleasures. Before winter arrives and makes shopping a wet chore, the shuk is where I like to linger. The vendors are as strident as ever, but the shoppers, like me, seem more relaxed and in less of rush.

image shuk Israel

See that banner, high up in the back? It advertises a little eatery called “Mother’s Kitchen.” I dunno…my late Dad always joked, Never eat at a place called “Mom’s.”

There’s a new flower vendor, who set up his table smack in the middle of the road. Nobody complains that he makes foot traffic divide into two streams. Here he is, greeting a friend.

flower vendor Israel

The vegetables are as plump and succulent as though it had rained all week. Broccoli and cauliflower that looked desolate a few weeks ago,  hold up firm, full heads. Tables are piled with grapes of all grapey colors.

image grape bunches

Tomatoes are still reasonably priced and onions are tempting and round in their silky yellow peels.
image onion

Which they weren’t, when it was really hot and all we got were wizened little onion sprouts with damp black skins.

I always overbuy at the shuk, loading my wheeled cart (my little-old-lady-cart, my kids call it) – past capacity. Who can resist the seductive eggplants, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, zucchini? And when I’ve pushed open my door and hauled my cart inside, I unload inspiration for dinner.

This is dinner, then: roasted winter vegetables sitting snugly on a bed of savory, cheesefull, hot polenta. It’s a relaxed, easy recipe that accepts almost any firm vegetable and satisfies your hungers for food and deliciousness.

Roasted Vegetables On A Bed Of Polenta

4 servings


4 cups mixed vegetables – see suggestions below

3 tablespoons chopped herbs: basil, oregano, rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried spices

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 recipe polenta (link below)

1/2 cup grated hard cheese

You start with four cups of your favorite vegetables. Use at least four, if not seven or eight kinds. Make sure to include tomatoes and onions, that’s the only thing I ask. Throw a couple of peeled garlic cloves into the mix, if you like. You see that here, it was eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, celery, onions, and zucchini. Not visible is the garlic. There was garlic in there. Because if deprived of garlic for a day, I go all over funny.

roasted vegetables

And you chop up herbs of choice to make up about 3 tablespoons when chopped up.

image container herbs

This time, I went to my balcony containers and snipped rosemary, sage, garlic chives, nettles and a little za’atar. It could have been only one of those, or different ones entirely.

 image chopped herbs

If there are no fresh herbs on hand, combine 1 teaspoon each of the dried spices you favor. I suggest cumin, oregano, a touch of allspice if you have it. Forget not the salt. Also forget not the black pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Combine the herbs (or spices) with seasonings and olive oil in a large bowl, then toss the chopped vegetables in this herby, spicy, oily mix.

Roast at 375° F – 200° C for 20 minutes, stirring once during that time. Then check for doneness. If needed, roast another 10-15 minutes.
image roasted winter vegetables

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the polenta – recipe here. It takes about 7 seven minutes. And grate about 1/2 cup of Parmesan or Pecorino or Thom cheese into a bowl, to top the finished dish. Use any cheese you like, really. (I told you this was a relaxed dish.) Serve with beer or white wine, and then you’ll certainly relax. Enjoy!

May 242013

iraqi cheese and cherry tomatoes

“Take one of those cherry tomatoes,” urged my friend the vendor. “They’re sweeter than real cherries.” I popped one in my mouth. Wow! A burst of sweetness and tomato flavor. I bought a kilo.

Then I made my way to the Russian bakery, where they sell all kinds of sourdough breads. I bought a beautiful brown rye loaf sprinkled with caraway seeds. It was time to catch my bus and go home.

I like sitting at the shuk bus stop. Sometimes I think I’ll go there and just hang out on the bench, listening in on the conversations. Often, friends or relatives meet there accidentally, and then there are hugs and exclamations and all the news since they last met. And since this is Israel and nobody’s afraid to start up a conversation, total strangers talk to each other easily. The conversation can get fairly philosophical. Or heated, if politics come up.

This time, it was a couple of elderly ladies, one plump, with dyed blond hair and a floral print dress, and the other dark, thin and sort of sharp. Friends, apparently. They both spoke with strong Sephardic accents. They were talking about cheese.

“Taste some of this,” said the thin woman, unwrapping a block of white cheese and offering it to her friend.

The blond lady daintily broke a little corner off. “Mmm, delicious. What kind is it?”

“We just call it Iraqi cheese. A little of it on a slice of good bread, with a cup of tea – perfect snack.” She broke off a piece too, and the two sat there thoughtfully munching. “My mother used to give us that when we’d come home from school,” the thin lady added.

image iraqi cheese

The blond woman’s bus pulled up and they said hasty goodbyes. I turned to the thin lady and asked her about the cheese. I’d never heard of “Iraqi cheese.” She pulled out her block of cheese again and offered it to me.

“Here, take some,” she said. “It’s hand made.” She saw the doubt in my eyes and added, “Kosher, of course. I keep kosher too.” I hesitated and broke off a crumb, feeling Western scruples about politeness and not appearing greedy.

“Take a good piece,” she said irritably. “How can you taste a little bit like that?”

She was offering me hospitality, never mind that we were strangers at a bus stop. So I took off bigger piece and ate it. Darn, it was good cheese. Firm, fresh, and a little salty. She pulled another block of cheese out of her bag and unwrapped it. This one was whiter, flabby, pierced with holes and much saltier.

Both are called Iraqi Cheese, she told me, only the firmer one is more expensive. I could find it at the little booth just at the entrance to the shuk. When her bus came, she was still telling me how her mother used to buy these cheeses back in the old country, paying the cheese maker later, whenever she had the money. “People trusted each other more then,” she sighed.

What could I do – I went back to the shuk and bought both kinds of cheese. Then I had cheese and tomatoes and Russian rye bread for lunch.

Who am I to ignore tradition and culture and hand-made cheese?

iraqi cheese and cherry tomatoes

 Posted by at 4:00 PM
Jul 292011

image-cooky craze

Lone Tree Brewery beers are produced in a small facility in Gush Etzion. I had tasted them at the national beer event in Tel Aviv last winter, and like them very much. So when brewmaster David Shire invited the food bloggers and writers to  the microbrewery last Friday, I was excited to go.

Bloggers Liz Steinberg, Emily Segaland Mirj Weiss. Other writers and bloggers were present and eagerly tasting as well – in all, about 30 visitors.

It was a rustic display of Gush Etzion’s gastronomic goodies. Some manufacturers are just starting out and sell mostly in the Gush. Others routinely distribute around Israel, and some sell their products abroad.

There was plenty of chocolate and plenty of liqueurs.


Yekev Lavie produces black and white chocolate liqueurs, coffee cream, honey, cherry, caramel, and crème de cassis.

kosher medhadrin; some dairy varieties
Liqueurs are available in Israeli wine stores.

In friendly rivalry was Chocoholique, a boutique liqueur manufacturer who describe their product as “drinking chocolate.” They offer 8 varieties of chocolate-based liqueurs, some of which are unusual here in Israel, like their peppermint, chili pepper, and peanut butter ones.
Kosher mehadrin, pareve
Orders: Marc Gottleib +972-2-991-9443


Itamar of the Beit Lechem Bakery put out a sample of their extremely delicious breads. They have whole wheat, sourdough, and spelt breads – all natural, no chemicals.

image-beit- lechem-bread
Beit Lechem Bakery
Itamar, Tel. 054-4769-464
Breads available in Jerusalem health food stores.

Like fancy cookies? The amusing bouquets (first photo on this post) and business cards printed onto cookies caught my eyes. David and Suzie Gross of The Cookie Crave also bake amazingly good tarts and cakes. Hard to resist noshing!

The Cookie Crave
Kosher Mehadrin, pareve
Tel: +972-2-9933178
Kosher mehadrin, pareve
Local distribution; ships world-wide

We weren’t done with chocolate yet. Zev Stander of Holy Cacao fascinated us with his story. He’s the only one in Israel who imports cocoa beans (some from his own plantation in Peru) and makes the finished product from scratch. The quality of Holy Cacao chocolates is exceptional. And Zev practices fair trade with his cacao suppliers.

Click on the link to Facebook below to view photos of these out-of-the-world chocolates.

Holy Cacao
Zev Stander
Tel: 054-804-1326
Order via Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/nNAIq2

Ferency Winery is my kind of winery. Small, producing 10,000 bottles yearly at this time, and all-organic. Gershon Ferency is vineyard master and winebrewer, making Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a blend of the whites that I found particularly refreshing. I liked Gershon’s attitude towards wine-making: going against the current trend of designing the wine to fit a particular profile, he “lets the wine speak for itself.”

I agree. The winemaker really only manages fermentation: the character of the wine will emerge from the grapes themselves.


Kerem Ferency


Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ferencywinery

I have to confess. I’ve always disliked herring. I know – I know. How could I possibly survive a kiddush at shul without tasting the herring? But I always sort of snuck past it.

At the Gush gathering though, was Mordechi Zucker of Kiddush Club. Based in Efrat, Mordechai brines and smokes the most delicious gravelox and herring. I loved his salty herring. Sweet, I can still live without. Yes, lovers of traditional sweet herring will jump down my throat. I am resigned. Mordechai makes 7 different varieties.

Another boutique food manufacturer with slow-food ideas, Mordechai is dedicated to old methods of preserving fish that are vanishing today. When asked, he said that he smokes his fish on his apartment porch. “I give lots of samples out to the neighbors!”

Kiddush Club
Mordechai Zucker
Tel: 057-315-4794
By order only.

Let’s finish with more wine.
At the end of the event, six or so of us traveled on to the Gush Etzion Winery, where we were offered a tour and tastings of their Nahal HaPirim and Emek Bracha series. The winery is located at the Gush Etzion intersection and is well worth the visit.

Apart from Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Gwwurtztaminer, Riesling, Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier – as if the wines weren’t enough – there is a lovely dairy/fish restaurant.

We feasted on hot quiches and egg dishes and a huge variety of salads (Mirj was especially taken with the chickpea/lemon salad). The menu offers a very large variety of dishes, including a red mullet tajine that I’d love to order next time I’m in the Gush.


Gush Etzion Winery


Click on the “restaurant” tab to see all the options in English.
Tel: 02-930-9220

What with the high mountain air and beautiful views and good food and drink, that was one of the best Fridays I’ve had in a very long time. Many thanks to David Shire of Lone Tree Breweries and all who helped him get the event together.


Lone Tree Brewery


Kosher mehadrin, pareve
To order beer:
Susan 054-234-5439
David 050-530-6036

To know more about David (who speaks with an intriguing Scots accent) and the brewery, see an interview with him on Foodbridge.

Jun 192011

image-ashdod-shuk 2

Ashdod had a small-town feel when I first used to visit there, back around 1977. My parents had just come to Israel and were living in the absorption center, studying Hebrew. There was a relaxed, seaside feeling when we’d saunter out in the late afternoon to enjoy the breeze, stopping to drink coffee at one of the many sidewalk cafés. Lots of Moroccan and Egyptian-accented French spoken in the street, in shops. Tiny eateries with three or four tables where my folks and I would order fish couscous. There was a small artists’ colony – a few cozy, rundown houses near the beach. We visited a painter my parents knew and found him waving his arms and explaining a large, colorful canvas to a group of admirers.

We’d sit and sip coffee and people-watch. Clusters of dark Bnei Israel women in saris would pass by, chatting in Malayalam with their handsome husbands and kids. Russian immigrants, newly arrived and still bewildered, cautiously getting the lay of the land.  Jews wearing crocheted kippot, wearing black hats, wearing colorful embroidered Georgian caps.  Sailors cocking eyebrows at every nice pair of legs. Ashdod is a port town, after all, and has been for thousands of years.

As today and as always, sunshine, heat, and the sea.

I went back to Ashdod last week to visit friends and hit the shuk. The town has grown very much since I knew it. Its small-town character has changed. Thousands of new immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia and a thriving ultra-Orthodox community have displaced the old, European-influenced Middle-Eastern culture.  New neighbohoods and tall, sleek buildings have risen. I no longer knew my way around.

It seemed a less friendly town than the one I remembered. But it was probably just me, awash with nostalgia as I walked through the old places. My parents were younger than I myself am now. We would stroll together, three abreast, through the shabby, colorful streets or on the peaceful beach… How strange to realize that ordinary moments become rich memories.

But the bustling sea-side shuk forced me back into the present, and gladly I went. Wednesday is shuk day in Ashdod, and it takes place next to the beach promenade. Rising above the crowds is the sundial clock tower.

image- sundial-tower-ashdod

A multi-cultural crowd moved among the hundreds of stands. Besides Hebrew and French, I heard Amharic, Russian, Spanish and even some English.


Most of the produce was beautiful, like this bright orange pumpkin and baladi eggplant. The tiny artichokes would have been perfect for stuffing and frying, except, sadly, they were infested with snails.








Clothes in the shuk always intrigue me. Here’s a T-shirt for Maccabi basketball team fans…


and a startling new summer fashion: chamsot to avert the evil eye, on your sandals.

image-chamsah-sandalsI always look for the one table displaying awful shoes in the shuk, and I found it.

So awful as to be actually rather cool.

Although you wouldn’t catch me dead in them.

I meandered on under the awnings, enjoying the colors and scents and glancing at vendors like this couple selling room perfumes.


A pair of hips swaying like  The Girl From Ipanema, apricots in the background…

image-dangling-mannekin-bottomA street musician provided the music, although he was more into El Condor Pasa than bossa nova. image-street-musician
Hungry for some foodie pictures?

Here’s a vendor of lupine and big, coarse ful beans.

Lupines are tedious to prepare, being saturated with a bitter alkaloid. To make them edible, they must be soaked, rinsed, soaked again, cooked, drained, and then put to rest for 4-7 days in brine. Then they are rinsed and ready to eat. Sort of like olives, except for the cooking. But they’re nutritious and tasty – once someone else has done all that work.

A pot of ful beans, hot, floury, and savory with cumin.

And those stuffed vine leaves looked good.

I wouldn’t buy those candied pecans though, having watched a worker sifting them through his bare hands.

What can I say, I’m a fussy Westerner.

Almonds kept plump in water…

And in case all those goodies were making you feel a size larger, the herb man had fresh stevia plants for sale.


Kosher keepers should know that none of the prepared foods sold in the shuk are OK. Actually while my friend and I were standing and watching two Beduin ladies make hand-made flatbreads, a woman with a sharp face came up to us and hissed,

“Is this kosher? Do they take challah?” Warning us away.


But here are the flatbreads, some baked in a skillet that goes into a portable oven and some slapped onto a saj (the pan that looks like an upside-down wok).

That’s what our breads should have looked like, the day the bloggers got together to bake on a saj at Sarah Melamed’s house. (Our breads were still delicious, though.)

I venture to guess that the two bakers were the wives of the man who ran the stand.

He filled the breads with leben and chopped herbs and tomatoes, then rolled it all up into a neat package for eating out of hand. It looked mighty good. I’ve eaten saj bread (with a hechsher, at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem) – it has to be very fresh because it goes dry and tasteless quickly.


The bread vendor also had leben cheese in olive oil, bottles of that same oil, and fresh okra. What the dark seeds in the containers to the right are, I couldn’t tell. He wasn’t too thrilled at my taking photos so I didn’t linger to ask him.

image- labneh-cheese-balls

On our way out of the shuk, the delicious smells of meat grilling over coals wafted around on a cloud of smoke.

“Tell them it’s the best!” ordered the vendor. It may well be, but I can’t testify to it.




It was hot. Behind the shuk is the promenade, with cafés overlooking the beach. To let the delicious sea breeze cool me down, I stood there for a while.


My friend suggested we just get on buses and ride around. So we did. I became a little more familiar with the new, sprawling Ashdod, so neatly planned with its independent neighborhoods.

At sunset, we walked over to the absorption center where my folks had lived for six months. The building stands near a garden that slopes down to the beach. I had often taken walks with my parents there.

Memories rose so strongly that tears rose too. It seemed I could almost hear my Dad’s voice, almost expect to see him walking and pausing to turn his head in his characteristic way to catch what Mom was saying. In one way, I was glad Mom wasn’t with me – I know she would have been overcome.

In another, I felt as if both of them should have been there with me. Remembering the Seder we made in the little bed/living room with its kitchenette . Dad became emotional, being in Israel after decades of hoping.

Hope and anticipation lay lightly on our hearts then. The  future was a thing unraveling, far ahead.


 Posted by at 4:59 PM
May 202011


The need to visit Tsfat and see old friends had been growing in my mind, so one dusty day this week, I caught the bus northward. We rolled through sleepy towns with hot, deserted streets, stopping at stations where only soldiers and for some reason, elderly people carrying bundles, got on or off.

Magenta bougainvillea bushes and pink oleanders growing beside the highway gave way to  fields dotted with clumps of hollyhocks, sign of higher altitude and cool, moist land.

I was meeting Judy, an old Tsfat friend, in Rosh Pina. We were going to drive even farther north, beyond Kiryat Shmona where the River Dan runs and meets with the River Hatzbani. There, the lovely Dag al haDan restaurant serves fish taken right out of the river. You eat seated under fig and mulberry trees, and the river with ducks and swans paddling in it runs burbling next to your table.

It was a long bus ride to Rosh Pina. Plugged into my MP3, I nodded and swayed in my seat. The air-conditioning felt like a medical necessity as outside, yellow dust blew through the air, making it hard to breathe. After a wearisome time, there was distant sparkle of sun on water and then we were passing Lake Kinneret. The dust haze was lighter there, but the water was an ugly, roiling green, dashing up to the shore in short, hard little waves. The bad-tempered chamseen wind had all the elements in hand.

Do you know what a chamseen is? It’s the Arabic name for hot days when a dry, sandy wind scours the landscape. The word comes from the Arabic for fifty; supposedly there are fifty days of such weather each summer. In Hebrew, the name sounds elegant: sharav. But chamseen sounds elemental, something like the sound the wind itself makes as it swings around buildings, blows hot air like a hair dryer over field and garden, makes less sturdy trees bend.

It’s said that in old days, Arabs didn’t punish murders committed during the chamseen because the tormenting wind was known to deprive people of their reason.

We met, hugged, and got into Judy’s car. Now, whenever I get in the car with Judy, we get lost. We know it and enjoy it. We sing in harmony and laugh like the teenagers we once were, confident that eventually we’d find our way. This time, a wrong turn took us to a narrow road partly blocked by a big sign: “Stop! Border ahead!”

Good grief. We were going to wind up in Lebanon. Back we went, passing farmland and new vineyards. We were hot and hungry and yearning for a cold beer.

A friendly lady in another car gave us directions. At last, O joy – signs on the road pointing to Dag al haDan. The wind never stopped sifting a fine layer of dust over everything, but as we approached the restaurant, we sensed the sweet odor of water.

image-dan-riverOld mulberry trees shaded the parking lot, where chickens and roosters pecked the ground for windfall fruit.


There was the outdoor grilling station.


This young man paused in his work grilling sea bass and trout to give us a hello and signal the waiters that more guests had arrived.


The sight and tempting odor of grilled fish made us slightly frantic.

image-grilled trout

Because of the unfriendly weather, guests were placed indoors. But the big windows looked out onto the river. We were content.


A goodly array of mezze, and that cold beer, kept us from falling down in a faint. There were fresh green fava beans in vinaigrette, pickled trout, babah ganoush and choumous, a chopped Israeli salad, excellent potatoes, a fiery grated carrot salad, spiced olives, and more.


I ordered sea bass, and Judy had the local trout. We were both delighted with the perfectly grilled fish, served with two sauces:a herby lemon/basil/mint sauce and one of almonds and cream.

I could have forgone the sauce, couldn’t I have?


But I didn’t. Nor did Judy and I  pass up the very good creme brûlée.

Here’s a good tutorial on making creme brûlée - the comments are worth studying too.

Replete and relaxed, we drove back to Tsfat in a leisurely way, talking life over and finishing all the conversations we had started and interrupted before. Was it worth all the travel and the dust and the driving?

Of course.

Dag Al HaDan

Kosher, Rabbanut Kiryat Shmonah

Open Sunday-Thursday for lunch and dinner.




May 032011


It took a long time to get over Passover this year. Non-stop cooking and washing-up, it seemed, and once the kitchen was restored to its leavened state, food lost its appeal. Easy soups and sandwiches have been keeping body and soul together around here for the past two weeks.

Except that Husband and The Little One would have left the house, never to return, had I gone on feeding them sandwiches and soup. So to find inspiration, I took my first post-Passover trip to the shuk. Continue reading »

Mar 022011

cardoon-potato gratin

Doing folkloric things tickles me. A pot of rue placed to the right of the entrance – sure-fire way to avert the Evil Eye. Stuffing mallows like grape leaves once a year to keep up the tradition. Things like that.

So when I saw cardoons in the Petach Tikvah shuk this week, I decided to stop ignoring them, as in years past, and cook ‘em already.

Cardoons are the stems of a thistle related to artichokes. Which are thistles. But the cardoon flower is negligible and the leaves horribly bitter. To eat cardoons, you must cut the thorny parts of the stem off and peel away the celery-like fibers. What a load of work. And that with the luxury of buying them with the thorns already shaved off.


Cardoons must be pre-cooked before starting the recipe, to get rid of excess bitterness. The resulting taste is so delicate, so subtle, that you must not overwhelm it with loads of onions or cheese. Or garlic. In fact, it’s so darned delicate that you can hardly taste it. Did I do something wrong here?

All the same, I peeled, cooked, and baked cardoons and potatoes in a cream sauce enriched with shallots and cheese. It was tasty. But worth the effort? I don’t know. You judge.

Cardoon and Potato Gratin


8-10 cardoon stalks, trimmed of thorny sides and with fibers  on  the stalks peeled away. A sharp knife, just slid down the backs, removes most of the stringy fibers.

2 large potatoes, cut into sticks about the shape of your forefinger

1 cup grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese, out of which reserve 1/4 cup

1 cup milk

1 cup light cream

1 shallot, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly-ground black pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

1. Have ready a bowl of cold water with the lemon juice in it.

2. Cut the stalks into thick slices diagonally and toss them into the bowl of lemon water as you work, to keep them from turning brown.

3. Peel the potatoes and cut them into sticks about the shape of french fries. Chop the shallot finely.

4. Have ready a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook the cardoons in it, covered, for 10 minutes or until barely tender. Drain well.

4. Mix the cardoons, potatoes, shallot, 3/4 cup of grated cheese, milk, cream, salt and pepper.

5. Prepare a gratin dish by lining it with baking paper, or grease it heavily. Pour the vegetables into it.

6. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup grated cheese over top.

7. Bake at 425 F – 220 C for 45 minutes – 1 hour, till the potatoes are cooked through.


Jan 062011


Meatballs with chickpea flour. They were sitting demurely in a rich chicken broth, on a homely stovetop, in a tiny eatery in the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv.

It looks like a typical home of that part of town. The only thing to indicate that there’s food for sale is a modest sign over the door: Shabbat Takeaway. You walk in and you’re standing in an apartment, in the living room of an apartment, where two women are cooking and serving the foods that their neighbors love. There’s a stove with four burners on your right as you enter, and a table loaded with covered pots off to one side.

Dorit and Nava are good friends who run this tiny eatery. (Dorit allowed me to take photos, but Nava was shy).


There are three makeshift tables.


I sat down to eat at one of them, but it’s really a local take-out place. That means that the food has to be kosher, authentic, and tasty, and inexpensive. (There is no kosher certificate, but I saw for myself that the foods are prepared in a kosher way, with grains checked and all raw ingredients from kosher sources).

Like mafroum (see my recipe for mafroum) . And the fiery chreime – fish poached in a chili-ful tomato sauce.


Stuffed grape leaves and stuffed peppers (recipe for stuffed grape leaves and artichoke hearts here).

image-stuffed peppersDelicate and savory lamb patties.

image-yemenite lamb patties

And the soup that made me float about three feet off the ground – gondi soup.


I lifted the pot lid, peered in and sniffed, and asked Dorit, “How come you’re selling matzah balls to your Sephardic neighbors?”

“Not matzah balls. Gondi. Made of chicken and chickpeas,” she said mysteriously. Hm. I’d never eaten gondi. The aroma was so tempting that although I had only intended to spend two minutes photographing the little eatery, I ordered the soup and sat down to eat. Dorit joined me for a moment and told me that gondi was an invention of Iranian Jews. In Israel of course, even Ashkenazim like myself get to enjoy them.

Oh, Mama. It was more than delicious, it was sublime. The meatballs had cooked in a broth rich with carrots and onions and whole chicken pieces. The combination of ground chicken and freshly-ground roasted chickpeas made a light, flavorful dumpling. I don’t normally get obsessed with a particular dish, but the taste of that gondi soup stayed on my mind for a long time after I finished eating.

I culled recipes from books and made it at home for your viewing pleasure. Dorit said that she goes to the Carmel shuk for her chickpea flour – ground from whole roasted chickpeas as she stands there – but  chickpea flour from the health food store also works.

Gondi Soup

Serves 6


1-1/2 kg (2 lbs) fresh chicken thighs and drumsticks

3 medium onions, peeled but left whole

2 zucchini, peeled and cut into two pieces each

3 carrots, cut into two pieces each

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons salt

1 bay leaf (not traditional, but good)

1- 1/2 liters water

Put all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour with the lid partly off. Remove the whole chicken pieces for another use (chicken salad, chicken pot pie). Keep the soup simmering because the gondi will cook in it.

Gondi meatballs

2 large onions, chopped finely or grated

500 grams (1 lb.) ground dark-meat chicken

1 cup chickpea flour

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cardamum

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley or cilantro

2 teaspoons salt

pepper to taste

1/4 cup oil

1/3 cup water

Combine all the ingredients, mixing vigorously.

Wet your hands to form dumplings about the size of walnuts and add them, one by one, to the simmering soup.

Place the lid over the pot halfway off and simmer the meatballs for 1 hour.

Serve – again and again.

Dona Restaurant

Rechov Rabbi Meir 36

Yemenite Quarter, Tel Aviv

Kosher (without a certificate)

Open 10 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Fridays open till 2:00 PM.

Tel: 052-234-0100

 Posted by at 5:47 PM
Jun 212010

Photo of Lemon Verbena by Miriam Kresh

Leda Meredith is the the author of The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Local Eating on a Budget. She’s also my good friend. Leda gave us an excellent post on food preservation last year when I was moving house. Now I’m excited to present her ideas on growing herbs in places you might never have considered. Leda, take it away…

When asked, “If I could grow just one edible, what would you recommend?” my first response is always, “Herbs.” They tolerate a wide range of conditions, many are perennials that will come back year after year even in containers, and while a lot of people don’t have enough space to grow the bulk of their food, fresh herbs can enliven their meals daily. As an added plus almost every herb, including those we usually think of as culinary, has excellent medicinal properties.

I’ve grown herbs in window boxes, indoors, on the back steps of my apartment, in hanging baskets attached to a chain-link fence, and even in cracks in pavement.

Growing Herbs in Containers

Almost every herb can be grown in a container provided that it has a depth of at least six inches and—this is important!—drainage holes. It is essential that the plant’s roots do not sit in mud, and the only way to ensure that is to provide a way for excess water to drain out of the container. Use a potting mix rather than topsoil or garden soil. Potting mixes include ingredients such as perlite, which are additional insurance for good drainage.

I’ve made containers out of almost everything, including old vegetable cans that I punched holes in the bottom of!

Where to Grow Herbs

The first consideration is to make sure you plant your herbs (or place their container) in a location that matches the light requirements of the plants. Some herbs such as oregano, lavender, and rosemary thrive in full sun. Others, including chervil, lemon balm, and cilantro prefer part sun or even part shade. Miriam reminds me that in climates that are dry, as well as hot in the summer, even herbs that are usually described as needing full sun might prefer a little shade. Information on the light requirements of individual herbs can be found online.

Windowsills and paved-over areas are obvious candidates for container herbs, but there are other options. I have some potted thyme and cilantro that I grow in pots I’ve hung on a chain-link fence, for example.


Photo by Leda Meredith

Low-growing herbs such as thyme tend to have shallower root systems than larger, upright herbs. These can be grown in the spaces between stepping-stones or pavement. Put a little good potting mix into the space and keep your plants well watered for the first two weeks to give them a chance to start growing new roots (the shallow soil will dry out quicker than in other growing situations.


Photo by Leda Meredith

In addition to hanging containers from fences and handrails, there are many innovative containers available for vertical gardening. The simplest of these looks like those shoe racks that are made to hang in a closet, the ones with lots of pouches on a flat piece of fabric. And in fact, you can use one of the ones made for shoes. Hang the whole arrangement flat against a wall. Cut some small holes in the bottom of each pouch for drainage, fill with potting mix, and plant an herb in each pouch.

If you have no outdoor space at all, some herbs can be successfully grown indoors. I’ve had the best luck with parsley, chives, cayenne and other chile peppers, and cilantro. Indoor herbs require much more light than they do when grown outdoors. If you don’t have a window that can provide at least six hours of direct sunlight, opt for plant lights. There’s no need to buy the expensive ones marketed as being specifically for plants: a cheap fluorescent light works just as well (incandescent light bulbs, however, do not). Make sure that the light is no further than eight inches from the tops of your plants. To make your life easier, you can put the light on a timer (set it to be on for at least ten hours).

I wish you much success with your delicious, aromatic, homegrown herbs…wherever you decide to grow them!

Leda’s book is available at Amazon.com. She blogs about her food adventures at www.ledameredith.com.

May 312010


This recipe is taken from Elizabeth David’s Italian Food. Mrs. David herself borrowed it from Edmond Richardin’s L’Art du Bien Manger (1913). You’ll see that the recipe needs no adaptation; it’s as good today as it was 100 years ago.

Leaves are sprouting on grape vines now, and it’s exciting to know that there are different ways to eat them than just stuffed with rice. I really enjoyed this recipe, where the vines leaves lend their lemony flavor to the mushrooms, and the mushrooms spread their goodness around to the oil. The only thing is, I can’t give you exact quantities. How many mushrooms and vine leaves will depend on the size of your baking dish.

I used 6 vine leaves and a small basketful of champignon mushrooms.

Cèpes a la Gènoise – Mushrooms Baked in Vine Leaves


Fresh, unbrined vine leaves to cover the bottom of the baking dish

Olive oil

Fresh, plump mushrooms – any variety

Coarse salt

Garlic cloves



Preheat the oven to 325° F -160°C.

1. Clean the mushrooms by your favorite method: brush the dirt off them, cut away any unattractive spots, or rinse them. But dry them gently.

2. Slice the stems away, cutting them into chunks. Reserve them.

3. Sprinkle the mushrooms with plenty of coarse salt and put them in the oven “to dry out” as M. Richardin says. In my experience, they don’t dry out, they release a little juice. Never mind.

3. In the meantime, line your baking pan with vine leaves. Pour enough olive oil to cover the leaves well.

4. Place the baking pan over a low flame and let the vine leaves cook in the oil till they change color. It shouldn’t boil, however.

5. Now place the mushrooms, stem side up, on top of the vine leaves.

6. Bake for 30 minutes, uncovered.

7. Take the baking pan out and sprinkle the reserved, chopped mushroom stems over the cooked dish. Tuck at least 4, if not 7 or 8, unpeeled cloves of garlic in the corners and around inside.

8. Bake a further 10 minutes. Grind some fresh pepper over the dish and serve right away, with bread for mopping up the juice and olive oil mixture.

Eat the vine leaves, too. They are addictively delicious.

Save the oil and juices for the next time, or for cooking something else. I can imagine a vegetable soup or a chicken dish flavored with this mushroomy delicate oil.

The photo from my previous post is worth repeating – if only because it’s the only decent one I have of this dish.


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