Jun 252014

falafel recipe

Long ago, before I came to live in Israel, I dated a guy who turned out not to be the right one. We took a walk one night, sauntering along in the friendly dark and enjoying the fresh breeze that brought a scent of jasmine and faintly, tobacco – a neighbor’s cigar. Someone nearby was doodling around on the guitar, eventually breaking into a soft Spanish ballad. It was all so romantic. My boyfriend gazed up at the sky and remarked, “What a lovely moon.”

Yes, the moon was like a silver coin, only a coin broken in half. “You like half moons?” I said.

“It’s just that it looks like a falafel in the sky…a half falafel like the ones you get in Israel, you know…”

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Jan 052014

jar of tahini

Before I moved to Israel, I didn’t know much about techinah. That is, tahini.

In Israel, if you say “tahini” people will look at you funny. It’s “techinah” or “tekhinah” – with that gutteral ch (or kh).

But I’d heard plenty about the fabulous Israeli street food, falafel. Almost as soon as my plane landed, I headed for a falafel stand and ordered a pita full of those hot, spicy chickpea balls and chopped salad. My more experienced friends encouraged me to drizzle the beige, bland-looking sauce all over the falafel. It didn’t look tempting, but I was willing to try it. I picked up a plastic bottle full of it and gave a good squeeze.

Open sesame! I discovered that  techina’s moist texture complemented the fried falafel and the flavor, between nutty and lemony, perked up the juicy vegetables.

Here’s a techinah bottle like the one I squeezed for that very first falafel. It’s standing next to one of amba, a pungent mango curry. Techinah’s far more popular than amba, as you see. And here’s my post about neighborhood falafel stands.

techina and amba squeeze bottles

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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!

Jul 302013

fresh corn fritters recipe

I’d overbought at the shuk, which I always do when some seasonal delicacy beckons me over to the stall and whispers, “Buy me, buy me, cook me!”

Oh, the stacks of ridged heirloom eggplants, the fat tomatoes at their scarlet peak, the excitingly fragrant, yellow mangoes. White peaches dripping with juice. But what drew me strongest were piled-up ears of yellow corn still modestly dressed in their pale green husks.

Israeli corn has become far more tender and sweet than it used to be. Twenty years ago, a visiting relative took a bite out of a boiled ear of corn and said, “Horse corn!” She put it down in disgust. To those who are used to corn that spurts milk when you put the knife to it, it was tough, dry, and flavorless.

But that’s changed, and local corn now tastes like that of my childhood summers and backyard barbeques in Michigan. I’d roll a hot ear of corn on a paper plate smeared with butter and salt, then bite into the steaming flesh and taste the salt and butter over corn sweetness.  And more good news about Israeli corn: organic farmers assure me that it isn’t genetically modified.

It simply remains for me to modify my appetite for sweet fresh corn.

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 Posted by at 11:28 PM
Feb 072013

image shakshouka eggs recipe

I knew it as huevos rancheros, growing up. But since living in Israel, I call it shakshoukah, the name everybody knows for this well-loved, homely dish.

Sometimes you just need eggs for breakfast. I was hungry for eggs and vegetables and a tomato sauce. Sound logical? Well, this is Israel after all, where nobody raises an eyebrow at sturdy dishes that scream “Flavor!” at breakfast. My first shakshoukah recipe was based on some tomato sauce I had in the fridge. This shakshoukah one is more traditional, with the aroma of cumin topping tomatoes and bell peppers. And chili.

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Mar 112012


Readers who have followed this blog know I have a thing about garlic. Some of my favorite, garlic-fragrant recipes are aioli saucegarlicky crisp-skinned potatoes, and spicy eggplant in garlic sauce.

The garlic I bought last year has gone all sprouty. The new crop will be in the shuk any day now, but meantime the sprouted stuff is still good to eat. It just takes a little more patience and knife work.

You have to peel away the tough yellowish membrane that encloses the sprouted germ.


Pare away anything that looks rotten. Chop it up and use it. It tastes like…garlic, the same as ever.


Nov 302011

chicken-on bed-onions

I had this chicken that needed cooking. But I was bored with all my usual recipes. I stood in my kitchen, revolving ideas around in my mind. Nothing doing; empty head. Well, I do have a lot of cookbooks. Why not open the cabinet where I keep them and get a recipe?

Nah. Too logical.

So I stood there with a blank mind until my hand, obeying some part of my brain still responding to self-preservation, opened the cabinet and  pulled out Elizabeth David’s “Mediterranean Cooking.” All kinds of good chicken recipes there. One was so simple and attractive, I just had to make it. Of course, once I got the chicken into the roasting pan, I had to potchkey it up with more seasonings. But I don’t think Ms. David would have disapproved – the result was so delicious.

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 Posted by at 1:44 AM
Oct 122011


Recently I had the pleasure of dining at chef Moshe Basson’s Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem – twice. One of the things I liked best on the tasting menu was this trio of soups served in espresso cups. Just enough for a hearty taste , not so much as to dull the appetite. They are all vegetarian and pareve.

With Sukkot just about on top of us, and the weather finally turning cooler, it seems a good idea to keep soup recipes on the top of the printout pile. (Mine is an untidy, toppling pile whose papers are already stained and crumpled. I keep promising myself I’m going to organize the recipes alphabetically into a nice, neat folder…someday.)

So here are three soups for your holiday, the same soups I sipped at Eucalyptus. I wish you a chag Sukkot sameach!

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Oct 042011


Autumn. The transition from the big salads we enjoyed in  hot weather to a longing for something more substantial, foods that grow underground.  A delicious autumn dinner is the vegetable tajine.

When I first discovered tajines, I thought they all had to include meat; gala dishes of lamb, beef, chicken, sausages. It was great to find the vegetarian side to tajine cookery. True, the base vegetables have to be fairly sturdy to take slow cooking in a clay vessel. Carrots, eggplants, artichoke hearts. Hearty grains like chickpeas or beans.  Added layers of flavors come from dried fruit and vegetables that won’t fall apart in the cooking, like bell peppers.  As with Western dishes that include root vegetables, ginger and cinnamon add  piquancy, but the sweetness is always subtle, balanced with fresh herbs and restraint in the use of bee’s honey or silan, date honey.

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Sep 042011

DSC_1067 sourdough pancakes

Sometimes, when I’m stirring a sourdough batter, I think of my great-grandmother Rose.

Like thousands of Jewish women in the 1800s, she stayed in Russia and waited for her husband to send money for tickets to America.   She arrived at Ellis Island around 1898  with three children, no English and no kosher food. Her husband, working in Chicago and expecting to fetch her and the kids, didn’t know she’d arrived.

The story goes that she wandered in New York, bewildered and hungry, for three days. A kindly Jew rescued the family and put them on the right train. Who this angel was, no one knows today, but we do know that Rose went on to raise a good family on American soil.

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