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
Dec 302012
 

jerusalem 2012

Why did I shlep my family away from warm Petach Tikvah to trawl grey, windy Jerusalem on a December day?

All the Jerusalemites were hurrying their errands along, anxious to get off the chilly streets and  back into warm apartments. Not at all like my previous visit to the town on a sunny day.  So what were we – Husband, The Little One, my son Eliezer, and I – doing there?

Well, revisiting scenes from Eliezer’s childhood.

As soon as Eliezer was old enough to roam around the city on his own, he made certain neighborhoods his territory, exploring every obscure alley, arched stone doorway, and hole in the ground. (He tells me that a small boy can travel underground through the Bucharim neighborhood through a network of old dry wells and tunnels that still exist there.) And Shuk Machaneh Yehudah was another playground for little roamers like him, who melted into the background and absorbed all there was of atmosphere, customs, tastes and smells without the busy vendors and shoppers taking notice.

And so we walked through the shuk, up Agrippas Street, and down the Ben Yehudah pedestrian mall to Zion Square, in search of those long-lost times.

Continue reading »

Nov 102012
 

israeli chicken shnitzel

Israeli TLC is like no other. It’s a glimpse into the warm Israeli heart – the same bossy Israeli heart that overrides all opinions, doesn’t know what “polite” is, and drives Western immigrants nuts with culture shock.

Where else would you find Breslaver chassidim playing encouraging songs for a patient outside a major hospital? But there they were, guitars, harmonica and voices uplifted, when I went for a checkup last week at Tel HaShomer.

breslev hassidim playing music

Back home, I took my first short walk after surgery, leaning on a stick. As I hobbled around the front of the building, one of my  neighbors emerged from the lobby and came up to me, looking shocked.

“Whatever happened to you?”

I tried to wave her concern away. “Knee surgery, not considered a big deal these days. The worst is over already.”

“But how are you managing with the shopping, the cooking? Who’s making Shabbat?”

My husband and teenager have been managing the house, with The Little One cooking. She got lots of hands-on practice while I sat in the kitchen directing, sometimes taking the bowl or chopping block on my lap to show her how. She would show me the dish in progress and ask, “Is it supposed to look like this now?”

And that’s how we’ve been eating. Although I admit, we did send out for pizza once.

Continue reading »

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.

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

www.yekevlavie.co.il
kosher medhadrin; some dairy varieties
Tel+972-2-993-123-8
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.
www.chocoholique.com
Kosher mehadrin, pareve
Orders: Marc Gottleib +972-2-991-9443

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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.

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Beit Lechem Bakery
www.beitlechem.co.il
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!

image-cookie-crave
The Cookie Crave
Kosher Mehadrin, pareve
www.thecookiecraveshop.com
thecookiecrave@gmail.com
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
+972-2-9913182
info@holycacaochocolate.com
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.

image-ferency-wine

Kerem Ferency

http://www.gershonferency.com

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!”

image-kiddish-club
Kiddush Club
Mordechai Zucker
mordyz@bezeqint.net
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.

image-gush-etzion-wines

Gush Etzion Winery

http://www.gushetzion-winery.co.il

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.

image-lone-tree-beer

Lone Tree Brewery

http://www.lonetreebrewery.com

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.

Jul 202011
 

image-musicians-balabasta-festivalimage-concert-balabasta-festival

image-musician-balabasta-festival

Hurry up and get there! Only one more Monday night left!

Every Monday in July, shuk Machaneh Yehudah throws a huge street party. It’s the rowdy Balabasta festival. The punning name celebrates  basta (produce stand), ba’al ha’basta (owner of the stand), balabusta (housewife), and the culture of the open market in Jerusalem.

I went to see it for myself this week, just me and my camera. The shops and vendors were doing great business.

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Here and there bands played and people gathered to listen. In one little space, youngsters sang old songs of aliyah and Eretz Israel. I loved this red-haired girl, who sang in a fresh alto and blew a mean trombone too.

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A rooftop concert rocked the crowd (pictured above).The band is called Acharit HaYamin, and sounds were rock, reggae, psalms set to heart-banging Yemenite/jazz fusion – all Israeli, punctuated at intervals by enthusiastic ululations from the crowd or the rooftop stage.

Yes, it was crowded. But it was a friendly crowd, everyone giving way to old folks or women pushing strollers, everyone intent on just having fun. It felt safe, it felt homey.

image-balabasta-festival-jerusalem'

 

image-balabasta-festival-jerusalem

This band was playing an amusing, cool-jazz version of the “Pink Panther” theme.

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Something for everyone: whimsical fairytale figures to entertain the kids
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image-fairytale-man-balabasta

 

image-fairytale-figures-jerusalem

 

I stood slightly to one side, taking photos and moving with the music and watching the people.

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One delicatessen intelligently set up a stand of cheeses and wine by the glass. It was fun to stand in the middle of the shuk and the noise and the surging crowd, savoring Cabernet Sauvignon.

DSC_1699 cheese & wine

I felt an multi-layered emotion I couldn’t describe.When the musicians sang of peace, of our longing for peace one day, and the people shouted “Amen!” I stood like a fool among all those people, with tears in my eyes.

Sweaty heat and the cooling Jerusalem breeze as the evening set in. Loud, cheerful music, Jerusalemites dancing in the ancient street, the stone buildings that have seen so much of struggle, war, and the everlasting everyday. Smells of fresh bread, sewage, something acrid and smoky, grilled meat.

I longed to suspend the moving, living moment like a scene in a movie. Soon it would dissolve into memory, and our transient wonder and enjoyment, placed fleetingly over the eternal, were already becoming the past.

It came to me so clearly then, how we are born, live, and die, and Jerusalem – Jerusalem is forever.

Get an excellent, printable, English map of the shuk here.

Jul 142011
 

Sometimes I want to eat out but just don’t feel like having to talk to waiters. Especially, I’m sorry to say, in Israel, where so few restaurants trouble to train the staff. So at first, I liked the idea of the computerized menu. Sit down, view the food on the monitor, and press the screen to order. Relax till your meal arrives.

But then, the games. Part of the attraction is supposed to be playing computer games at the table. That’s how you’d while the time away till your order comes. Or get the kids busy while the grownups enjoy uninterrupted conversation.

That’s what bothers me. Aren’t we supposed to go out together in order to be with each other?

How will kids learn to socialize, how to pick up clues for normal behavior from the adults if they’ve got their backs to those adults?

It makes me sad to think: here’s one more way that technology is separating families. Sitting with the grownups, hearing and participating in the adult conversation, kids pick up knowledge and social skills. The art of give and take. Or simply, conversation.

And what kind of intellectual stimulation does a computer game provide that even a worn-out family joke does? Those old stories and jokes strengthen our bonds even as we roll our eyes over them for the thousandth time. How will we remember our family meals out – by the score we got on the computer game?

That’s the saddest part. Families are already disintegrating under the convenience of technology. We have to make greater and greater efforts to meet up, to spend any kind of  time together. Even a firm “Pipe down there and let me hear what Daddy’s saying” reinforces relationships, values, social mores. Mealtimes are a blessed opportunity. The cheap and easy lure of the monitor as babysitter shouldn’t even figure in our plans.

Kids apart, I don’t especially want to look at another monitor in the face when I’m out to enjoy a meal with friends and family. And I certainly don’t want the intrusion of computer games, with their garishly-colored animations in my field of vision and squawking sounds in my ears as I eat.

A solution would be to have several computer stations on stands near the entrance. Once having chosen the table, diners could order, and then sit down. The little inconvenience of not sitting down to view the menu would pay off in the ability to socialize without the golem at the table.

What are your feelings?

Jul 132011
 

image-salmon-fresh-polenta

Creamy salmon topped with radish sprout stalks on a bed of puréed peas, accompanied by fresh-corn polenta (different from my corn-meal based polenta) – and a Parmesan crisp. Oh my gosh.

It was a fabulous lunch at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. The management had invited the English food bloggers to taste and critique the new summer menu. We sat down to feast at the elegant Sofia restaurant and raved over the food.

Chef Moti Buchbut presented each portion, giving us the details for us to identify the layers of flavors as they come up. The theme for this summer at the elegant Italian-dairy restaurant is sweet/salty. It works, especially with the very subtle flavors that Buchbot knows how to combine.

“Melanza” – smoked eggplant with roasted pepper, mozzarela, and a crisp filo envelope, lightly lying on dribbles of balsamic reduction and cream and white wine and pesto. Cubes of tomato, sprinkles of Atlantic sea salt.

image-melanza-inbal hotel

We tasted and gasped in delight. This is not home cooking, folks. Unless you’re a multiple medal-winning chef like Buchbut. There was a delicious, lingering aftertaste that reminded me of something I’d eaten long ago…something smoked. I couldn’t place it, but if I get a chance to eat this dish again, I will.

I’m not going to go into ecstatic detail over every dish. I really can’t do justice to the melting flavors, the pleasing texture contrasts, the feeling of gladness that such food gives you.

Like this ceviche, with its marinated tuna and jewel-like vegetables and citrus fruit cubes.

image-ceviche

Blogger Ariella Amshalem and I thought that the plump green leaves might be purslane, a summertime wild edible. That would have made this forager happy. But it was equally delicious sunflower sprouts. When I asked chef Buchbut if he wouldn’t consider cooking with wild edibles, he explained that the restrictions of mehadrin kashrut don’t allow it. Never mind, the dish was an entire success.

Beautiful works of culinary art, meant to be destroyed with fork and eaten. Once you’ve finished discussing all the succulent details with fellow bloggers, writing down tasting notes, and taking photos, that is.

Cannelloni stuffed with Swiss chard and four cheeses, with tomato and roast pepper sauces. Um, um, um.

image-cannelloni

We were served 12 tastings in all. If you’re wondering how we managed to put all that food away, let me say now that our portions were much smaller than average. That allows tasting without getting to the stage where it takes a crane to hoist you out of your chair.

Linguini with pesto and strips of zucchini – hey, that could be a song. In fact, people have always sung about food. Well, I’ll refrain from getting poetic here, although this pasta certainly sang in the mouth. It had the characteristic rough texture of home-made pasta, and the mild pesto with vegetables complemented it nicely. We wisely ate only half the portion, though, to leave room for the next.

image-linguini-inbal-hotel

Blogger Jewlicious live-tweeted the event with photos, till his Twitter followers begged him to stop because it made their stomachs rumble.

Seared red tuna, on a bed of pureed potatoes and accompanied by spinach stuffed with polenta. It looks like a Japanese furoshiki bundle, doesn’t it? The spinach, that is. The tuna was one of the most delicious things I’ve tasted, period.
image-seared-salmon Blogger Ariella Fixler (Bishul B’ketzev Salsa – Hebrew) received her portion in a beautiful copper pan – she’s a pal of the chef, what can I say.
ariella fixler

You must be wondering if we’re ever going to get to the desserts. Well, the first of the two was “Magic Meringue.”

Special and luxurious are inadequate to describe this. An egg-shaped meringue shell concealing passiflora-flavored mascarpone, creme Chantilly and honey, accompanied by coconut sorbet. Raspberry sauce under. You crack the “egg open and the yellow mascarpone comes spilling out…just artistry. Not to mention the sweet deliciousness of it.

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The second dessert was an almond twill stuffed with mocha cream and nogatine, on caramelized banana slices with orange sorbet and whipped Belgian chocolate.

image-almond-twill

The dishes were well balanced for summer eating, with emphasis on bright flavors, light weight, and fresh local produce. Beautiful presentation in the currently fashionable way, with colorful accents from dribbles of coulis and cubes of this and that. I understand there were 10 more offerings at the next day’s tasting, which I didn’t attend.

The managers ate with us, all in their suits and ties (in contrast to the casual bloggers), and very attentive.

I became a little anxious to leave towards the end because I needed to buy a special ingredient for the next night’s dinner at home: duck. Not that I serve duck often – it was going to be a belated birthday party and I got it into my head that only duck would do.

I had planned to buy it in Tel Aviv, but it was getting late. Then I thought, there must be duck in Jerusalem.  So I asked if anyone knew where.

Mr. de Schuyter, general manager, said, “I can find out.” He murmured into his cellphone for a few minutes. Then he told me exactly where I could find duck. I did go there after the event and bought what I needed.

How cool was that?

Now, I’m not getting paid to post this. But if you’re in Jerusalem and get a chance to have a meal at the Inbal hotel, go there and eat. Give chef Moti Buchbut my regards.

Next – interview with the chef, plus a recipe.

Jul 102011
 

DSC_1084 hazan
Nine foodies met in Yaffo for a blogger’s night out. The restaurant planned on was closed, but the one right next door was open for business. We sat down at an outdoor table and feasted on mezze salads, couscous, fish, lamb shishlik, fried potatoes and fiery merguez sausages.

There are better and more expensive places to eat, but I liked sitting where local people eat, liked eating popular Middle Eastern food in the night. In Yaffo, next to the sea and in the middle of the Old City.

image-yaffo-restaurantI hadn’t counted on the street being ripped up for repairs of some kind, but we were a few steps away from the flea market, which was celebrating summer by keeping shops, eateries, and galleries open till midnight.

Behind us on Yefet Street, the illuminated Ottoman clock tower kept time. At nine o’clock it struck nine tinny notes, surprising us. A little later, the muezzin call to prayer echoed and swirled up and down the neighborhood.

There was music in the air while we were eating – loud Moroccan music, coming from somewhere nearby. I got up and wandered past the restaurant and its Moroccan decor, seeking the musicians.

image-restaurant-jaffa

See the guy in the striped shirt?
image-Jaffa

He’s entering a little cobblestoned alley. Set out in the alley are tables and people are eating fish and drinking wine.

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A nargilah and a stack of shesh-besh (backgammon) sets waited for company.

image-nargilah-backgammon

I drew closer to the source of the music, feeling the plaintive oud, shivery violin, and thump of the darboukah drum in my bones.
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A sign proclaims: Every Thursday: Moroccan Haflah (get-together)! Every Tuesday, Middle-Eastern  Night! Fridays, Kabbalat Shabbat with Oriental Singers! Fish and Mezze Served Free.

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Across from the musicians, an open door. I peek in and behold a magical cavern hung with colorful rugs, set with tables invitingly holding tea glasses and coffee finjans.

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What with the winding, nasal quarter notes in my ears and the lanterns swaying from their ceiling hooks and being full of shishlik, I felt I had been transported to Morocco itself, or maybe a movie version of it.

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The Moroccan Dive, I called it. And went back to the restaurant, asking everyone to come see.

A large man wearing a cap backwards ushered us in, probably expecting us to order an ample meal. But we only had room for tea with sprigs of mint in it, and coffee. It turns out that the Moroccan Dive is managed by the same restaurant where we had dinner.

Four local guys in shorts sat near the front door, clapping and shaking to the music.

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This old man wandered back and forth, dancing with gentle verve, stopping sometimes to talk to his friends.

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We Anglos sipped our hot drinks and just soaked up the atmosphere…

image-moroccan-tea-set
…confident that we were well protected from the Evil Eye.

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As we left the magical Moroccan cavern, we glimpsed this row of nargilah smokers lined up in the street, enjoying their perfumed tobacco, the smoke of which passes through water and is said to be extremely pleasant (if you smoke).

image-nargilah-smokers

Have a nargilah, have a nargilah, have a nargilah, ve n’smecha…

The streets were moving with people seeking pleasure, music, a cold drink, a hot bourekas, something to gawk at. We moved among them.

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No food photos, true. The ones I took were blurry. But you can see the kind of food we had in my previous post on a trip through Yaffo. And you’ll see the street in daylight. As for the restaurant: reasonable prices, food quality good but not exceptional, service obliging but a little lacksadaisical. Once the street gets fixed, it’ll be much more pleasant to sit there. But it was Yaffo, it was a night out with the bloggers, and it was great fun.

The bloggers: Sarah Melamed, Michelle Nordell (and husband Mr. B.T.), Hannah Katsman, Liz Steinberg, Ariella Darsa Amshalem, Mirjam Weiss, Irene Sharon Hodes and myself.

Feb 202011
 

image-saj-bread

Last Friday, I traveled across the country with a bowlful of dough rising on my lap. In the bag with the dough bowl were my chopping block and a big knife wrapped in a kitchen towel. Sitting in the sherut (fixed-route taxi) with nine other strangers and watching the highway whizz by, I thought, At least no one’s going to stop me and suspiciously ask what I’m doing with such a knife.

I actually did intend to chop heads off with it – for my lunch. The heads of nettles and mallows, that is.

Sarah Melamed and I thought it was a good time to show fellow bloggers how to forage for edible weeds. The wild green things don’t have too many more weeks before summer withers them. Now’s the time, so six hardy bloggers stepped out  behind Sarah, glad to be outdoors such a mild, sunny day. She led us around her neighborhood identifying weeds.

Here’s Sarah talking about amaranth, while Yaelianlooks on.

image-explaining-amaranthThere were at least 15 edibles and medicinals growing rampant in the overgrown gardens nearby. Some, like Cape sorrel, are delicious. It has a bright, sour taste. Kids love to nibble on the stems. We ate the leaves and flowers as well, sharing with the bees.

image-cape-sorrellChickweed, a lightly sour, refreshing plant is a great love of mine – I kept finding new things to say about it while Sarah was trying to lead the expedition onward. She is a patient woman.

image-chickweedNotice the line of fine, hairlike fibers twining around the stem. It’s one of the ways to tell chickweed from euphorbia, a toxic look-alike that always grows next to it.

Ariella of AriCooks wanted to hear all about chickweed and took a good handful home.

image-holding-chickweedSarah told us how her son had fallen out of a nearby mulberry tree – smack onto a patch of nettles, like Winnie the Pooh. He roared for his Mom, and she came running out with her heart in her mouth – to find him covered in nettle rash, poor little guy.

There’s a neat way to harvest nettles with a minimum of stinging – cut the stems with scissors, then use the scissors to pick them up by the stem and drop them into your basket.

Only one or two of the Hardy Foragers was interested in trying the scissors system. Truth is, over the years I’ve gotten tough, and pick most of my nettles bare-handed. This horrified the ladies.

image-nettlesThe morning was wearing away and Shabbat still starts early, so we returned to Sarah’s kitchen for lunch. She placed her big iron saj over two burners to get hot. A saj is light and dome-shaped, like an upside-down wok. Druze women bake flatbreads on the hot surface, stretching dough out like pizza and slapping the circles down on the hot saj to bake into crisp, tender flatbread in a few minutes.

The plan to was to make flatbread like that. We all pulled pieces out of the dough I’d brought and tried stretching them out deftly. The bread came out, well, rustic. Mine was frankly pretty awful. The really thick one under everyone’s much nicer breads was mine. Liz Steinberg‘s flatbreads were much the thinnest and crispest.

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As Liz remarked, it was the first time we English food bloggers had cooked together. It was great fun. And I did chop a mean onion for the greens…

Being the nettle-proof one, I washed and chopped them for cooking, along with a handful of mallows. Into a new pot went all the vegetables, on top of the chopped, sauteed onion. No salt yet – like spinach, nettles absorb a huge amount of it. The greens steamed with no extra water; it took about 10 minutes until they were tender and darker green. Then I salted them lightly, stirred, and covered again.

image-nettles-onions
When the breads were ready and stacked up, the greens were ready too. We stood at the counter, crumbling feta cheese onto them and adding a tablespoon or so of steamed wild greens.

image-saj-breadAlternately, we used labneh yogurt mixed with fresh, chopped za’atar from Sarah’s garden.
labneh w zaatar
That was simply delicious. I had never considered just roughly chopping fresh za’atar and adding it to something like that – would have thought it too strong. You can do the same with fresh oregano and cream cheese or with yogurt strained overnight to become thicker (become labneh, actually).

We put the rolled-up, stuffed flatbreads back on the saj to heat them through and let the cheese melt slightly.

image-stuffed-saj-bread
Sarah had hospitably bought a lovely spread of pastries, but we were most interested in the saj bread stuffed with nettles and cheese. There was a fruit salad, decorated with edible pansy, allysum, and begonia flowers.

image-salad-edible-flowersAs usual when food bloggers get together to eat, we all stood around the table taking pictures of the food and of each other taking pictures. We laugh when we do it, but we do it. Then we sat down and feasted.

You can see the stack of rolled-up breads in the background of this photo: the rose and shepherd’s purse came from Sarah’s garden. garden bouquetYaelian took some great photos and put them on her blog. Although it’s in Finnish, the photos speak for themselves. And joy! you get to see my hands, washing the nettles, there. My hands tingled pleasantly from the nettles, till evening. I do believe my Carpal Tunnel tsuris was alleviated somewhat from the repeated stinging.

Thanks for hosting the morning, Sarah!

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