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.
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.
Chaviva didn’t want to hear any of it. “This isn’t just a building, we’re a community,” she began. “You’ve donated meals around here. Why on earth didn’t you say something to me?”
I hesitated. “I never thought of it,” I said. “I’m not a new mother, nor sitting shiva, G-d forbid.”
“It’s not like we’re all strangers to one another around here,” Chaviva said. “Aren’t we like family to one another? That’s what neighbors are for, right? We have to stand by each other in hard times, just like we share celebrations!”
“Of course, I don’t mean to be antisocial, I just never thought…”
But Chaviva was gathering steam. “Now, what would you like for Shabbat? Main dish? Fish? Soup? Cake?”
“No, good grief, we’re doing fine, we’ll manage,” I said weakly.
“Shnitzels,” she said, disregarding that. “I’ll do those. And Mrs. Dadon makes great fish. Now soup.”
“No, please, really, I made soup today.”
“Good for you. But cake, what kind do you like? Lemon? Chocolate?”
I gave up. “Chocolate, the plainest, simplest chocolate cake.”
“Good,” said my angel crisply. “Expect everything tomorrow morning.” And off she went to organize half my Shabbat.
Well. In the end, I was more than grateful for the gifts of food. I had baked challot, put up a cholent, made a salad. By the time that was done, I was worn out and in a little pain again. It was wonderful to just open the door and take cooked food from my neighbors’ good hands.
And those shnitzels were tasty.
Israeli Chicken Shnitzel
It’s a relatively new item on the Israeli menu, an adaptation of the veal shnitzel that German immigrants introduced. Israelis of every ethnic stream took to it quickly , substituting poultry for expensive beef. We have very tender feelings towards shnitzel. It’s a homey, simple dish, but has to be just so.
Chicken or turkey fillets must be pounded thin by the butcher. Fish is likewise filleted. The bread crumb crust must be crisp and golden, protecting the flavorful meat, which must be cooked till there’s no more pink inside, but is never, ever, dried out or greasy.
You may marinate the fillet in lemon juice, or not; season the flour with a trace of turmeric or paprika, or not; add mustard to the beaten eggs as you choose – but the final result should be a juicy slice of meat covered in a light, gratifyingly crunchy crust.
Thousands of such shnitzels must be served up every day in Israel. You’ll find them on a dish, next to French fries and ketchup and a good chopped salad. Or tucked into a pita with that same salad, plus pickles, to eat out of hand. Housewives cooking dinner, roadside kiosks serving factory workers at lunchtime, every kind of little eatery downtown where you pop in for a quick meal – they all know the shnitzel.
1 kg. – 2 lb. chicken fillets, pounded thin
Salt and pepper to season the fillets
Juice of 1 lemon – optional
1 cup flour and more if needed
2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1.5 cups dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon paprika – optional
1/2 cup sesame seeds
Plenty of oil for frying; safflower or sunflower oil are good.
Season the fillets with salt and pepper. If marinating in lemon juice, do so now, and set aside.
Heat oil for deep frying in a large skillet. It will be hot enough when it shimmers and a drop of water skips on the surface.
Put the flour in a medium bowl. Mix the eggs and mustard until smooth. Mix the bread crumbs, optional paprika and sesame seeds and put in a large bowl or platter.
Fry in batches, breading only as many fillets as will fit into the skillet each time.
Dip each fillet in flour, making sure that there are no bare spots. It helps to use tongs or a fork for this.
Dip into egg/mustard mix. Immediately, dip into bread crumbs. Again, make sure that the entire surface is covered.
Fry shnitzels until the crust is golden, 3-4 minutes. Remove to a platter lined with crumpled newspaper or paper towels.
Serve hot, with ketchup.