Sasha Fox and Anya Rackman Wiebke, YINR Women’s League co-chairs, wanted to contribute to Westchester County’s initiative, “Celebrating Israel @ 70,” with an elegant history lesson, cooking demo and dinner. On Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut, in an elegantly decorated event room at YINR, celebrity chef Yossi Elad and culinary writer Hagit Evron presented ”Israel in a Pita: Seven Decades of Culinary Zionism.” The rapt audience enjoyed learning about Israeli cuisine and eagerly awaited tasting the delicious fare served for dinner.
Culinary journalist and book author Hagit Evron traced the eating habits and tastes of Israelis as they went from a “culinary desert” to a “culinary superpower.” Hagit, who also conducts food tours in Israel, spoke about Israeli food in the ’50s, when food was scarce and people on the kibbutzim and in the cities needed to be fed. Food was unimaginative; basic needs had to be met. The story is told of Ben Gurion, who wanted to bring rice to Israel and contacted the Osem company. The result was the product “orzo,” known as the “Israeli rice.” Sardines were plentiful and provided the protein so lacking in the Israeli diet.
In the ’60s and ’70s, Israeli’s began traveling to other countries and returning with food ideas. Influenced by Julia Child in America as well as various international cuisines, pizza, Chinese food and other ethnic influences were brought to the Israeli kitchen. However, working with ingredients on hand, the food was neither authentic nor very tasty.
In the ’80s and ’90s there was a “reconnection” and turning point in Israeli cuisine. Israeli chefs, not tied to any one tradition, began experimenting with different foods and, mirroring the melting pot of the many cultures in the country, producing varied, more tasteful dishes. At the same time, many chefs began to rediscover their roots, and particular tastes became popular. As long as Israeli chefs “cooked with chutzpah,” people were interested in tasting new foods.
Enter the 2000s, where third generation Israeli chefs are now traveling all over the world learning new techniques and bringing innovative ideas back to Israel. Israeli restaurants are being opened worldwide, featuring gourmet cuisine and elegant dining. Considered “culture agents,” Israeli chefs are bringing a multitude of Israeli foods to a welcoming public. Israeli cookbooks have become popular, again reflecting the multi-cultural tastes of the people.
Chef Yossi Elad, who owned the prestigious Machneyuda restaurant in Jerusalem, is currently co-owner of the award-winning Palomar restaurant in London and is a prominent representative of the new Israeli cuisine. With his lively personality and culinary skills at work, Chef Yossi demonstrated to the assembled attendees how to cook Deconstructed Kabob and Israeli Couscous Ben-Gurion Style.
If you’re feeling somewhat adventurous, here are the recipes for Chef Yossi’s dishes.
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- olive oil
- 1 tsp. sweet paprika
- ½ tsp. cumin
- ½ tsp. crushed coriander seed
- 1 tsp. Sumac
- 1 Tbs. cured lemon paste
- 1 lb. coarsely cut ground beef
- mini pitas
- Israeli salad (optional),
Chop one medium-sized onion, saute in olive oil until transparent. Add sweet paprika, cumin, crushed coriander seeds, sumac and cured lemon paste. Saute for about 5 minutes, while stirring. Add one pound of coarse cut ground beef, mix and stir while cooking for approximately 10 minutes, until meat is cooked. Serve in mini pita bread with Israeli salad and tahini.
Israeli Couscous Ben-Gurion Style
- 250 gms. of Israeli couscous (a little over 1 cup)
- 4 cups water
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 small leek, chopped
- 200 gms. of pumpkin, chopped (a bit under 1 cup)
- 1 pt. of coconut milk (pareve) or heavy cream (dairy)
- salt/pepper to taste
Cook the couscous in a pot with plenty of water (pasta style) for about 6-7 minutes and drain. In a pan, steam vegetables for a few minutes, add salt and pepper and the coconut milk, simmer and bring to a boil. Add the couscous while stirring.
By Yvette Finkelstein