Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, is one of the nation’s most important holidays. Many people celebrate with parties or singing and dancing in the streets. Others display the Israeli flag prominently on homes and cars.
But everyone celebrates with food.
One of my favorite Israeli dishes is Shakshuka. The basic ingredients are poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, combined with harissa, cumin and paprika. Some refer to it as the Jewish “Breakfast of Champions.”
It is a North African dish that now has become a staple in some of the most expensive and trendy restaurants in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York, anyplace where good Sephardic Jewish cuisine can be enjoyed. One of the restaurants that is best known today for its Shakshuka is Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa, although in West Los Angeles, we happily order the meal, served with tomato-cucumber salad and warm pita bread, at Habayit, a restaurant on West Pico Boulevard.
I still remember our first trip to Israel and some of my other favorite dishes served for breakfast. They include Moroccan Carrot Salad, a combination of carrots (boiled, but still a little crunchy) tossed with cilantro, cumin, paprika and ginger that puts your taste buds on alert.
Eggplant with Tahini makes good use of a versatile vegetable that is much neglected in this country. Beautiful, dark purple eggplants are used in many recipes throughout Israel. The delicate yet pungent flavor is great seasoned with garlic, olive oil and salt.
And, of course, you can’t visit Israel without tasting an assortment of Hummus. This simple, wonderfully flavorful dip or spread is made from garbanzos (chickpeas) and tahini (sesame seed paste). Its texture is velvety, rich and firm enough to scoop up with wedges of pita bread or crisp vegetables. The taste is robust, nutlike, garlicky and so satisfying that you won’t be able to stop eating it.
Combined, all of this adds up to the perfect meal to serve on Israel Independence Day!
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
5 to 6 large tomatoes, peeled and diced (or about 3 cups
canned crushed tomatoes)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 to 3 tablespoons harissa
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 to 8 eggs
In a large, heavy skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion and garlic until onion begins to soften.
Slowly add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer over low heat to blend. Add the harissa, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the mixture for 30 to 40 minutes.
Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. Cover the pan and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let the egg yolks become hard.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD
4 cups water with 1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 pound carrots, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups salted water and the bay leaves to a boil over high heat. Add carrots, return to a boil, then remove from heat. Drain carrots, rinse them with cold water and transfer to a serving dish.
In a food processor or blender, combine the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, onion, parsley, cilantro, cumin, paprika, ginger and tomato paste blend. Gently stir the mixture into the carrots. Season with salt and pepper and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Makes 8 servings.
EGGPLANT WITH TAHINI
1 large eggplant
1 medium onion, finely chopped, juice
squeezed out and discarded
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons water
Salt to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper
Parsley sprigs for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and place it cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake it until its skin is charred and the inside is tender, about 20 minutes. Let the eggplant cool; peel it and chop finely. Place it in a mixing bowl, add the onion and parsley, and blend well.
In a separate bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, garlic and water until well blended. Stir the tahini mixture into the eggplant mixture. Add salt to taste and cayenne pepper. Stir in more lemon juice to taste. Garnish with parsley.
Makes about 3 cups.
From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” by
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzos, with liquid
1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/2 cups lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
Place the garbanzos in a processor or blender and process until coarsely pureed. Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin, and process until smoothly pureed. Add olive oil in a thin stream and continue blending. Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt. Add additional salt to taste. Serve with hot pita bread and sliced vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini or mushrooms.
Makes about 4 cups.
Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.