Episode 43 – What is Israeli food? A conversation with Gil Hovav


Everybody who comes to Israel adores the food – it’s colorful, diverse and multi-cultured. As Israelies, we grow up eating Tunisian, Romanian, Iraqi and Italian food, and many other cuisines – sometimes all in the same week. And for us it’s quite normal. So normal, perhaps, that we rarely stop to ask ourselves: Is there even such a thing as Israeli cuisine?

To try and answer this question, Two Nice Jewish Boys called upon the master of Israeli food, Gil Hovav. Every Israeli household has been eating from Gil’s plate for over two decades. He’s starred in numerous televised cooking shows and food documentaries. He is a man of the world, an author, a lover of Hebrew (and Arabic!), the great-grandson of Ben Yehuda (the reviver of the Hebrew language) and above all – one helluva mench. Join us for a gastronomic episode.

We also played an amazing song by Hagar Levy! Check her our on Bandcamp and Facebook.

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A food tour of Israel’s cities


Mediterranean cuisine is consumed with gusto all over the world. While many dishes commonly enjoyed in Israel originate elsewhere, things like hummus, falafel, kibbeh, and shakshuka have been adopted into Israeli tradition with the recent advent of “foodie-ism” by chefs all over the country.

What’s more, every city in Israel has its own unique approach and local flavors. From the street food of Jerusalem to the haute cuisine of Tel Aviv, the options are endless and sure to offer a unique culinary experience for the discerning epicurean.

Jerusalem

The Holy City is best known for its hypnotic architecture, spiritual effect, and historic significance. Home to a uniquely diverse range of religions and ethnic groups, the city has birthed a composite food revolution marrying the city’s varied flavors and culinary traditions. Not surprisingly, the capital city is famous for having the best hummus in Israel, and possibly the world. Particularly lauded among the city’s hummus joints is Abu Shukri, a little hole-in-the-wall in the Muslim Quarter, for which the Wall Street Journal says: “If you are to consume only one plate of hummus in Jerusalem, this is the place to do it.”

Of course, you can’t do J-Town without visiting Mahane Yehuda, one of the busiest shuks in the country, where you’re guaranteed to get drunk on the scents of fresh bread and aromatic spices. This is your chance to marvel in freshly baked goods. Experience street food like never before with warm za’atar-coated flatbreads and potato and mushroom-stuffed bourekas. To finish on a sweet note, indulge in the dreamlike, chocolate-and-filo-dough morsels known as rugelach for dessert. Don’t forget to stop by the Halva Kingdom to sample the sweet sesame treat in over 100 different varieties, all homemade and ground by millstone.

Tel Aviv

While there’s no shortage of traditional Middle Eastern fare in Tel Aviv, this modern metropolis is home to incredibly diverse fine dining, ethnic, and experimental options. If you’re going international, The Brasserie on Kikar Rabin serves up its French delicacies 24 hours a day, while the atmosphere and Spanish tapas at Vicky Christina in Hatachana will take you to the other end of the Mediterranean. The food at Topolopompo is even more fun than its name. Enjoy an acclaimed, finely-honed menu of Asian fusion dishes. For some of the best Asian cuisine in Tel Aviv, try Taizu – that is, of course, if you can get a table.

Dizengoff has earned its reputation as a cultural mecca, so you can’t go wrong with exploring this central bustling street. The perfect balance of flavors at Sabich Frishman will make you redefine what ‘sandwich’ even means, while Keton will warm your heart with awesome traditional Ashkenazi dishes like chicken soup and chopped liver.

Then, for a sunset stroll on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, absolutely nothing in the world compares to frozen yogurt, Israeli style. Like all culinary feats, the key is to have a strong base. The secret lies in the fresh, creamy yogurt produced from the incredible dairy produced by Israeli cows. Pick from a variety of mouth-watering ingredients to create a mind-blowing frozen treat.

Eilat

If you’re doing the resort thing, Eilat is an absolute seaside gem for vacationers. And with the seaside comes incredibly fresh seafood! High among the heavy hitters is Rak Dagim, a fish joint serving fresh, locally caught treasures. Rak Dagim is also one of the oldest restaurants in Eilat and utilizes characteristic Israeli flavors on their extensive menu.

To juxtapose that, Pastori on Tarshish Street combines locally caught seafood with Italian flavors to showcase a different kind of Mediterranean food. Then, of course, there’s nothing better than ending a meal with seaside gelato.

Haifa

This northern city and cultural hub is set against the beach-lined backdrop of the Mediterranean and caters to foodies of every type and budget. Sitting adjacent to one of Haifa’s central mosques, Abu Marwan is known as the best hummus in town. Must-haves include their hummus with lamb, the mashwasha, and their spicy fries.

For a delightfully carnivorous meal, try Limousine, a famed steakhouse run by two “Israeli cowboys.” Locavores delight in the regionally raised, high-quality meat prepared in a variety of styles and accompanied by beers of both Israeli and European origins.

Go light and flavorful with breakfast the next morning at Café Louise on Mount Carmel. Serving a natural, culinary experience, the café offers both the traditional salad-and-spread ‘kibbutz-style’ breakfast as well as a ‘Western style’ brunch. Louise also boasts a variety of vegan and veggie options, as well as a whole menu of juices that are so fresh, you’ll instantly feel superhuman.

No matter where you go in Israel, the food is unforgettable. The downside? You’ll be craving that Abu Shukri hummus for months afterward.

For more information on traveling Israel, click here.

An American burrito in Jerusalem


Much of what’s needed to supply a Mexican restaurant — vegetables and spices, for instance — can be found in the bustling Machane Yehuda market in the heart of Jerusalem.

But for trickier items, such as the ghost peppers used for a searingly hot homemade sauce, Missy Witt had to look elsewhere.

“We’ve got a guy,” she said.

Burrito Chai opened in February in Machane Yehuda to much fanfare. Mexican food is practically nonexistent in Israel, a common complaint among Americans here, especially those from the West Coast.

Since becoming Jerusalem’s first Mexican restaurant, business has been good: Witt has already added on the space next door, doubling the size of her restaurant. 

“We’ve almost had a hard time keeping up” with demand, the 28-year-old Chicago native said, sitting on the restaurant’s small wooden patio. “Which I guess is the best problem you could have.”

At first, she said, customers came primarily from Jerusalem’s large community of Anglos, the catchall term for Israelis from English-speaking countries. But more recently, word has spread, and some native Israelis have wandered in, Witt said.

As we talked, several groups of apprehensive-looking Israelis stopped by to check out the menu, only to opt instead for the hummus spot across the street. But a few brave souls took a seat at the wraparound burrito bar inside.

Located on an alley off the main walkway in the outdoor market, Burrito Chai is at once appropriate and distinctly out of place in a neighborhood sharply divided between the ultra-Orthodox and a young, artsy crowd. 

Across from the Mexican joint stands Rachmo, an Israeli-food restaurant that predates the State of Israel. But next door is a bar that stays shuttered during the day, opening at night to cater to young revelers.

Angelenos expecting burritos on par with the best Los Angeles has to offer will no doubt be disappointed. But Witt’s are certainly better than anything available until now — though that says more about Jerusalem than about Burrito Chai.

Machane Yehuda is known for avant-garde dining, and, in Israel, serving Mexican food is in itself groundbreaking.

Missy Witt (left) has one of her burrito rollers model a Burrito Chai T-shirt at Witt’s Mexican restaurant in Jerusalem.

“We’re on the cutting edge in Jerusalem,” said head chef Binyamin Cherkas, who grew up in western Massachusetts, where he worked as a kosher cook before immigrating to Jerusalem.

Yet there are no gimmicks at Burrito Chai — nobody is going to put a falafel in your burrito or serve you hummus on a taco.

Instead, it’s no-frills Mexican food with a build-your-own burrito bar as the centerpiece. In order to keep kosher without sacrificing authenticity, the bar stocks non-dairy sour cream and nacho cheese.

The burritos are reminiscent of Chipotle’s — Witt admits to being a “big Chipotle junkie” and drawing some influence from the fast-food Mexican chain — but the ingredients are decidedly fresher. At 26 shekels, about $7, for a burrito, they’re also cheaper.

Burrito Chai’s proprietor is the latest contradiction in a country famous for defying expectations: Witt is a blond, blue-eyed American woman serving Mexican food in an area where the typical shopkeeper is male, Sephardic and older than 50.

Nonetheless, she said she’s gotten a warm embrace from her neighbors, who humor her Hebrew skills, which she described as “not amazing.” They’ve taken to calling her “the Mexican.”

“They want to help me — I’m such a mizken [poor thing] with my Hebrew and don’t exactly know what I’m doing,” she said.

Witt peppers her conversation with “please God” and “thank God,” and said she believes her success comes “me’hashamayim” — from the sky. Rather than the traditional Orthodox head covering, though, she favors a cowboy hat.

Her story is the American dream in reverse.

After traveling to Israel with Taglit Birthright in 2008, she returned in 2011 to attend a religious seminary. Back in Chicago, she had no choice but to make her own Mexican food, because there was no kosher option available.

Returning to Israel, she moved to Nachlaot, a diverse neighborhood of cramped alleys bordering Machane Yehuda.

At first, she sold Mexican food out of her Nachlaot apartment, eventually opening a stand outside the 5th of May bar, steps from where her restaurant now stands. That’s how she met Michael Witt, who would eventually become her husband and with whom she has two young children.

Nearly five years after arriving in Israel — a benchmark many American immigrants never meet — Missy Witt has put a literal spin on the credo of “go big or go home.” 

“This whole place was a chance,” she said. “So we’re kind of just riding the wave.” 

WATCH: 50 Reasons to love Tel Aviv (and never, ever leave)


A video version of Simone Wilson's ode to Tel Aviv: 

 

“Because I love Israel, I do advocate for Palestinians proudly and passionately,” he said. “But there can never be any doubt that I am also an advocate for Israel, a country that is perhaps one of the most maligned, underappreciated and hardest challenged nations on the planet.

“I believe in the right of Israel to exist and to exist in the land where it resides. I believe she is a great country populated by a great and important people. I believe she is a proud and strong democracy in a part in the world where the notion of democracy, of people’s innate right to determine their own fate, finds little company or support.”

These are just a few ways that people can connect to the Holy Land. We asked 18 members of the Jewish and Israeli communities in the Los Angeles area what Israel means to them and — surprise — we got 18 distinct responses. So what does Israel mean to us? Maybe the best way to put it is: Everything.


Susan

Photo by Andy Romanoff

‘A family of people’

“When I was in junior high school, I went to live on a kibbutz in Israel outside of Tel Aviv. … It was all about being with a family of people — that cultural environment and the welcoming warmth, and storytelling over dinner, and sitting around in the afternoon having tea and coffee, and the stories that I got to hear that were just about people’s lives. It’s about a lifestyle.” 

Susan Feniger, 59, Kenter Canyon
Chef/co-owner, Border Grill and Susan Feniger’s STREET


Photo by Andy Romanoff

‘Planting so many trees’

“I remember getting certificates and people planting trees in my honor for my birthday and bar mitzvah, and we all knew how important that was. I think that was my earliest realization that Israel was a difficult environment and that by doing all the amazing things that were done — planting so many trees — they were able to survive in what was otherwise a pretty barren country. … I think it has probably affected my sense of the environment growing up and actively fighting to preserve our environment in this country and the world.”

Paul Koretz, 58, Beverly Center
L.A. city councilmember, District 5


Photo by Joel Lipton

‘It really changed my life’

“Both my parents are Israeli. I consider myself Israeli-American. … I always just had this strong sense of family and stories and knowing where I came from. And then when I went to Israel, it really changed my life. I felt so connected to the land. I just felt like I belonged there. I also just felt a deeper connection with Judaism on my trip. After my trip — a one-year kibbutz ulpan program — I just decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life being involved in the Jewish community and being connected to Israel.”

— Orly Barad, 26, Woodland Hills
Program manager, Israeli American Council


Photo by Joel Lipton

‘Symbol of resilience and positivity’

“Israel has always been a second home for me while I was living in [my native] Iran, because my grandmother lived there. We spent all our summertimes in Holon and in summer camps in Israel. … Unfortunately, because I cannot go back to Iran, Israel remains my place of my childhood memories and my childhood experiences.

“I lived in Israel for about nine months after the [Iranian] Revolution. It was the biggest gift I could have had when I was a teenager. … I believe that Israel is the most democratic country, that it faces huge challenges, and I feel that Israel as a country has grown in such amazing and beautiful ways. What it means to me is a symbol of resilience and positivity.” 

Shulamit “Shula” Nazarian, 50, Venice and Holmby Hills
Owner/director, Shulamit Gallery

Holocaust survivors say Israel must do more to help them


Holocaust survivors living in Israel say the country isn't doing enough to help them, and some are resorting to skipping meals and medicine.

In a poll released Wednesday ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, 92 percent of the 500 survivors surveyed said that Israel was not allocating enough money to assist them.

The survey commissioned by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel also found that 20 percent of survivors had skipped at least one meal due to the inability to pay for food, and 14 percent had skipped taking medicine at least once in the past year.

Forty percent of respondents believed that another Holocaust could occur.

Some 192,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel. Holocaust Remembrance Day begins on Sunday evening.

Unexpected Israeli cuisine


I'm not sure what I expected. Hummus, certainly, but what else? Stuffed derma? Latkes? Matzah ball soup? As a native New Yorker with Ashkenazi roots, the foods I associated with being Jewish were the foods I associated with my grandparents. By extension, I suppose, I also associated these same foods with Israel, though those connections were more subconscious than explicit. 

Early last fall, I received a call. Israel’s Ministry of Tourism was organizing a small culinary trip, and it invited me to come along as a guest. I’d never been to Israel, and I suddenly had the opportunity, through my work as a food writer, to tour a country incredibly important to my religious and cultural heritage. I said yes. Six weeks later, I checked my preconceived notions of Israeli food along with my luggage and embarked on an unparalleled culinary journey. 

With me were Hugh Acheson, Ottawa native and current owner of three Georgia-based restaurants (as well as an author and television personality); Ben Ford, proprietor of popular Culver City gastropub Ford’s Filling Station and two new soon-to-open restaurants; Viet Pham, one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2011 and co-owner of the Salt Lake City restaurant Forage; and Maury Rubin, pastry chef, author and owner of six New York City bakery-cafes, including the flagship City Bakery in Union Square. Because I was traveling with four chefs, our itinerary was designed specifically to introduce us to Israel’s rising culinary stars and evolving cuisine, a cuisine steeped in the traditions of the Middle East but with notable European influences.  

It quickly became clear that today’s Israeli chefs take the region’s best-loved ingredients — the fresh fruits and vegetables, the tahini, the fish, the labne — and morph many of them into dishes with modern flair. In addition, the culinary phrases we Americans now bandy about so often are becoming a part of the Israeli food lexicon as well: “artisanal” oils, “farm-to-table” restaurants, “sustainable” aquaculture and viticulture practices, “foraged” herbs and plants. These efforts reflect both practices already in place (and, in some cases, in place for ages) as well as a concerted appeal to the sophisticated modern traveler.

Take foraging. We learned from Abbie Rosner, who has written widely about foodways in the Galilee (she has lived there since the 1980s), that Arabs have been foraging wild foods in that region since biblical times. This clearly touched a chord with chefs Ford and Pham, who forage regularly to procure produce, herbs and edible weeds for their respective restaurants. During our journey across Israel, they would constantly stop to pluck berries from branches or even gnaw on bits of the branches themselves, tasting as they went. Israel was a forager’s dreamland, and these old practices connected the country to two modern American chefs in a very special way.

Then there were the bakeries.


Croissants at the Port of Jaffa. Photo by Cheryl Sternman Rule

I personally loved our visits to Israeli bakeries, from tiny Ugata in Kibbutz Kinneret, to Dallal and Bakery 29 in Tel Aviv, to the most casual outdoor bakery cart in the Port of Jaffa, piled high with two-toned croissants. For Rubin, the baker in our group, these bakery visits were especially exciting. At Bakery 29, owner Netta Korin glowed visibly when Rubin introduced himself. A former investment banker at Lehman Brothers in New York, Korin (who was born in Israel but raised in the United States and Europe) was a devoted customer at Rubin’s City Bakery before she moved back to the country of her birth. In early 2011, she opened her small, quaint Tel Aviv bakeshop, specializing in cinnamon rolls and scones. Korin, remarkably, donates 100 percent of her profits to the IMPACT! scholarship program, which supports Israel Defense Forces soldiers who could not otherwise afford to pursue higher education. 

As for the restaurants, they spanned a wide spectrum. We enjoyed our first dinner high in the hills above Jerusalem at Rama’s Kitchen in Nataf. Run by Rama Ben Zvi (an Israeli Jew and former dancer with a doctorate from the Sorbonne), the rustic outdoor eatery gave us our first taste of Israeli-style communal dining, with each of us sweeping bits of pita through plates of pureed baked potato, garlic confit and olive oil; creamy labne; and chicken liver pate with roasted beets. Dishes of white balsamic aubergine (eggplant), rare filet mignon with green tahini sauce, and Jerusalem artichoke and sweet potato followed.  

We soon tasted the ebullient and colorful cuisine of Jerusalem chef Uri Navon at Machneyuda, his popular restaurant adjacent to the famous Mahane Yehuda Market; enjoyed a multicourse Lebanese- and Jordanian-inflected lunch at Ktze HaNachal restaurant in the Galilee; and experienced the handiwork of chef Moshe Segev, chef of El Al airlines, at his eponymous restaurant Segev in Herzliya. At one point, servers brought out a salad in a glass wine bottle that had been sawed in half and opened flat like a book; this was, by far, the strangest serving vessel I’ve ever seen.

Was every dish a home run, every meal worth raving about? Of course not. But many high-end chefs are pushing boundaries, taking risks and infusing old-fashioned dishes with modernist touches. Some succeed, and some fail — and to pretend otherwise, or to see the failures as disappointments — would be to miss the point entirely.

For me, the point is this: The cuisine of Israel is on the precipice of change, and much of it is not only fresh, but exciting. It’s like art, with hits and misses, highs and lows. Perhaps most telling was my favorite dish of the trip, at once both humble and almost absurdly transgressive in its simplicity. It was a whole head of charred cauliflower plopped, plateless, in the center of a paper-lined table at the cheeky Tel Aviv restaurant Abraxas North. Any country whose chefs have the chutzpah to serve diners a head of blackened cauliflower and expect them to pick off florets with their fingers is a country I’m glad I visited, and to which I hope soon to return.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is the author of “Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables” (Running Press: 2012) and the voice behind 5 Second Rule, named best food blog of 2012 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Learn more at cherylsternmanrule.com.

Document shows Israel counted Gazans’ calories


An Israeli document shows that Israel calculated the number of calories Palestinians in Gaza would need in order to avoid malnutrition.

Titled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip — The Red Lines,” the study estimated that each Gazan would need 2,279 calories a day. The study was prepared in January 2008, months after Israel intensified its blockade of Gaza following the Hamas takeover of the coastal strip.

The study indicates that Israel's blockade of Gaza was designed to hurt not only Hamas but civilians as well, so that they would put pressure on the Hamas government. 

Israel's Supreme Court ordered the release of the document after the Israeli human rights organization Gisha requested access to it and filed a Freedom of Information petition with the Defense Ministry.

The plan formulated in the document was never implemented, according to the Defense Ministry.

Celebrating Sukkot, remembering Africa


There’s a certain bittersweetness to the festival of Sukkot. On the one hand, it’s z’man simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing: In ancient Israel, it marked the end of the harvest season, the time when the storehouses were full of sustenance for the coming agricultural year, the time of thanksgiving. We celebrate that today with wonderful meals for friends and family in our own sukkahs — a time of warmth, conviviality, plenty.

On the other hand, the end of Sukkot is (in Israel as well as right here in Southern California) also the end of the dry season. For our ancestors, as they made their way back from the Temple in Jerusalem to their villages and farms, there must have been an undercurrent of anxiety as well, an anxiety no different from the one that haunts farmers today in the drought-stricken regions of this country. Would enough rain fall in the coming winter, so that there would be a harvest next year as well?

Thinking about the ambivalence as we approach the final days of Sukkot reminded me of a conversation I had in August.

I was one of 17 American rabbis from across the denominations to travel with an American Jewish World Service (AJWS) delegation to a very, very poor part of Ghana — Sankor, a village on the coast that was rife with child trafficking; for as little as $50, poverty-stricken parents have sold their children to work as slaves on fishing boats on Lake Volta.

But Sankor is also the site of Challenging Heights (CH). A long-term recipient of AJWS’ support, CH was created by a former child slave, James Kofi Annan, to save other children from his fate. The organization rescues trafficked children, rehabilitates them in a special center, counsels and works with the parents, and helps to set the family on their economic feet through microloans and support. Most of all, CH is focused on the children’s education, so that they, and other poor children from Sankor, will have the tools to overcome poverty in the future.

A week before I left on that AJWS Rabbis’ Delegation to Challenging Heights, this is what I packed in my duffel bag:

work clothes (required)

a wide-brimmed hat and wide-mouthed water bottle (required)

a long-sleeved blouse and long skirt (urged by AJWS for visits with traditional villagers)

a mosquito net (absolutely required!)

sunscreen (required)

and — at the last minute, just in case,  I — who have always regarded myself as super-healthy and quite hardy — stuffed in bottles/jars/tubes of ibuprofen, anti-itch cream, anti-diarrheal medication, acid controller, Beanaid, and — you never know — protein bars, fruit and nut bars, energy bars, and … hmm … a few of those newfangled bags of tuna — which in ordinary circumstances I’d never buy.

Even more than those ordinarily never-used over-the-counter medications I brought, it was my urge to pack extra food that betrayed the anxiety I felt about this Ghana trip. In such a poor country, in such a bare-bones place, would there be enough to eat?

So we rabbis arrived at Challenging Heights, both to build and, truly, to be “rebuilt”: to work on construction projects at CH in the mornings and to learn in the afternoons — about CH, as well as the connections among issues of poverty, hunger and human rights abuses around the world, issues inextricable from our own consumption habits as Americans and our country’s foreign aid and food policies. Who suffered when we Westerners did not buy only Fair Trade commodities? What was the human cost of our not holding multinational corporations accountable
for the labor conditions and wages paid to their workers in poor countries? How did our Farm Bill affect faraway small farms in Africa and Asia?

How much and what did we Americans —among the most affluent people on the planet — actually need?

One day, as we wrapped up our construction project and washed our hands in preparation for lunch, a young girl named Juliette asked one of the rabbis where he was going now.

“To eat lunch,” he said.

“May you have food tomorrow,” she responded softly.

Juliette’s words echoed in our ears throughout the rest of our stay. Perhaps it was the overwhelming gratitude we felt for our own sense of plenty; perhaps it was the humility we felt in the presence of these profoundly modest people who were dedicating all their energy to healing the terrible wounds of their society. Perhaps it was a new understanding of “need.”

I began to pay more and more attention to the beauty of the food made for us by Charles Quansah, the cook at Challenging Heights. Although he had a modest budget and a limited array of local ingredients, he succeeded in preparing the most delicious, expertly spiced, vegetarian versions of traditional Ghanaian meals. How foolish and fearful bringing all those bars and bags of tuna felt.

I asked Mr. Quansah for his recipes, determined to bring home the tastes of Challenging Heights.

Sukkot, a time of thanksgiving for our harvest and our full storehouses, a time when we share meals with friends and family in our fragile sukkahs, a time when we rejoice in plenty and yet remember the reality of scarcity, seems to me the perfect time to include the foods of a culture far away from us geographically but with so much to teach us spiritually.

May we savor these recipes I brought back from Challenging Heights and Ghana today, and may we, and all the peoples of the world, have food tomorrow as well.

African migrants remain trapped at border following hearing


A group of African migrants remain trapped at the border with Egypt after Israel's Supreme Court decided to hold another hearing next week on their situation.

The decision to hold a second hearing was made at a court hearing on Thursday. The hearings are in response to a petition filed by the We are Refugees, an Israeli NGO. The petition calls for Israel to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees.

Also Thursday, Israeli police and troops blocked a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights from visiting the trapped migrants.

The 20 African migrants have been trapped for a week between Israel's border fence with Egypt, and Israeli soldiers have been ordered not to let them in.The soldiers reportedly are providing water to the migrants, who include a pregnant woman and a teenage boy. The migrants have refused to be sent back to Egypt.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday evening released a statement saying that Israel is not obligated under international law to allow the migrants to enter, since they do not face persecution in Egypt.

Also Wednesday, the envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, William Tall, called on Israel to allow the refugees to enter Israel and apply for asylum.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants.

A kiss of the grape — and other adult libations — in Jerusalem


Wine bars, a new twist on an old theme, are drawing huge numbers of clientele in most metropolitan cities. What about the Holy City? Although the selection in Jerusalem doesn’t quite compare to that of its American and European rivals, there are enough choices in the Jewish capital to erase the so-called vapid reputation of kosher wine forever. Kosher vintners have long been removing the stigma, but at these establishments, with fine wines available by the bottle and the glass, it is a much more distant memory. An evening exploring these wines, savory dishes (many of them finger foods) prepared by on-site, professional chefs de cuisine, and memorable desserts that pair equally well with certain vintages or spirits, are a definite recipe for relaxation. Check them out while you traverse the spiritual center of the universe at the New Year and all year. 

ADOM

In name and spirit, Adom, Hebrew for “Red,” embodies the pleasure of fine wines and fine dining. Tucked into the hip, bustling alleyway of bars called Rivlin Street, just off Jaffa Road, guests enter the picturesque gated patio. A quick peek at its retaining wall, studded with embedded wine bottles and corks, is a not-so-subtle introduction to what’s in store. An impressive list of 160 wines is paired with three seating areas, whose stone walls and curved arches warm up by candlelight. The rotating wine of the month enables guests to sample new varieties by the glass at a discount. And a menu of international bistro cuisine, including beautifully presented salads, meats, fish dishes and more gives way to a late-night menu of finger food after 11 p.m. Adom is clustered in the only area of Jerusalem where anything close to a wine bar exists, in the tight mix of restaurants between the light-rail tracks and the Mamilla and David Citadel hotels. This restaurant is not supervised kosher but it, of course, relies on Israeli products that are certified kosher and it does offer kosher wines on its extensive list, making it a great option for a stop on your tasting tour. It is admittedly a little tricky to find, but the search is worth it for its ambience and charm. Simplify your search for Adom by entering from Jaffa Road No. 31, near the light-rail stop. Head down an intriguing path lined with many other establishments that draw huge crowds on Thursday and Saturday nights. Pass through this maze of hopping joints and heavy foot traffic to the tranquil Feingold Courtyard. 

Adom, 31 Jaffa Road, Jerusalem. 972-2-624-6242. 

THE WINERY/MIRROR BAR

The gorgeous Mamilla Hotel is one big bite of eye candy. After you enter this modernist retreat, head upstairs to its long and inviting wine bar, simply called the Winery. Sure, there are many other lovely places to sneak away for a romantic gourmet experience in and around the uber-chic Mamilla part of town, but only here will you find a massive slab of beautiful green glass atop a long wooden bar. Behind the counter, the Winery is tricked out with state-of-the art chilled, nitrogen-equipped dispensaries. Request your wine on tap or from the enticing selection along the exposed cellar, facing you along the wall behind the bar. 

The Mamilla Hotel has staffed this unique bar with trained sommeliers who offer curated tasting experiences. About 80 Israeli wines, from larger houses as well as boutiques, are on the menu. If you’re hungry late at night, take note that the Winery serves only small, cold plates of meat and fish from 3 to 8 p.m. After the Winery closes, you’re in for a treat. The green glass functions as a mere navigational device of sorts. Continue past the bar to the inviting entry point of the chic Mirror Bar. After 8 p.m., it opens up to a large, dimly lit area with comfy seats, perfect for viewing the massive flat-screen TV. Or, along small bar tables and chairs, you can take in the sounds of a live DJ working his groove at the internally lit marble bar. Take your party outside on the balcony with a view of the stone-lined pedestrian mall below or slip inside the separately enclosed glass-walled cigar lounge for more indulgence. 

The short bar menu here is heavy on meat dishes — think scrumptious mini burgers on brioche buns. But it also features delicious ceviche with fresh citrus and avocado and focaccia with herbal aioli for vegetarians and those seeking lighter fare. Every option available from the Winery menu remains available here as well. So you’ll have your pick from the fabulous menu-within-a-menu “Cellar” selections. Our favorite was a Katzav’s Merlot, aged in French oak barrels and bursting with ripe, tart fruit. Ready to indulge more? The almond sachlav with coffee truffle is one cup of steaming, hot ambrosia worth every gram of its heavy caloric cost. Kosher. 

11 King Solomon St., Jerusalem. 972-2-548-2211. mamillahotel.com. 

SCALA 

Just in case you had any doubt, this tiny neighborhood is one of Jerusalem’s key centers of gastronomy, spirituality and hospitality. You’re only minutes from the Old City and a host of other fine dining — and drinking — establishments that have long hosted tourists, foodies, gourmands and more. 

As you exit the Mamilla Hotel, head up King David Street to the massive David Citadel. Take the elevator up to the Scala Restaurant for another celebration of the senses. This high-end establishment caters to a clientele made up mostly of non-hotel guests. One taste of its menu, and you’ll understand why. 

Scala boasts the romantic night out trifecta. Its extravagant combination of cocktail bar, restaurant and wine bar all in one leaves little wanting. A stunning glass wall-to-wall wine cellar boasts 60 select Israeli wines, yours for the choosing. The labels range widely in provenance, taste and price, with nearly every imaginable kosher option, including renowned wines from the distinguished label, the Cave, to suit whatever you order for dinner, and high-end spirits, such as top-ticket Johnnie Walker Blue Label, paired with decadent chocolate desserts. 

If you’re not sure which way to proceed, ask the wait staff or Scala’s talented resident chef for their advice on the best way to enjoy whatever libations you choose. Every dish on the menu, from the tapas to the entrees, has a drink-in-waiting. Our selections ran the full spectrum, and each dish, from salad and fish to chicken and beef, was worth a return visit. Ditto for the desserts. Swoon-worthy, surprising blends of flavors included a hazelnut and coffee cream. The Dark Chocolate Delight is an artful ensemble of hot chocolate lava cake with apricot sorbet, served with additional whipped hot chocolate pudding with brandy and rich dark chocolate garnishes. It all went down smoothly with a Yatir 2007 Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet. Definitely an experience to be repeated. Kosher. 

Scala, David Citadel Hotel, 7 King David St., Jerusalem. 972-2-621-2030. scala-rest.com.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.” Her new book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts in October. She is online at lisaklug.com.

Circumcise your hearts


Consider the artichoke for a moment. It is an odd but instructive vegetable. An artichoke is prickly and surrounded by an armor of leaves protecting the soft center, the heart of the food. Boiling or steaming it loosens the protective leaves, permitting you to pick them off one by one, unwrapping the delicious gift that lies inside.

Each leaf contains a hint, a sampling of the delicious center. But even if you combined all of the tastes provided by all of the leaves on an artichoke, it would never equal the delicate green heart; only by cutting or pulling away its protective layers can one get to the treasure that lies within.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are instructed by Moses to circumcise their hearts in service to God. Specifically, they are instructed to “cut away the thickening around their hearts and stiffen their necks no more” (Deuteronomy 10:16). It is a powerful and direct statement made by Moses to the people. At first thought it appears horrific; Israel knows what circumcision is, and you can well imagine that every male in the assembled crowd quickly adjusted their gaze, if not their stance, at just the mention of the word. Rest assured — even back then they knew Moses was speaking in metaphor.

Biblical psychology localizes feelings and emotions in the body, and points to the heart as the organ of comprehension — thus an uncircumcised heart is a closed mind. (Think of the ring ceremony at a Jewish wedding where the rings are placed on the right index finger with a vein directly connected to the heart.)

The prophet Jeremiah even provides an example of this concept. A farmer does not plant an untilled field that weeds have overtaken and the topsoil of which is hard as stone. To make the soil productive, he plows it and rids it of weeds. So it is with human beings; the human heart and mind must be cleared of harmful growth and made receptive. Only then can ideas strike root and grow. Much like you can’t eat an artichoke till you have pealed away its hard shell, so too the Torah tells us that the heart and mind cannot undertake acts of justice and mercy until the defensive layers we build around it are cut away and broken down.

It’s not an easy thing to take down one’s own defenses, certainly when those defenses have been built over years of confrontation and hurt feelings. You build a wall to keep things out, but it just as often has the negative effect of keeping things in. Our lives are really not all that different from those of our biblical ancestors; life-styles might differ, but the basic truths of human nature and social interaction are as true in the Torah as they are today.

Our ancestors encountered a world where they were slaves to a tyrant; we may work in a job with our own taskmasters and pharaohs. In biblical times, such a situation caused Israel to be untrusting, stiff necked, hard of heart. Is the same not true for many of us? Have we not built our defenses against character assassination and image degradation so high as to harden our hearts to anyone who has even the potential to show us ill will?

For a time Israel did not want to accept the Torah because they didn’t trust that anyone, far be it God, would look with favor upon them. It took 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea to convince the Children of Israel to open their hearts and minds to Torah, and even then Moses was compelled to command them again in this week’s parasha not to rebuild those defenses, those walls that prevented them from letting God into their lives.

When an artichoke blossoms it is the heart that grows first; the leaves come after to protect the delicate treasure. Likewise with the field in which it is planted; sure, after years of planting and harvesting it becomes resistant to growth, and if left dormant for a season it develops its own defense against those who would seek to assault it. But the treasure is always there — behind the leaves of the artichoke, under the stone-like topsoil of a field, inside the thickened walls we build around our heart.

Our tradition teaches that one of the many purposes of the covenant between God and the Jewish people is to elevate the human experience to help us find, recognize and create holiness in our lives and those we touch.

Anything that prevents this, our parasha instructs us, must be cut away and removed so that the treasure that lies inside can be receptive once again. This week entertain a new idea, embrace an old but now distant friend, rekindle relationships long dormant with those we love and have loved, let the words of Torah, the teachings of Judaism once again be a sign upon our hands, set them as a seal upon our hearts.


Dan Moskovitz is a rabbi at Temple Judea, a Reform congregation in Tarzana. Visit his blog at jewishjournal.com/iRabbi.

Israeli food aid groups talk of striking without needed gov’t funding


Nonprofit groups that feed the needy say they may decide to go on strike for a day or two if they don’t get up to $64 million in the upcoming budget.

The groups told Israel’s welfare and social services minister, Moshe Kahlon, at a meeting this week that they could either close down or refuse to provide food for the hundreds they serve on a daily basis, according to Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, one of the country’s largest food aid organizations based in Ra’anana,.

Kahlon promised to get back to the groups on Thursday, Kroch told JTA—but the Leket Israel chief was not expecting a call.

While the some 200 food aid organizations throughout Israel believe they need the $64 million government contribution to serve the 17 percent of Israelis who live below the poverty line, Kahlon said he would work to make sure less than half of that, or nearly $26 million, would be the baseline in the 2013 budget.

The groups also want a say in how the money is used. The government, through local welfare offices, sends needy Israelis to the groups for special food packages and other assistance.

“No one knows better than us about food insecurity in day-to-day life in Israel,” Kroch told JTA on Thursday.

Kroch said he has been receiving more private calls for assistance from middle-class Israelis who have never needed help before and also do not know how to “work the system.”

He added that last summer’s social equality demonstrations, and those expected this year, are also on behalf of the middle class and do not benefit those in real poverty.

“For the poor, we have already lost the fight,” he said.

Livestock disease spreads to Gaza


A new case of a “novel strain” of foot-and-mouth disease has been detected in the Gaza Strip, the U.N.‘s Food and Agriculture Organization reported.

In a statement Wednesday, the Food and Agriculture Organization said that sick animals were detected in Rafah, a town bordering Egypt, on April 19. The United Nations group said it confirmed fears that the outbreaks of the SAT2 strain of the virus in Egypt and Libya in February would jump to neighboring areas. The disease is highly contagious and has devastating effects on meat and milk production.

The Food and Agriculture Organization said that following the reports of the outbreak in Egypt, Israel had quickly implemented targeted vaccination along its southern borders to create a buffer zone of protection for animal herds most at risk.



It said the Gaza Strip will be receiving an initial lot of 20,000 vaccine doses to protect its valuable cattle. An additional 40,000 doses will be made available as soon as possible for sheep and goats, according to the organization.
 


Juan Lubroth, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s chief veterinary officer, said that vaccines against the SAT2 virus were still in short supply, meaning that the priority is to limit animal movements to prevent spreading the virus. Heightened surveillance of animal populations to quickly detect and respond to new outbreaks also is critical.

The organization said that the foot-and-mouth disease virus is transmitted via the saliva of sick animals and can live outside a host for a long time. It spreads easily via contaminated hay, stalls, trucks, shoes and clothing—even the hands of traders inspecting animals at market.


Mishap leaves Israeli brigade with seder meal of matzah and salami


Israeli soldiers in the Kfir Brigade ate salami and matzah for their seder meal after a base chef heated up the real seder food inappropriately, rendering it unkosher.

The infantry brigade returned to base from a mission at the start of Passover expecting a festive holiday meal, but the base chef had begun to heat up the food after the start of the holiday, which also fell on the Jewish Sabbath, and is prohibited by Jewish law and army rules, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. The station cited Israel Radio’s military affairs reporter Carmela Menashe, who was contacted by the parents of some of the soldiers.

The chef, a warrant officer, has been court-martialed for violating a standing military order, according to Channel 2.

The food that was heated up incorrectly was thrown away on the order of the kitchen’s kashrut supervisor, according to reports.

Israeli needy to receive voucher for Passover food


Israel’s Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon said his ministry will provide needy Israelis with a magnetic card to purchase food at local stores instead of handing out food packages.

The ministry will distribute the cards to 32,000 needy families with funding assistance from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

Kahlon’s announcement came a day after he criticized non-profit organizations for humiliating the needy by publicly handing out food packages.

“The method of handing out packages of food must disappear,” Kahlon said Wednesday. “I oppose photographing the needy when they come to collect a basket of food. The Social Affairs Ministry is promoting magnetic cards as a means of distributing food aid.”

Brooklyn food co-op rejects Israel boycott


A well-known cooperative grocery store in Brooklyn voted to reject a boycott of Israeli goods.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, members of the Park Slope Food Coop rejected by a vote of 1,005 to 653 a proposal to hold a mail ballot referendum for all members on whether to stop selling Israeli goods.

The meeting was held at an area high school to accommodate the expected crowd, which ended up exceeding in size any previous co-op meeting, The New York Times reported.

The co-op, founded in 1973, is well known in New York City as a bastion of socially conscious consumerism. Each member is required to do a work shift of 2 hours, 45 minutes every four weeks in order to shop at the coop, which offers an array of organic and other goods at significant discounts.

Supporters and opponents of a boycott had campaigned aggressively in the run-up to the vote at the co-op, which has a large number of Jewish members.

The call to boycott Israeli goods had been percolating for several years and was the subject of vigorous debate in the co-op’s newsletter.

The issue garnered substantial media attention. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other elected officials strongly criticized the boycott proposal.

“I think it has nothing to do with the food,” Bloomberg said Monday when asked about the boycott at a news conference. “The issue is there are people who want Israel to be torn apart and everybody to be massacred, and America is not going to let that happen.”

The co-op’s general manager and one of its founders, Joe Holtz, urged members to reject the boycott call, calling it “divisive.”

The co-op reportedly sells only a handful of Israeli-made products.

New boycott called over Israeli chocolate bars


The leaders of Israel’s cottage cheese boycott are calling for a new boycott over the high price of chocolate bars.

The calls came earlier this week after an Israeli living in the United States posted a photo on Facebook of a receipt from a New Jersey supermarket showing that the popular Israeli chocolate bar Pesek Zman is being sold for one-third of its cost in Israel. Other chocolate bars manufactured by the Elite company also are being sold at similarly low prices abroad, according to reports.

Elite is owned by the Israeli conglomerate the Strauss Group, which was hit hard by the boycott of cottage cheese and other dairy products this summer as part of the social justice protests and eventually dropped its prices.

Boycott organizers have called for a month-long boycott of Strauss-Elite chocolate bars to begin on March 1, just before the chocolate-intensive Purim holiday begins on the evening of March 7.

Strauss said in a statement that it cannot control the price that retailers place on their products, and said it believed that the prices were lower in Jewish communities in the United States in advance of Purim. It also named supermarkets in Israel that sell its chocolate at cut-rate prices.

Chanukah in Israel: Sufganiyot on the streets, burning lights and family fun


They’re making sufganiyot on the streets of Israel; Chanukah must be near.

Actually it started feeling like Chanukah here about two days after Sukkot, when the first vendors started frying the delicious and caloric doughnuts in vats of oil in front of bakeries and on the street in towns throughout the country.

As malls in America rush the Christmas season by putting up decorations right after Halloween, some vendors in the heart of Jerusalem were making sufganiyot in the middle of Sukkot.

I spend the weeks until Chanukah checking out the sufganiyot offerings—jelly, chocolate, custard, you name it. At a rumored 1,000 calories each, I can only allow myself one or two throughout the whole season, so they had better be good.

One of the highlights of my family’s Chanukah is our annual venture to a fancy coffee shop for sufganiyot and hot cocoa (for the kids, coffee for me). Last year’s offerings included sufganiyot filling with flavors such as champagne, taffy and pistachio.

But Chanukah in Israel is not all about sufganiyot. With the kids out of school for a week, family fun rules. Workplaces mostly stay open, but stay-at-home moms and parents who manage to get some end-of-the-year time off do not want for kid-friendly activities during Chanukah.

Cities throughout Israel offer many cultural extravaganzas during the holiday. There are musicals and plays for children, often starring some of the best known old and new Israeli television and music personalities. Malls feature children’s programming like arts and crafts stations, or they set up stages with visits from jugglers, singers and often characters from beloved Israeli children’s shows such as “Yuval Mibubal” (“Yuval the Confused”) or “Kofiko” (a monkey with very human traits).

One of our favorite happenings in recent years featured candle dipping. Others included demonstrations of making olive oil and pita (and eating).

There are also plenty of Chanukah parties to attend in the evenings, either public or private. Like in America, synagogues, schools and other institutions host parties, and kindergartens put on pre-Chanukah extravaganzas with song-and-dance presentations for parents. Families get together to light candles and fry latkes in celebration of the miracle of the oil.

Our extended family gets together every year for Chanukah, though coordinating the event becomes more difficult each year as more of the nieces and nephews marry, move away from the community and have children of their own. One of the highlights of our party is the family sing-along, which begins with songs for Chanukah, moves on to well-loved national Israeli songs and finally moves into a different realm—Simon and Garfunkel and show tunes.

There are plenty of public lightings of the chanukiyah—in the Knesset, on army bases, at the Western Wall. The president and the prime minister travel to significant spots throughout the country, and sometimes the world, to kindle the Chanukah lights.

Also as in the United States, and throughout the world, Chabad is a palpable presence in Israel during Chanukah, with their chanukiyot sprouting in town squares, public parks and on the backs of cars. In our own community, the local Chabad lights a tall chanukiyah in the middle of our open-air mall, inviting children to come each night to sing the blessings and enjoy sufganiyot.

Perhaps the best part about being in Israel during Chanukah is walking down the streets of many cities and seeing Chanukah lights burning, often in special glass containers, outside next to the front door. With the mezuzah on one side and the Chanukah lights on the other, the home is surrounded by mitzvot, according to tradition. And since everyone lights their own chanukiyot, it is not uncommon to see a home with dozens of lights burning in the window.

It truly makes Chanukah feel like a national celebration.

Homemade falafel — A little taste of Israel


Bring a bite of Israel home with delicious falafel sandwiches made with amazing Israeli food products easily found in your local grocery store. These are perfect to pack for lunch, grab as a light snack or serve as a main course for dinner. B’tayavon!

FALAFEL SANDWICHES

Falafel:
Telma Falafel Mediterranean Cocktail Snack Mix
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Cooking oil (olive, corn or canola oil)

Israeli Salad:
2 tomatoes
1 sweet or yellow onion
1 large cucumber
1 lemon
Fresh parsley

Sandwich and Add-ons:
Telma Hummus Mediterranean Instant Dip Mix
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
Paprika
Prince Tahina
Biton Yohai Harissa
Fresh pita bread

For falafel, combine contents of one bag of Telma falafel mix with 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water in large bowl. Add fresh parsley to bowl and mix to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes.

In meantime, for salad, seed tomatoes and then coarsely chop tomatoes, onion and cucumber (no need to peel). Combine vegetables in second bowl. Squeeze juice of lemon into salad and stir. Add parsley if desired, and allow to sit at room temperature while you cook the falafel.

Shape falafel mixture into 12 1-inch balls. Pour oil into heavy skillet or saucepan to a depth of 1/2 inch (be careful if using olive oil, it has a higher smoking point and will splatter; do not use extra virgin olive oil for frying as the taste will deteriorate). Allow to heat. Drop a tiny piece of the mixture or a droplet of water into the oil to test. If it sizzles upon impact, the oil is ready.

Carefully add the balls to the oil. Allow to cook until side that is down becomes golden brown, and then flip over. Fry until second side is golden. Total approximate cooking time is 2 minutes. Remove falafel from pan and drain on paper towels.

Prepare hummus in separate bowl. Mix contents of bag with 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water. Garnish with paprika, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

If using tahina, mix purchased sauce with equal measure of water.

To assemble sandwich:

Cut pita in half to create an open pocket. Add cool ingredients as first layer of pocket (hot ingredients will cause the bread to open and the sandwich to leak). Layer hummus, Israeli salad and two falafel balls into each pita. Top with tahina and harissa to taste.

Makes 6 sandwiches.

Old land, new wines


As Israeli wines win medal after medal in international competitions, their entry into the mainstream fine wine market is hardly news anymore.

And yet, says Gary Landsman, director of marketing for the importer Royal Wine Corp., Israeli wines are lately reaching new benchmarks.

“We’re seeing stylistic changes by winemakers in Israel,” said Landsman, who worked in Israeli wineries during the harvest seasons from 2006 to 2008. He’s not referring to the big switch from sweet Kiddush wine to sophisticated products that is already well entrenched, but something much more subtle.

“As recently as five years ago, some Israeli winemakers still preferred bombastic, robust, masculine styles, where they’re getting rich fruit extracts and using oak barrels to their fullest. Now we are starting to see winemakers temper their use of oak barrels and pare back a little on extraction so the wines are a bit more elegant.”

Another significant change has to do with the age of the vines. Although wine making existed in the region thousands of years ago, the modern enterprise started from scratch after the founding of the state and in some ways is just now coming into its own.

“The [wine growing] grapevines in Israel are about 30 years old, and by worldwide standards that is young,” Landsman explained. “When wine is made from immature vineyards, that comes through in the taste — some of the younger vineyards have off-putting herbaceous flavors. Only now are some of the first Israeli winemakers, like Carmel, able to offer ‘old vine’ wines.”

The term “old vine,” he added, is sometimes dismissed as a marketing gimmick, but the difference is real.

“With older vines, often you don’t have to water them because the roots have dug deep enough that they can find the water they need to survive. Though Israel pioneered drip irrigation, for grapes they prefer ‘dry farming,’ which implies not watering them. Most areas that are putting out better fruit get rain and sometimes snow in winter, so they get enough natural water during the winter months to hold them through the dry season. When you don’t irrigate, you encourage the vines to dig down deep, and digging deeper gives you better flavors. When vineyards suck in too much water, the grapes plump up and get watered down.”

Carmel’s Appellation label, for example, can be found on old vine wines such as its Shomron Carignan 2004, made from Carignan grapes (with a little added Petit Verdot) growing in the winery’s nearly 35-year-old vineyards in Zichron Ya’acov. Carmel has a leg up on most other Israeli wineries in terms of age. It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux, France.

Wine critic Daniel Rogov gave Binyamina Winery’s Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 a score of 94 out of 100, and wrote: “A limited edition, showing dark, almost impenetrable garnet with just a hint of royal purple at the rim. Full-bodied, with generous but remarkably round tannins and gentle notes of spicy wood. On the nose red fruits, vanilla and a hint of cinnamon. Opens in the glass to reveal traditional Cabernet blackcurrant and blackberry fruits, those complemented by notes of bittersweet chocolate and freshly cured tobacco. … Elegance on the grand scale.”

Alongside the maturing of the vineyards, he continued, Israel’s winemakers have learned which grape varieties work best.

“The wine industry in Israel started with French varietals, such as Merlot and Chardonnay, but now we’re discovering that Israel’s soil may not be best for those,” Landsman said. “There’s a lot of experimentation now with varietals suited to the Eastern Mediterranean climate of Israel, such as Grenache and Petite Sirah. This is leading to better and more distinctively Israeli wines.”

All these developments represent a rich opportunity to introduce the general wine-buying consumer to Israeli wines if they haven’t already been convinced to try them.

To that end, Royal recently started the Israeli Wine Producers Association (IWPA), an initiative to help Israeli wines gain greater acceptance. “You’re finding more and more people getting over the impression that Israeli wine equals kosher equals Kiddush-sweet equals ‘why bother.’ We’re working diligently to break that stigma,” Landsman said.

The IWPA’s ads promote the message that buying Israeli wine is no different than buying from other nontraditional wine countries like Chile and Argentina, and that kosher certification isn’t an indication of inferiority, as evidenced by the kosher symbol on iconic products such as Snapple and Coke.

Not that all Israeli wines are kosher — a designation that has less to do with the grapes than with the manner in which they are handled. In order to have kosher certification, the product can be handled from field to bottle only by Sabbath-observant Jews. This is another evolving area, Landsman said. Many of Israel’s dozens of boutique wineries are starting to go kosher to increase their appeal to the all-important overseas Jewish consumer.

The IWPA, however, wants to break out of the parochial mindset.

“My goal is to inform the wine drinkers of the United States that Israel is on the map for wine,” said Joshua Greenstein, vice president of sales and marketing for the IWPA. The tagline he likes to use is “Ancient land, modern wine.”

“Retail shelves are cluttered with so many different labels. What helps is a great story, and Israel is nothing but great stories,” said Greenstein, who will soon be meeting with many Israeli winemakers to formulate a game plan of wine-education events in North America.

Greenstein, formerly with large American wineries such as Gallo, understands something about the general market. “In the wine world, people are looking for the next new thing. They want to learn about wine and the stories behind the wineries and the grapes they use.”

The organization is hoping to urge retailers to categorize Israeli wines by varietal, along with similar nonkosher wines, rather than putting them in dedicated sections that few non-Jewish shoppers seek out.

“They need to put all the Chardonnays together,” Landsman said. “More Israeli wines are in retail stores today, but mostly in the back, in the kosher section. We want to continue pushing them into the mainstream because they deserve the attention. Why limit the Israeli wines?”

Israelis paying a honey of a price


The price of Israeli honey is soaring because of “outrageous” customs duties that prevent imports and therefore competition, according to a new study.

The Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies in a study released Wednesday recommends eliminating high tariffs on honey to increase the amount of imported honey and the number of countries from which it is imported. Meanwhile, the market share of Israel’s Kibbutz Yad Mordechai honey is over 50 percent.

The cost of Israeli honey rose 26 percent between 2005 and 2010, the independent, nonprofit economic policy think tank’s study said.

According to the study, Israeli honey costs 3 1/2 times as much as in the United States and is twice as expensive as in Britain. Canada, Mexico, Argentina and China offer honey for export at 15 percent of the price of Israeli honey.

The Israel Honey Production and Marketing Board claims that the figures in the report are wrong and untruthful, Haaretz reported, and has threatened to take legal action against the institute.

Institute economist Keren Harel-Harari said that 40 percent of the annual consumption of honey in Israel takes place at holiday time this month, mainly on the Jewish New Year, and that Israelis will consume 1,500 tons of honey in one month, valued at about $16.2 million.

Meanwhile, pomegranates in Israel are being marked up to between 200 percent and 330 percent during the holiday season according to farmers, Haaretz reported.

Israeli farmers produced 20 percent more pomegranates this year over last year, at about 40,000 tons, the paper wrote. About 16,000 tons are exported.

The farmers say they are selling the red fruit for under a dollar a kilogram, but that retailers are selling them for between $2.50 and $3.50 a kilogram.

Pomegranates have become more popular because of its reputation for healthful properties.

U.S. entrepreneurs brewing something special in Israel


It would be almost impossible to believe that an inventive Washington, D.C., caterer who created culinary events for Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, an NYU-trained lawyer cum high-tech maven, and a successful New Jersey accountant would actually chuck their lucrative careers in order to serve up hand-crafted boutique beers to thirsty Israelis and curious tourists in metro Tel Aviv. However, Jeremy (“Jem”) Welfeld, Daniel Alon and David Cohen all admit that they are “living the Zionist dream” by reinventing themselves as adventurous American entrepreneurs who’ve fired up Israel’s fledgling microbrew industry.

In terms of chronology, Cohen opened Dancing Camel, the first Israeli microbrewery and pub, in Tel Aviv in 2006. Soon after, Welfeld and Alon partnered to create the first kosher microbrewery, pub and restaurant in Israel, which is located in the bustling Petach Tikva commercial district (home to dozens of high-tech and low-tech companies), just outside of Tel Aviv.

Up until the arrival of microbreweries in the Holy Land, most Israelis and tourists alike appeared to be content with sampling the mass-produced local beers (Goldstar and Maccabee) and some of the well-known European imports. A true beer culture had yet to take root in the Jewish state. Welfeld, who received his master brewer’s certificate from the prestigious Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, and Cohen, a former CPA who apprenticed at a microbrewery in New Jersey, decided that the time had come to change the way Israelis relate to their suds.

Five years later, Welfeld, Alon and Cohen had spurred a true American-style revolution in Israel. “What was a novelty [microbreweries], is now verging on a national phenomenon,” Israeli beer blogger Harley Zipori wrote.

Welfeld, Alon and Cohen will all tell you that while failure was not an option, having a cogent business plan, sufficient capital and quality brewing experience weren’t the only ingredients needed for success.

“We spent plenty of time searching for the right place to launch this venture,” recalled Welfeld, who catered events at the White House and State Department in the mid-1990s. “We needed to find a place large enough to install brewing equipment, as well as design a pub/restaurant that could fulfill our conceptualization. When we discovered an abandoned warehouse, which was a real mess, Danny and I knew we had found the perfect place for this venture.”

Welfeld and Alon also both knew that the warehouse was located in an area of Petach Tikva that was on the verge of a high-tech and real estate boom. “Besides which, it would have been almost impossible to develop our concept in Tel Aviv, because of the strict city zoning laws. Yes, some people thought we were out of our minds to do this in Petach Tikva, but the timing fit perfectly,” added Alon, the former New York legal eagle and high-tech impresario.

Jem’s Beer Factory serves six genuine lager beers including Pils, Dark Lager, Amber Ale, Wheat, 8.8 and Stout,  which are produced on the premises using the freshest ingredients. And, yes, Welfeld is only too happy to offer a quick behind-the-scenes tour of his brewing area to guests upon request. Jem’s also bottles tens of thousands of beers a month, some of which are sold on the premises and the rest available in select liquor stores throughout Israel.

Some of Dancing Camel’s unique beers

What separates Jem’s from the rest of the pub pack is the funky kosher restaurant that is an integral part of the experience. In fact, Jem’s is jam-packed with secular and religious singles, couples and business tourists during weekday evenings. On Sunday evenings, Jem’s is transformed into a SoHo-style pub/restaurant/nightclub where well-known Israeli singers entertain the throngs until the wee hours of the morning. The restaurant menu offers a variety of tasty dishes, including charbroiled steaks and homemade sausages.

“You won’t find a kosher microbrewery and restaurant anywhere …  New York, London, Singapore, etc. It’s hard to find ‘kosher and cool,’ which defines Jem’s,” Welfeld kvelled. “We’re not exclusive but inclusive, meaning that Jem’s is a microcosm of Israeli society, where both religious and secular Jews can enjoy a fun and relaxing experience together.”

Alon revealed that Jem’s also hosts hundreds of business tourists each week. “The business people come from the nearby offices of Teva, IBM, Intel and Amdocs … on their way back to their hotels in Tel Aviv or to the airport, which is only about 15 minutes away,” he added.

Cohen originally wanted to set up his Dancing Camel microbrewery in the mystical city of Safed (Tzfat) in northern Israel. But when he and his wife realized that living and working in bustling central Israel made more sense, Cohen decided to pursue his dream in Tel Aviv.

“We settled on Tel Aviv after visiting and looking at almost every industrial park across Israel,” Cohen said. “Eventually, I found a place in a gentrified neighborhood not far from the city’s busy office buildings. It’s a great neighborhood pub where we brew 13 different ales, five of which we brew year-round. Our most popular beers are American Pale Ale, made with distinctive hops from the United States; Eve, which is a light blond ale; India Pale Ale, which is brewed with date honey; and Leche Del Diablo, a wheat beer that contains chili peppers.”

Dancing Camel’s bottled beers, which are available at select liquor stores throughout Israel, are also kosher (with certification from a rabbi in Monsey, N.Y.).

As for his customer base, Cohen pointed out, “That’s hard to define since we are a local pub, but we do know that we get regular customers from as far away as Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba. The nearby Azrieli Towers complex is a major transportation hub so it’s not difficult for lovers of beer culture to hop aboard a bus or train and enjoy Dancing Camel’s unique atmosphere.”

The success of Jem’s and Dancing Camel has fueled talk of future expansion, but Welfeld, Alon and Cohen maintain that they are constantly working to perfect their existing business model.

Added Alon, “Jem’s is a successful Zionist story that is based on 20 years of vision, energy and persistence. Right now, we like where we are.”

Jem’s Beer Factory, Hamagshimim 15, Kiryat Matalon, Petach Tikva. (03) 919-5367. jems.co.il. Sunday-Thursday, noon-last customer. Saturdays, opens one hour after sunset.

Dancing Camel, Hataasiya 12, Tel Aviv. (03) 624-2783. dancingcamel.com. Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-last customer, Friday, noon-one hour before Shabbat. Saturday, opens one hour after Shabbat.

EU lawmakers back open markets for Palestinian goods


The EU moved closer to a trade deal with the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday after unanimous backing from European lawmakers to fully open markets to farm and fish products from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The 27-0 vote by the European Parliament’s international trade committee paves the way for full parliamentary approval for a deal later this year, signalling EU support for the Palestinian Authority as it prepares to bid next month for statehood recognition at the United Nations.

While small—trade between the EU and the West Bank and Gaza was worth 60 million euros in 2009, of which just 10 percent constituted Palestinian exports to the EU—the move nonetheless represents an opportunity for exports to boost an economy weakened by chronic conflict with Israel.

“This deal is enormously important. It gives more power to the Palestinians to trade directly with the EU. And it’s a signal of good will from the international community that comes at an important time,” said Maria Eleni Koppa, a Greek socialist lawmaker who led the committee’s discussion on the issue.

The West Bank and Gaza mostly export vegetables, fruits and cut flowers to the European Union, while the territories import EU machinery, chemicals and transport equipment.

The new deal will give Palestinian exporters unlimited duty-free access to European markets for farm goods and products as well as fresh and processed fish.

“For us this is one of the agreements that will help us build the economy of an independent sovereign state,” Majed Bamya, a Palestinian diplomat in Brussels, told Reuters.

The full European Parliament is due to vote on the trade agreement in late September.

Once approved, the deal needs final backing from EU member states and ratification by the Palestinian Authority. It is expected to enter into force before the end of 2011.

GREATER OPPORTUNITIES FOR PALESTINIAN EXPORTERS.

Europe imposed strict labelling laws on goods arriving from the occupied territories in 2005. But complex laws and the fact that trade is conducted largely through Israeli channels has created lingering concerns that Israeli farm operators may be benefiting from deals designed to aid Palestinians.

“We have been campaigning, especially in European countries, that they should not import from Israel products that are produced in (Jewish) settlements … and if they want to import anything from settlements then it has to be labeled separately (as settlement produce),” Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, told Reuters.

Palestinians say that controls by Israel, which took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, restricts their access to export markets, denying them economic opportunity. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Palestinians have argued that better access to export markets is vital to allowing the Palestinian economy to grow, in turn allowing the Palestinian Authority to ease its dependence on aid from donors including the European Union.

Europe’s deal with the Palestinian Authority also forms part of ongoing EU moves to open up trade and investment with the Mediterranean rim along North Africa and the Middle East. (Additional reporting by Thomas Perry in Ramallah; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton) ($1 = 0.693 Euros)

Just how expensive is it to live in Israel?


What began in Israel in June as a Facebook-driven rebellion against the rising cost of cottage cheese, then morphed in July into tent encampments protesting soaring real estate costs, has since turned into a full-scale Israeli social movement against the high cost of living in the Jewish state.

From Tel Aviv’s tent-filled Rothschild Boulevard to marches in Beersheva, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have participated in one protest or another. The movement’s targets have expanded from housing and cheese prices to everything from the costs of child care and gas—not to mention salaries.

All this begs the question: Just how expensive is it to live in Israel?

A close examination of some key metrics show that compared to the United States and Europe, Israeli costs of living are a mixed bag. Salaries are lower, but so are health care costs. Consumer goods and services costs are nearly double those in the United States, and owning a car can run about six times as much relative to one’s salary.

So how do Israelis make it? Israeli retailers and banks offer easy credit on everything from big-ticket items like summer vacations to everyday purchases like groceries; all can be paid in monthly installments. The result is that many Israelis are perennially in debt and are increasingly frustrated by their inability to cover costs with their monthly paychecks.

Here’s a closer look at some of the costs of living in Israel.

Housing

The most expensive and desirable places to live in Israel are in the center of the country, where the vast majority of the population resides and works.

According to figures from the real estate company RE/MAX Israel, apartment prices in central Tel Aviv run $5,714 to $7,142 per square meter. In Jerusalem, the peripheral neighborhoods of East Talpiot and Kiryat Hayovel offer housing from $4,285 to $5,714 per square meter, while prices in the tonier neighborhoods of Baka, the German Colony and Rechavia range from $7,000 to $8,571 per square meter.

That means that in Baka or the German Colony, a typical two-bedroom apartment starts at $428,571, according to Alyssa Friedland, a broker for RE/MAX.  In the peripheral neighborhoods, some of which are built on territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, a two-bedroom apartment runs for about $343,000. According to RE/MAX figures, two-bedroom apartments in Beersheva, Haifa, Hadera and Afula cost between $143,000 and $286,000.

Mortgage rates are about 4.5 percent, according to Friedland, but the required down payment is usually about 40 percent.

“Young couples are getting the money from their parents because they don’t typically have savings like that,” she said.

As the economist Daniel Doron noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, “A small apartment can cost the average Israeli worker 12 years in annual salary.”

Salaries

In Israel, the average salary is about $2,572 per month, and the average income for a tfamily with two wage earners is approximately $3,428 per month, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Teachers and nurses earn abound $1,666 a month, making Israeli teachers’ salaries among the lowest in the world, according to a recent report by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Business managers, computer engineers and lawyers have some of the highest median salaries in Israel. A lawyer with five years’ experience can make $5,500 to $6,500 per month, and top associates earn about $8,571 per month, according to Dudi Zalmanovitsh, who runs the Tel Aviv law consulting firm GlawBAL. Technology professionals are some of the highest paid in Israel, with technical writers and software engineers earning between $2,500 and $3,500 a month, and managers making upward of $10,000 a month.

Doctors, most of whom work at clinics and hospitals, earn $6,000 to $7,000 a month, unless they also have a private practice.

Transportation

With a tax rate of 78 percent on new cars, a lack of competition in the import market and high auto insurance costs—not to mention the price of gas—owning a car can be one of the most expensive things for an Israeli.

A Honda Civic, which has a sticker price of approximately $16,000 in the United States, costs $33,000 in Israel. Gas costs more than $8 per gallon.

As most Israelis earn about one-third of their American counterparts, Israelis may spend more than six times as much of their monthly salaries on car ownership as the average American.

The alternative—public transportation—is cheap by comparison in Israel, though the network of mass transit is much less developed here than in America or Europe.

A small but growing number of Israelis commute by train, but most need to take a bus to complete their commute. Buses are subsidized and therefore relatively cheap. Within cities, bus fare costs about $1.51 per ride or $65 for a monthly pass.

Health care

Israel’s socialized health care system is considered among the world’s best, and taxes pay the lion’s share of costs. Based on figures from the National Insurance Institute, the health care costs deducted from the average paycheck are between 3 percent and 5.5 percent, estimates Dr. Michael Cohen, who runs an HMO in the coastal city of Netanya.

With a system of universal health care run by private corporations, all citizens are entitled to the same uniform package. Whether self-employed or employed by a company, every citizen pays a basic health insurance rate to one of the four HMOs, which are heavily regulated by the government and subsidized.

For Israelis who need to visit the doctor, require fertility treatment or visit the emergency room, the extra costs are minimal. Medications are cheaper in Israel than in the United States because they are subsidized by the HMOs.

Many Israelis choose to expand their coverage with private health insurance that offers more access to private care or more comprehensive coverage. Private insurance costs a fraction of what it costs in the States.

“The working poor are much better off here because if someone gets sick, they still get full hospital treatment for what would be very expensive in the U.S.,” Cohen said.

Taxes

Israel is more like Europe than America on taxes. The top rate of income tax is 45 percent (it was 50 percent until 2003). The value added tax, or VAT, which amounts to a sales tax, is 16 percent. That’s considered regressive because rich and poor pay the same rate.

The average Israeli pays an income tax rate of 20.5 percent. The top 1 percent of salaried workers, who earn an average of $19,000 per month, pay a 40 percent income tax rate. The top 1 percent of the self-employed—the super-rich who gross an average of $121,000 per month—pay 26 percent in income tax.

Education

Education is one area in which Israelis pay considerably less than Americans.

Tuition at Israel’s renowned public universities is about $2,714 per year, thanks in large part to government subsidies. At Israel’s lesser-known private colleges, tuition costs about $8,571 each year. Compared with other developed countries, Israel ranks eighth out of the OECD’s 26 countries for tuition rates.

Those paying tuition for Jewish day school in America would save a bundle in Israel. Public schools—whether secular, Modern Orthodox or haredi Orthodox—are free. However, parents must pay service fees for field trips and special events, are responsible for busing costs and must pay for books.

The growing number of semi-private schools that offer special pluralistic, democratic or religious curricula charge annual tuitions ranging from $800 to $1,600, and boarding schools charge $3,000 to $5,000 per year.

Because the traditional Israeli primary school day is short, often ending before 2 p.m., many parents shell out money for afternoon childcare programs or afterschool activities.

The most expensive part of child rearing may be day care for the under-3 set. Some day care centers cost $630 a month for private toddler day care. Once children turn 3, they can take advantage of the public school system and day care centers that charge as little as $257 a month for a six-day, six-hour program.

Food

Israel’s social protest movement began with an investigative report by the Globes business daily on food prices. Globes found that prices for basic food products were two to three times higher in Israeli stores than in other Western countries.

An 8-ounce container of cottage cheese costs $1.68; a pound of hummus costs $4.54; 2 liters of orange juice—in a country that exports oranges—costs $6.54; 2 pounds of rice costs $1.94; and a 13-ounce container of Israeli Osem soup nuts costs $4.54—more than it costs in American stores that import the soup nuts from Israel. A 6-ounce can of Israeli-made sunscreen spray can cost approximately $40.

“Prices have gone above what the middle class and weaker classes can afford,” said Rami Levy, who owns 22 supermarkets nationwide. He attributed the rise to Israeli supermarket chains that collude to set prices.

“I started my business with the goal of selling to my customers at wholesale prices,” said Levy, who started with a stall in Jerusalem’s open-air Machane Yehudah market. “I wanted them to be able to buy what they needed and still have money left at the end of the month.”

Israel boycott supporters arrested for violating bail


Four pro-Palestinian supporters of an Israel boycott were arrested in Melbourne for breaching bail conditions following a protest outside a Max Brenner chocolate shop.

A spokesperson for the Victoria Police confirmed that the four proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign who appeared Tuesday in Melbourne’s Magistrate’s Court were among the 19 activists arrested July 1 outside the Israeli chocolatier in downtown Melbourne.

Police say they were among more than 300 protesters who marched July 29 on the Max Brenner store, thereby breaching their bail conditions. More than 10 of the 19 activists arrested July 1 had been ordered by the courts not to come within 50 meters—slightly more than 50 yards—of the chocolate shop.

Omar Hassan, who was among the 19 activists arrested July 1, said the four were released on bail, with three paying a surety of $2,000 and one ordered to pay an extra $8,000 by next Wednesday.

“It’s definitely an attempt to silence these protesters,” Hassan said.

The protesters are scheduled to reappear in court on Sept. 5.

The arrests come as the Victorian Liberal government asked Australia’s competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, to investigate whether the boycotters had broken Australian law.

Israeli dairy cows produce most milk


Israeli dairy cows produce more milk than dairy cows do in other countries.

The Israeli dairy cows produced an average of nearly 2,642 gallons of milk a year in 2009, according to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Monday. Some 344, 480 gallons of milk was produced by Israeli cows in 2010.

By comparison, dairy cows in the United States produce 2, 465 gallons of milk per year and European Union cows 1, 622 gallons per year, according to the Jerusalem Post.

There is an estimated 25 percent increase in the purchase of dairy products by Israelis in the days leading up to Shavuot, when Jews traditionally eat dairy holiday meals.

A cow from Kibbutz Karmia near Gaza was named the highest milk-producer for the second year in a row, giving more than 20,000 liters or about 5,283 gallons of milk in one year.

There are 125,000 dairy cows in Israel, and that the average Israeli consumes about 45 gallons of dairy products a year.

Flavors of Israel


My fascination with Israeli food started the first time I tasted a falafel laced with tahini at a little sidewalk cafe in Westwood, near UCLA. Inspired by this simple Israeli dish, I began developing a list of Middle Eastern recipes that grew with each trip to Israel.

When visiting the marketplace in Jerusalem, I love watching the pita bakers working at cavernous wood-fired ovens. Rounds of dough are flattened by hand, then tossed against the inside walls of the ovens, where they puff up as they bake.

When I have time, I make my own pita bread, which I smother with garlic-herb butter and bake until crisp. You can also cut pita into triangles and serve for dipping with baked eggplant or hummus.

I enjoy serving a buffet-style Israeli lunch or dinner for friends, and because of the variety of dishes available, it is the perfect food for a family get-together, bar or bat mitzvah, or wedding celebration.

Eggplant, a favorite on the buffet table, is a versatile vegetable used in many recipes throughout the Middle East. My favorite recipe using this beautiful, dark purple vegetable is to blend its delicate yet pungent flavor with tahini, garlic, olive oil and salt for a delicious dip, baba ganoush.

Another of my favorites to serve is tabouleh, a traditional Middle Eastern salad, a combination of cracked bulgur wheat, green onions, chopped parsley, mint and lots of tomatoes. I often improvise, adding sliced cucumber and chopped red bell pepper, and using cilantro instead of parsley.

Serve this Israeli menu indoors or out, depending on the season and the amount of space you have. Most of the food can be prepared in advance, and the salads will keep well in the refrigerator for a day or two, even improving in flavor.

Set up a sweet table, arrange baskets of fresh fruit and bowls of nuts and dried fruit, and include baklava, made with layers of filo dough and chopped walnuts. After baking, pour or drizzle a warm honey syrup over the baklava. Let cool before serving.

Also, many people love halvah, a sweet confection often made from sesame seeds, which can be made even more delicious by dipping it in melted semisweet chocolate. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

PITA GARLIC TOAST

Pita garlic toast. Photos by Dan Kacvinski.

1/2 cup (1/4 pound) unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh chives, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 pita rounds, split in half

In a food processor, blend together butter, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and chives. Add salt and pepper to taste. (If not using the spread immediately, mold it into a cube, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze; let it come to room temperature before continuing with your recipe.)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread the inside surfaces of the split pita rounds with the butter mixture. Cut each round into halves or quarters. Arrange the pitas in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. You can also place the pieces under a broiler and broil until crisp. Watch carefully to avoid burning.

Transfer to serving plate and serve immediately.

Makes 12 servings.


EGGPLANT WITH TAHINI
1 large eggplant
1 medium onion, finely chopped, juice squeezed out and discarded
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons water
Salt
Dash cayenne pepper
Parsley sprigs for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and place it cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake until its skin is charred and the inside is tender, about 30 to 40 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 tahini, 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 additional lemon juice to taste. Garnish with parsley.

Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups.


TABOULEH

Tabouleh

1 cup fine cracked wheat (bulgur)
1/2 cup minced green onions
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
2 heads romaine lettuce, small center leaves only
1 lemon, thinly sliced for garnish

Soak the cracked wheat in enough cold water to cover until tender, 10 to 20 minutes. Drain it well and squeeze it as dry as possible by hand or in a kitchen towel or a double layer of cheesecloth.

Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Add the green onions, parsley, mint and tomatoes; toss well. Stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Let the mixture stand for about 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to blend. Stir in the oil.

Pile the mixture on a large platter and surround it with the romaine leaves to use for scooping. Garnish with lemon slices.

Makes 8 servings.


FALAFEL

Falafel

1/2 cup fine cracked wheat (bulgur)
Water
1 1/2 to 2 pita bread rounds or white bread slices, torn into chunks (makes about 1 1/2 cups)
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Soak bulgur in enough cold water to cover for l5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Soak the bread chunks in enough cold water to cover, until soft and moist, about 5 minutes. Drain the bread, squeeze it dry, and set aside.

In a food processor or blender, put the garbanzos, lemon juice, garlic, cilantro, parsley, red pepper, cumin, salt and pepper. Process until smoothly pureed. Add the bulgur and bread and pulse until thoroughly combined. Moisten your hands with cold water. Shape the mixture into 1-inch balls.

Fill a large, heavy skillet with 3 inches of oil and heat to 375 F on a deep-frying thermometer. Fry the falafel in several batches, without overcrowding, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per batch. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve hot.

Makes about 36 balls, 8 to 10 servings.


BAKLAVA
Clarified Butter (recipe follows)
1/2 cup oil
1 package (1 pound) filo pastry dough
4 cups very finely chopped walnuts
Sugar and Honey Syrup (recipe follows)

Brush the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with the Clarified Butter. Trim the filo sheets to 12 by 9 inches. Place l sheet of filo on the bottom of the dish. Brush its entire surface lightly with clarified butter. Lay the second sheet on top and butter it lightly. Sprinkle it evenly with about 3 tablespoons of walnuts.

Repeat the procedure, using 2 sheets of buttered filo topped with 3 tablespoons of walnuts, until you’ve used all of the nuts and all but 2 sheets of filo. Place the 2 remaining sheets on top, brushing both with butter.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

With a small, sharp knife, score the top of the baklava lengthwise with parallel lines, 2 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep. Then score diagonally across them with parallel lines 2 inches apart to form diamond shapes.

Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 F and bake 45 minutes longer, or until the top is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and pour the Sugar and Honey Syrup evenly over it. Let it cool to room temperature, then cut along the scoring lines into individual pieces.

Makes about 24 pieces.


CLARIFIED BUTTER
1 pound unsalted butter

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and cool about 30 minutes. Skim off the foam. Slowly pour the clear liquid into a clean container, stopping before the whey (the milky-white sediment) escapes. Discard the whey. The butter will shrink about 25 percent in volume, so be sure you have enough for your recipe. Or, if time permits, place the melted butter in the freezer for a few minutes; the butter will harden and the whey will remain liquid and can be poured off.

Makes about 2 cups.


SUGAR AND HONEY SYRUP
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey

In a heavy saucepan, over medium heat, stir together the sugar, water and lemon juice, cooking until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, without stirring, and continue boiling until the syrup reaches 220 F on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.