Is there such a thing as Israeli cuisine? Of course there is! Israeli cuisine is an extraordinarily rich mixture of foods from Jewish communities all over the world.
When I look at the cultures that have influenced me, I realize their foods have similarities to Israeli cuisine. My parents were born in Israel. The Altman family, my father’s family, came from Poland but lived in Germany until 1936 and then immigrated to Israel. My mother was born to parents who immigrated to Israel from Libya. My great-grandmother was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and is a granddaughter of the Montefiore family from Livorno, Italy. My mother’s grandfather is descended from a Turkish family.
It is no wonder, then, that the Israeli kitchen, as well as my own kitchen, has so many different traditions, styles and flavors.
I live in an ancient stone village that is located on the western slopes of Jerusalem and enjoys cool breezes from the Mediterranean. The village is called Ein Karem, which translates as “spring of the vineyard,” a reminder that grapes have been grown there since biblical times. I was born there, and after four years of traveling the world as a young woman, I set up my kitchen there and host people from around the world. Outside is my garden, where figs and pomegranates, almonds and peaches, Jerusalem artichokes and many herbs grow. I work constantly. My work is creative and physical — kneading, waiting for the dough to rise, checking flavors, baking, cooking, hosting and storytelling. I always say that I work a lot, but not hard. I’m full of passion for everything to do with cooking and baking, and full of love when it comes to entertaining others, so my work fills me with much happiness and satisfaction.
I buy most of my ingredients in the legendary Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem — a colorful, exciting market full of the best and freshest of everything.
At the age of 8, I cooked my first meal. I invited 15 guests, came home from school one day with a friend to help me, and we cooked. Our guests and my parents were so thrilled, and it was then that I realized this was what I wanted to do with my life — to cook, host and entertain people in my home. Today I entertain people at the same table, facing the same magnificent view of the mountains of Jerusalem in the biblical village of Ein Karem.
For the New Year, I have created a wonderful holiday menu, based on both the rich Mediterranean cuisine and the traditional Jewish cuisine. You can make these dishes ahead and use them to break the Yom Kippur fast, or save them for Sukkot.
BULGUR SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE SEEDS
I love using bulgur in salad because we can flavor it in so many ways. I like to go out into my garden and pick the ingredients. The salad changes season by season, depending on what is growing in the garden.
- 3/4 cup medium bulgur
- Handful of fresh parsley
- Handful of fresh cilantro
- Handful of fresh arugula
- Handful of fresh mint
- 8 sprigs fresh oregano
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
- Seeds of 1 large, sweet pomegranate
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice concentrate
- Pinch of salt
Soak the bulgur in a bowl of room-temperature water for at least three hours. Drain bulgur and place in a large bowl. Clean and chop all herbs; add to bowl. Add chopped walnuts, chopped cranberries and pomegranate seeds. Add lemon juice, olive oil, pomegranate juice concentrate and salt. Combine well and serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH DRIED FRUIT
In this recipe, I use ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice mixture, widely used in the Middle East. Many gourmet stores and online sources carry it.
- 2 carrots
- 1 large onion
- 4 stalks celery
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ras el hanout (or 1/3 teaspoon each ground cumin, ground cinnamon and black pepper)
- 4 chicken-leg thigh quarters, cut in half
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 12 pitted dates
- 12 pitted prunes
- 1/2 cup dark seedless raisins
Peel and slice carrots, onions and celery; place in a large bowl. Add wine, water, orange juice, salt, paprika and ras el hanout; stir to combine. Add chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours to marinate.
Remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade.
Heat oil in large skillet, then brown chicken, a few pieces at a time, over medium heat.
Transfer chicken to a large baking dish, pour reserved marinade over chicken, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 325 F for 1 hour.
Uncover, add dates, prunes and raisins, making sure they are covered with the marinade, return to oven, and bake 30 minutes longer.
Makes 8 servings.