September 17, 2019

Israel’s Melting Pot Is on The Stove, in the Oven

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As the melting pot of the Jewish people, Israel has produced a melting pot of Jewish and world cuisines. Through historical narratives, vibrant illustrations of local eateries and practical recipes, Janna Gur’s recent “The Book of New Israeli Food” (Schocken, 2008) captures the story of Israeli food coming into its own as the fusion of Ashkenazi and Sephardi, the exile and Zion, the old and the new.

“For me it wasn’t just a cookbook, but a very personal project to try and convey something about Israel through the food,” Gur said in a telephone interview from her office in Tel Aviv, where she serves as editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading gastronomic magazine, Al HaShulchan. “I tried not to give recipes but insight into lives of people, places, atmosphere, even mentality.”

The term “new Israeli food” also may sound like a tautology. At 60, Israel is a relatively new country. But the inventiveness and wanderlust of well-known Israeli chefs who make appearances in the cookbook, have led to imaginative upgrades of Israeli and Jewish classics.

“It’s ‘new’ because it’s the result of what we’ve seen now,” Gur continued. “Restaurants are experiencing an amazing food renaissance in the past few decades. In restaurants you see things that weren’t around before — a kind of fusion between Palestinian cooking and Jewish ethnic cooking, with something from California, New York and the Far East.”

Gur’s recipes, some basic, some more involved, should soothe any Israel lover nostalgic for the nation’s cafes, bistros, Mizrahi family diners and falafel joints. They cover a cross section of Israeli society, including the simple Arabic salad, fish falafel, couscous soup, Iraqi kubbe, traditional chopped liver and green matzah ball soup.

Gur forays into the historical development of Israel’s food industries — olive oil, fishing, bread, coffee, cheese and wine — making the book read like a coffee table book at times, yet establishing it as an authoritative guide to contemporary Israeli cuisine.

Flourless Chocolateand Pistachio Cake

by Barry Sayag, Tatti Boulangerie, Givatayim

(from “The Book of New Israeli Food”)

Ingredients (for 1 loaf pan)

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 cups pistachio nuts, coarsely ground

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

3/4 cup almonds, finely ground

3/4 cup chocolate chips

2 egg whites

1 1/2 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat oven to 310 F.

Beat the eggs and the egg yolks in a mixer with 3 ounces of the sugar to a thick and fluffy cream.

Add the pistachio nuts, almonds, cocoa powder and chocolate chips and mix to a smooth batter.

Beat the 2 egg whites with the remaining sugar to form soft peaks, then fold in the nut and egg mixture. Stir in the melted butter.

Pour the batter into a well-greased pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out dry with a few crumbs adhering. Serve at room temperature.

Janna Gur will be visiting Los Angeles in April as part of her American book tour. Watch for details in an upcoming Calendar.