Pirot v’yerakot: adventures in Israeli Dining

Oh Israel, your food is a splendor.

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Here’s the breakdown…

Foods that are better in the USA: pizza, yogurt, plain black coffee

Foods that are better in Israel: everything else

No, I am definitely not using hyperbole. Just look at this banana:

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I rest my case. 

One of my great Israeli adventures so far is venturing to pirot v’yerakot (fruit and vegetable) stands, selecting a few things I’m unfamiliar with, taking them home, putting them in my mouth, and consulting google to learn what I’m eating.

Last week I shared my encounter with prickly pears. This week, I mystery grabbed these:

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Turns out this is what a passionfruit looks like! I had only ever had passionfruit as part of a juice or smoothie – not on its own. You can eat it by scooping out the insides with a spoon (don’t lose the precious juice!). The outside shell is hard and relatively easy to separate the fruit from:

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Salatim (salads) are also a great part of Israeli cuisine. Salatim doesn’t refer to simply the mix of lettuce that we Americans refer to as salad. In Israel, salatim refers to a wide array of appetizer-like spreads, dips, pickled vegetables, and overall deliciousness. Nearly every Supersal (a large grocery store chain), mikolets (smaller grocery stores – almost like convenient stores), and small specialty shops (cheese, meat, bread, etc.) sells a selection of salatim that you can buy in various sizes. This week, I picked up a few salatim to try:

Matbuha (a spicy tomato dip, also sometimes called Turkish Salad):

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Eggplant with tahini:

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And I am now on my first second third tub of hummus (also considered a type of salatim). In defense of my hummus consumption, however, I will point out that one entire tub was consumed by Shabbat guests on Friday night. I had a group over for Shabbat dinner where I got to break out my kiddush fountain (you pour wine from the main kiddush cup into the ‘fountain’ which distributes the wine into several smaller cups):

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And purchased challot from the popular Jerusalem bakery, Marzipan:

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Also before Shabbat, I popped into a shop near my apartment that sells prepared meats, salatim, and side dishes. Observant families don’t cook on Shabbat, which requires a lot of preparation in advance for the weekly holiday. As a result, it’s common for many families to buy some prepared food to lighten the amount of preparation that’s required.

When I say prepared food, I’m not talking frozen meals or processed faux-meats. There are freshly cooked meats, vegetables, appetizers, and soups. I decided to buy a mystery foil-wrapped cylinder because for once in my life I don’t have to worry about what sort of meat could be inside (halleluyah for kosher everywhere!!).

When I got home, I opened up the foil and discovered this:

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It was some sort of phyllo dough encased ground meat/potato/onion dish. I cooked it in the oven for about 30 minutes and this is what came out inside…

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Yum! I had it with some very delicious (and long) green beans as well as the aforementioned salatim.

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And…what is more appropriate to close out my Israel food rave than Tim Tams?

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Okay, so they come in a package. And they’re actually made in Australia. And they are a far cry from any semblance of healthy. But ask anyone who has participated in an Israel summer program, Birthright, or school trip, and you will quickly learn that Tim Tams are an essential part of the Israel experience. The double-layered wafers with a chocolate cream center can be found on the front shelf of each Supersal, mikolet, and every other food-selling establishment. But, the magic of Tim Tams goes far beyond chocolate or cookie. The true love of a relationship with a Tim Tam comes in the consumption.

There is really only one right way to eat a Tim Tam.

Step 1: Get a glass of milk. Coffee is also acceptable and tea might do in a pinch.

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Step 2: Take a small bite from one corner of the Tim Tam:

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Step 3: Take a small bite from the opposite corner of the Tim Tam:

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Step 4: Dip one open corner into the milk/coffee, and put the other open corner into your mouth. Use the Tim Tam as a straw and suck until you taste the milk.

Step 5: Eat the Tim Tam – whose chocolately wafer has now absorbed the milk and become oh-so-juicy-and-delicious.

Step 6: Ecstasy

And, because I am not completely oblivious to the state of the world, some brief comments about life in Israel over the last week.

The mood was very heavy at the beginning of last week. Last Tuesday was Tisha B’av, an annual Jewish fast day that is described in the Torah as a day of crying and misfortune for all generations. This damnation is in response to the report of 12 spies who were sent to take a peek at the promised land and report back to the newly-freed-from-Egypt Israelites. While the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey, the spies came back with a negative report, saying that the people in the land were great and fierce and the Israelites should just turn back now since they would surely never be able to truly enter the land. Furious that the Israelites would so easily fall into grief and despair when the land had, in fact, been promised to them, God decreed that the Israelites would not enter the promised land until that generation died out, leading to the subsequent 40-year wander in the desert. The tragedy of the day – the 9th (tesha) day of the Hebrew month of Av – would also continue indefinitely through all generations. Hence, Tisha B’av. 

Interestingly enough, the day truly has been one of great sorrow for the Jewish people throughout history. It is on this day that both the first and second temples were destroyed in Jerusalem (some 657 years apart), Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and Spain in 1492 (Columbus sailed the ocean blue…no? different theme?), Germany entered WWI in 1914, formal approval was received for the Nazi “Final Solution” in 1941, and mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began in 1942.

Clearly, it’s not a good day. The mourning of the day is also intensified because of safety concerns resulting from the day being used as a target for terrorist attacks in recent years. This past Monday, just before the start of the fast, there were two attacks in Jerusalem including one that involved a stolen tractor plowing over a bus and killing one person. Monday also marked the day that Hamas resumed rocket attacks on Israel, breaking yet another ceasefire and resuming the war that many Israelis had hoped and believed was coming to an end. Beginning tonight at midnight, another ceasefire is supposed to go into effect…hopefully this will last.

In closing, I recommend this op-ed by the always brilliant and ever insightful Thomas Friedman.

“3,000 years with no place to be and they want me to give up my milk and honey. Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea, not the country but the dwelling of his majesty. Jerusalem, if I forget you, fire not gonna come from me tongue. Jerusalem if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.”
– Matisyahu

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Passover Essential: Charoset

As I mentioned in my earlier Passover post, there are certain rituals or customs of the holiday that become essential to the sense of true celebration. The Passover seder (festive fifteen-step meal) includes several food that are themselves part of the dinner rituals. Examples of foods that are always part of every seder: parsley, salt water, hard boiled eggs, bitter herbs (horseradish), and charoset.

Charoset is a food that is intended to symbolize the mortar that Israelite slaves used to build bricks in Egypt. The food itself, however, tastes nothing like mortar. It is a sweet fruit dish intended to be spread on matzah or (if you’re me!) eating completely plain by the spoonful. Different regions of the world have different traditional ways to make the dish. For example, Sephardic Jews typically make the dish more like a spreadable paste with a date base. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, more traditionlly make a charoset with an apple base that is served chunky. There are too many wonderful and delicious kinds of charoset to try to make them all, so I settled on making a Sephardic style on this year.

I followed this charoset recipe pretty much step by step.

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After preparing the three essential food groups (nuts, dried fruit, and binder), I gradually mixed the ingredients in the food processor.

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The binder in this recipe was applesauce and orange juice, and I thought it gave the dish a great flavor! After a few minutes in the food processor, the charoset thickened into an even paste. I put the whole delicious mess into a tupperware to keep for the week and shmear on everything eat respectfully at meal times.

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Keys Cafe Bakery

If you are ever in downtown Minneapolis for breakfast/brunch, there are really only two options as far as I’m concerned: Hell’s Kitchen and Keys Cafe Bakery at the Foshay. Keys, like Hell’s, serves breakfast lunch and dinner but, also like Hell’s, really shines with their breakfast menu.

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Keys has more standard fare than Hill’s, but there are still a few unique items on the menu (blueberry bran pancakes anyone?). The regular items – omelettes, scrambles, pancakes, eggs benedict, etc. – are all served freshly and deliciously with large servings and they taste just. plain. good.

When you walk in the door, you are greeted by a display case of oversize and delicious looking desserts, a la Cafe Latte.

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cookies!

Deciding what to get for breakfast was tough since so many things looked good, but we had an eclectic sampling at our table. First off, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee:

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I ordered a fruit plate that came with cottage cheese, homemade wheat toast, and homemade strawberry jam:

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Other family members got a buckwheat pancake with granola (the granola was cooked into the pancake):

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Cinnamon bread french toast:

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And huevos rancheros which came with eggs, refried beans, salsa, American fries (small diced breakfast potatoes), and two enormous flour tortillas:

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Holy yum! Everything was great. While there, I also perused their lunch and dinner menu and thought those looked appealing as well. Plus, if I were there for lunch or dinner maybe I could get one of the desserts. 🙂