Tuesday, March 18, 2014

International Dinner: ISRAEL

My days on Kibbutz Degania Bet, the communal farm in Northern Israel where I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, will never be forgotten.  I dug in soil recycled from the days Philistine and Israelite battles and skipped rocks from the bank of the Jordan River where it flows out of the Sea of Galilee.  I fell in love with the land (which I knew I would), I fell in love with the people (although I already had), but I really fell in love (new, young, infatuated puppy love) with the FOOD.  Here are three of my favorites, representing the melting pot of cultures that Israel is. 

Israeli Salad
As pure Israeli as it gets.  This is a staple at practically every meal.  On the kibbutz, the veggies were offered in the cafeteria—whole, raw and with a pile of knives.   Every meal is more fun after a chopping party!  A true “balabusta” (keeper of the home) would never do this, though.  She would take great pride in chopping tiny pieces.  As you can see from my picture, I’m not yet a “balabusta”...If I had chopped about three times finer (without mushing, of course) It would be perfect.  

2-4 cucumbers
4 large tomatoes
1 green pepper, seeded
1 red pepper, seeded
1 small onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Finely dice all vegetables, the smaller the better, and mix together in a bowl.
Add oil and lemon juice.  Season to taste and serve immediately.
To make a richer salad, add any of these: parsley, chopped olives, coarsely grated carrots, cubed avocado, radishes, green onions, thinly sliced cabbage or lettuce.
Yields 4-6 servings

Sesame Turkey (or Chicken) Schnitzel
The name, “schnitzel” may remind you of something German (vienerschnitzel).  In fact, it is!  Jewish people from Eastern Europe are called "Ashkenazi Jews." (As opposed to Sephardic Jews, who lived in Mediterranean region or Arab lands) Because Jewish people were dispersed throughout the world, Jewish food borrows from the many cultures they have live among.  This version has a definite Israeli twist with lemon and sesame, which you won’t find in the German counterpart.  This is a “Shabbat” favorite, eaten after sundown on Friday night.

4 pieces turkey or chicken breast, thinly sliced (about 4 oz./125 grams each)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 egg
½ cup spiced breadcrumbs (or finely crushed crackers)
½ cup sesame seeds
oil for frying

Sprinkle turkey/chicken with lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Let stand for 30 minutes.
Beat egg in a shallow dish.
Put flour in a wide plate.
Mix together bread crumbs with sesame seeds on a separate plate.
Dip turkey/chicken breast in flour, then in the egg, coat evenly with breadcrumb mixture.
Heat oil in a heavy frying pan and fry over medium-low heat on both sides until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels
Serve hot with lemon wedges, rice or mashed potatoes, and vegetables.
Yield: 4 servings

Note: It’s not overly authentic, but my kids love for me to cut theirs into strips before cooking:  Lemon Sesame Chicken Fingers...tastes like Schnitzel! 
Also note in my picture:  I didn't have nearly enough sesame seeds on hand as the recipe called for.  Still yummy!

This rice and lentil dish is eaten throughout the Middle East in various forms.  It is more popular among Sephardic Jews, who made their homes in many Arab lands.  Today it is a considered a specialty of Israel’s Galilean Arab community.  This delicious grain combination is sure to be a favorite!

1 cup brown lentils soaked overnight
1 ½  cup brown rice (or white long grain/jasmine.)
3 cups water
1 ½ tsp. soup powder (chicken or vegetable bullion)
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. cumin (optional, to taste)
2 large, finely chopped onions
3 tbsp olive oil

Cover lentils with salted water and cook for about 45 minutes until soft.  Drain.
Meanwhile, put rice, water, soup powder, salt and pepper and cumin in a pan.  Bring to a boil and cook for 15-20 minutes, until all moisture is absorbed and rice is tender.
Fry onions in olive oil until golden. (The very best part!)
Combine lentils, rice and onions.  Adjust seasonings.*  Reserve some fried onion for garnish and serve hot. 
Yield: 6-8 servings

*Note:  I like to taste the rice and lentils before mixing to adjust seasoning.  It’s hard to get seasonings adjusted later, as the soft lentils tend to “mush” easily. 

Recipes adapted from the little cookbook, "The Melting Pot: A Quick and Easy Blend of Israeli Cuisine."  Available everywhere tourists go in Israel.  

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