From Figs to Pomegranates

In the Torah, the Land of Israel is described by God to be a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).  Once you taste the fruit in the Holy Land, you will understand that this biblical reference remains true, even in modern times.

As mentioned in a previous post about ice cream and sorbet, the produce in the Holy Land is f-r-e-s-h.  There is always a fruit in season that the whole country raves about.  A few weeks ago the talk was about figs.  For the next few weeks, pomegranates will be hot on the market.

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figs entering Jerusalem’s shuk (market). Photo courtesy Jessica Curhan for Breakingbreadjourneys.com

Both figs and pomegranates are considered to be part of the Seven Species.  According to Judaism, these fruits are special and during the times of the Temple, they were brought to the Temple as an offering to God.  Today, because there is no Temple, Jews say a special prayer before eating one of the seven species.  The other five other species are wheat, barley, grapevines, olives, and date honey (which is believed to be the honey in the biblical reference mentioned above).

According to Christianity, the fig symbolizes the search for truth.  A way to search for truth is by producing fruit.  It is said that if a Christian does not produce fruit in a certain period of time, his life is cut off from God because God does not profit from unproductive Christians.  When the New Testament talks about this, it specifically references fig trees.  Perhaps it refers to fig trees because it is a sterile fruit, meaning it requires seasonal labor.

Fun fact: It is believed that edible figs are one of the first plants cultivated by humans back in 9400–9200 BCE.
More fun (because “funner” isn’t a word) fact: It is also believed that these figs were cultivated in t
he Holy Land’s Jordan Valley.

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pomegranates in Jerusalem’s shuk #nofilter. Photo courtesy Jessica Curhan for Breakingbreadjourneys.com

It is also written in the Torah that Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7) once they discovered they were naked.  They discovered their nakedness after they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Some Jewish scholars believe that it was a pomegranate Adam and Eve ate.  Additionally, is believed that pomegranates contain 613 seeds, which correlates with the 613 commandments.

In Christianity, opening pomegranates symbolizes the fullness of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection.  Pomegranates are used for religions decoration in both Christianity and Judaism.

Which fruit season do you want to be in when you come on a Holy Land tour?

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Categories: Culture, Food

No Holy land travel experience is complete without tasting your way through the myriad of cultures present all over this land. And while ice cream and sorbet may not be traditionally Israeli or Palestinian dishes, they are still quite popular in the Holy Land, particularly during the hot  summer months.  The sorbet and ice cream here are fresh and rich in taste and are worth eating…often.

So, to all the ice cream and sorbet lovers wondering what the Holy Land offers in this all important food category, this post is for you.

I recently happened upon an unusual ice cream store where I was introduced  to a world of new frozen flavors, many of which were inspired by the many cultures present in this region.

Mousseline Store

photo courtesy Jessica Curhan for Breakingbreadjourneys.com

Unlike other ice cream stores, you won’t find typical chocolate, vanilla, or coffee at Mousseline.  Rather,   flavors like wasabi, berry cheesecake, basil, and olive oil and interesting Middle eastern inspired sorbet flavors such as grapefruit-basil, sour cherry, lemon-mint, and almond are a few of the unique tastes offered.

Mousseline is located in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda (also known as the Jewish shuk) situated in the west side of Jerusalem.  The store prepares its ice cream using  the freshest ingredients from within Machane Yehuda market, producing a regular supply of incredibly fresh and tasty frozen flavors.

During my first visit to Mousseline, I was intimidated by all the unusual flavors. I did not even know which one to try first! Luckily, the friendly staff allowed me to sample as many as I wanted and even suggested which ones to try.

Mousseline's grapefruit basil sorbet

Mousseline’s grapefruit-basil sorbet, photo courtesy Jessica Curhan for Breakingbreadjourneys.com

The phrase I repeatedly used was,“ef-shar li-tome? meaning “may I taste?” No need to worry, though,  the staff speaks fluent English (and perhaps even other languages).

With pressure mounting after several samples, I ultimately decided on the grapefruit-basil sorbet. Two thumbs up!

An Israel cultural tour will most likely include a visit to the Machene Yehuda shuk. Make sure you take the time to walk around and not only see the different stands selling colorful fruit, vegetables, nuts, candy, pastries and more but taste your way through as well. To know a people is to know their food.

Which flavors would you like to taste?

For more information about the store and its location, click HERE.

For the store’s website (in Hebrew), click HERE.

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Categories: Culture, Food

The 12 square meter kitchen might be cramped but there is nothing small about the taste of the artisenal breads created by Les Saidel in his tiny workspace in Karnei Shomron.

Meet Les Saidel, a South African immigrant who learned the art of baking from his mother at the age of 13. However, he wasn’t to find his true calling as a specialty bread baker until his mid 40’s, after he lost his job in the high tech industry when his employer went bankrupt. Left with no job and no real means of employment in high tech (four mouths to feed including one special needs child) – Les opted to go back to his roots – and become a professional baker.

Les Saidel in front of his home made brick oven

Les Saidel in front of his home made brick oven

He received a break baking degree from San Francisco Baking Institute and rather than purchasing a 40,000 Euros commercial oven which he could not afford, he spent $650 and purchased professional blueprints from Alan Scott, a professional brick oven designer based in Tanzania. Alan coached him through the entire building process – it took two months for Les to build his world class oven, that contains over six square meters of baking space.

The inside of the brick oven with 6 square meters of baking space

The inside of the brick oven with 6 square meters of baking space

Then he had to find the right starters. Through Ed Wood, a chemical engineer based in Saudi Arabia, he purchased sourdough starters from Austria, Saudia Arabia, San Francisco and other places. With great care Les feeds the starters daily and continues to grow his own cultures for his bread making.

The variety of sourdough starters

The variety of sourdough starters

The results speak for themselves.

The bakery is too small by local health standards to be licensed as an official bakery so Les runs professional bread making workshops for small groups out of his home and kitchen in the heart of the community of Karnei Shomron, a small settlement community 30 minutes from Tel Aviv.

During his workshop, Les explains that he didn’t move to the community for political statement at all but rather because he was seeking a rural atmosphere, good schools, warm community and access to the big city. Interesting story which Les is happily speaks about during his engaging workshop. They use to live in Beit Meir outside of Jerusalem, but wanted a more pastoral setting and quality of life.

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Categories: Culture, Food

There is a simple rule that goes when you are speaking to Israelis-1. Israelis think they are always right. 2. If they are wrong, refer to rule number one. These two golden rules are a given in Israeli society and its normal to hear two men arguing over whose mother makes a recipe better, even if the recipe originates from a few different places. So the next few blog posts are going to focus on the origins of various Israeli and Palestinian recipe and their origin(s). Try ‘em out and let me know what you think!

Today’s menu: Shakshuka

Shakshuka is a staple of the average Israeli diet, eaten either for breakfast or dinner. It consists of a tomato vegetable mixture and a sort of sunny side up on top of the mixture. Oftentimes shakshuka is served with bread as it’s a great dish to dunk a warm slice of bread in. There are two keys to this dish- the tomato mixture recipe and how the eggs are cooked (rare or well done).
In my family the tomato mixture is the deciding factor on whose shakshuka tastes better. I prefer a more mild mixture whereas my brother likes to add schug (a spicy Yemenite mix of fresh hot green peppers ) to his shakshuka.

The origins of the shakshuka dish are said to have founded in North Africa- Tunisia, Lybia, Morocco, and Algeria. The recipe was then brought to Israel by new immigrants. But others say that it was founded in the Ottoman Empire and the dish spread throughout the lands.
There are many different additions to this dish, depending on which country you are in. Some add sausages, others lamb, but in Israel the dish tends to be vegetarian, with additions of Bulgarian cheese, Mozzerella, swiss chard, eggplant or spinach. Those who are vegan can skip the egg part and stick to the sauce. One of the most famous places to eat Shakshuka is at Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa which opened its doors some 20 years ago. The restaurant which specializes in homecooked Tripolitan cuisine is run by Bino from Tripoli and for the last 20 has been an institution.

Shakshuka, photo courtesy Dr. Shakshuka

Shakshuka, photo courtesy Dr. Shakshuka


Here is my secret Shakshuka recipe:

Olive oil
6 tomatoes chopped
Two small onions
3 minced garlic cloves (optional more to taste)
Half a spicy green pepper (no seeds)
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Salt, paprika, pepper, cumin- to taste
Bulgarian or Feta cheese
4/5 eggs- depending on how large your pan is!

Chop onions and sauté until golden on flame, add tomatoes- let simmer until soft. Add green pepper, and minced garlic. Sprinkle sugar in mixture. Add spices to taste. When mixture is ready, crack the eggs in different areas of the pan and cook to taste. Sprinkle Cheese on top! And, as they say in Israel, “Bitay Avon” – (aka bon appetit)!

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Categories: Culture, Food

An Israeli-Arab microbiologist and mother of three won the fourth season of Israel’s most popular reality TV show, “MasterChef.” Her winning dish – Sultan’s Spring.

Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, 32, is a mother of three and possesses a PhD in microbiology. She is the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, north of Netanya. While she plans to use her prize money to open an Arab-Jewish cooking school she ultimately would like to use her food to create common ground between Arab and Jewish Israelis and very much believes in the power of food to foster deep bonds between people.

Recipe: Sultan’s Spring

For the almond cream:

3/4 cup blanched almonds, halved

5 slices dry white bread

4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

Juice of one lemon

Zest of one lemon

For the salad:

6 green almonds

Fennel bulb

Leaves of wild fennel

Hot green pepper, thinly sliced

Grape leaves

One handful of green fresh chickpeas

Juice of half a lemon

A few small tomatoes, chopped

Olive oil

Salt

For the fish:

5 striped red mullets

Coarse salt

Lemon zest

Lemon juice

Flour

Oil for deep frying

Directions:

Soak the bread in water for about two minutes. Place almonds and garlic in a food processor and grind. Squeeze out the bread and add to the processor bowl.

Gradually add olive oil and lemon juice and process, then add the lemon zest, salt, pepper and seasonings, and set aside.

Cut the fennel bulb and green almonds into thin slices. Add the leaves of wild fennel, hot green pepper and thinly sliced and chopped pickled grape leaves. Season with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Clean the fish and debone, then salt with coarse salt. Season the inside of the fish with a little grated lemon zest and salt.

Flour the fish and pan-fry in plenty of oil.

To serve, spread the almond cream on a plate (like hummus). Top with the fennel salad, almonds and green chickpeas. Place the fish over the salad and top with chopped tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon zest and serve.

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Categories: Culture, Food, News

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