Eggplant Carpaccio from the Land of Milk and Honey

eggplant carpaccio 625 sqI am writing this blog post the day after my return from an incredible and somewhat surprising visit to Israel. I want to get it all down while the memories are still fresh in my jet-lagged addled brain. This was my ninth visit to the country, and each time I go I discover and observe something new. Six of those visits have been to celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of my daughter and nieces and nephews on my husband’s side of the family. While we all live in North America, over the past 10 years we have made the journey to Israel to celebrate these milestones in our children’s lives.

On my first visit to Israel I was a fresh-faced 24 year old. I thought the country was quite beautiful, but to be honest, I was put off by the people. They seemed so abrupt and quite frankly, rude. Everyone pushed and shoved to get onto the busses. Hadn’t they learned how to say Slicha.
It wasn’t until, almost 20 years later when I returned for my second visit, that I truly came to love and understand the people of this tiny but mighty nation. This time I visited with with my husband. His oldest brother served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Army and had made several lifelong friends. These friends basically adopted my husband’s entire extended family. Native born Israelis are called Sabras, named after this relative of the prickly pear cactus. Like the fruit they seem tough, but are really very sweet on the inside once you get to know them. 

While all our trips have been quite magical, this journey was extra special as it was the last B’nai Mitzvah we will celebrate for this generation on my husband’s side of the family. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing between my husband and his 5 siblings, regarding who among them has the most controlling personality. Most would agree that my husband’s sister, Auntie M, gets the award for bossiest sibling. With five brothers, she has had to take charge to get her way. Ask any of her four children and they will surely agree! In this instance, Auntie M’s quest for control and fine attention to detail was whole-heartedly welcomed. She, along with Tova Wald, planned an extraordinary adventure for our huge contingent of family and friends.

While in Jerusalem we had the opportunity to participate in a culinary workshop with Chef Ezra Kedem, of Arcadia Restaurant. He is considered to be at the forefront of New Israeli cuisine. His stellar restaurant showcases his unique culinary style.

Ezra was destined to become a chef. His childhood was spent at the knee of his mother and grandmother, visiting the food markets of Machne Yehuda, Bethlehem, Ramalla and Jerusalem’s old city markets. Ezra soaked up the traditions and cultures of both the Jerusalemite and Iraqi-Jewish kitchens of his childhood.

After his military service, he studied in New York at the French Culinary Institute, apprenticing for Chef Jacques Pepin for 18 months, and then went on to intern at Alison on Dominik for Sicilian born Chef Tom Valenti.

Several months ago, Chef Ezra opened a private studio kitchen in the charming Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ein Kerem. With a breathtaking view of the Judean hills, he has created a small kitchen workshop, organic garden and stunning glass dining room. He holds private events and cooking classes here, featuring seasonal produce.view 2

glass dining roomWe were blown away with the complex flavours he was able to create with such simple fresh ingredients. He taught us many new techniques. His generous and compassionate nature and made us feel instantly at ease. Making guests feel at home is what he excels at. There were 7 of us at the workshop, 3 mother and daughter teams and our intrepid leader Tova. Ever the consummate host, large glasses of Israeli Chardonnay appeared. When most of us murmured that it was only 10 a.m., steaming mugs of cappuccino were quickly summoned forth.

Chef Ezra is not only charming and a wonderful teacher, he also happens to be a very compassionate man. We discovered that, in his spare time, he conducts Food Therapy Workshops for physically and developmentally challenged individuals.

We began with Eggplant Carpaccio. Chef Ezra explained that while most people associate carpaccio with beef, it can really refer to any food that is sliced or pounded thinly . In this rendition, eggplants are stabbed with a fork and then set over the gas flame to char for a good 20-30 minutes. Then they are peeled and sliced, leaving the seeds in the center to be discarded. eggplant carpaccio mise en place

poking eggplant with forkroasting eggplant 1charred eggplantspeeling charred eggplant 2The soft flesh is gently flattened with a fork and the resulting Carpaccio is dressed with raw tahini, yogurt, tomato, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and chopped walnuts.making carpaccio 2making carpaccio 3making carpaccio 4making carpaccio 5

eggplant carpaccio 625 2 sqIt is not an exaggeration to say that the plates were literally licked clean.clean plate
We all got a chance to practice our knife skills.
practicing knife skills 3practicing knife skills 2practicing knife skills 1pickled onions 1Goat Cheese Ravioli were made crispy by frying them in sage butter. Topped with a simple tomato concasse and more goat cheese left the group silent and mopping up every last drop with bread!goat cheese ravioli
mopping upA demonstration of how to take the harsh bite out of red onions was so simple we could not believe that massaging the onions with cider vinegar for just 3 minutes could make such a difference. He finished them off with some olive oil, dried mint and a pinch of salt. These would be great on a burger, a sandwich or even mixed into a salad with chickpeas, grilled corn and little cherry tomatoes.
onions 1onions 2onions 3onions 4We also make a risotto with spelt, freekeh and bulgar. Freekeh is destined to overtake quinoa in popularity. You heard it first here folks!!Grain risottoOur session ended in the glass dining room where we shared a chocolate tart, topped with a grape compote and coffee sauce, followed by a stellar shredded and caramelized phyllo tart, topped with a plum compote and mascarpone cheese.
chocolate dessertplum dessertWe all learned new techniques that we will be able to practice at home. Learning from Chef Ezra was a joy! He has a calm, zen-like manner that  instantly puts you at ease and his murmurs of encouragement had us all feeling like rock stars in the kitchen.  If you find yourself travelling to Jerusalem you will be immensely rewarded by a visit to Chef Ezra Kedem’s breathtaking studio!

Click here to print recipe for Eggplant Carpaccio.

 

11 thoughts on “Eggplant Carpaccio from the Land of Milk and Honey

  1. Bob Vivant

    Welcome home! This post is full of new ideas. Smokey, roasted eggplant is one of my top five favorite foods. Wow, this looks delicious. The eggplant in our garden is just starting to come in and you can bet I’ll be making this carpaccio. I love that onion tip too. Did you also learn how to how to make the caramelized phyllo dessert? I’ve never seen anything like it before, but I’ll bet it was amazing. And the grape sauce with chocolate? Was it a good match? I’m sometimes put off by chocolate and fruit desserts, hmm.

    Reply
    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Thanks Bobbi, I am planning to make the eggplant this week for my sister. I”m going to top it with toasted pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. I am waiting for the recipe for the plum dessert, and will blog about it as soon as I discover how to recreate it. The grape and chocolate combo was unusual but not something I am craving.

      Reply
  2. faith feingold

    Welcome home!!! Great post and stunning photography!!!
    Which sister are you planning to make the eggplant for? :)

    Xoxo
    Vitti

    Reply
  3. themondaybox

    Sounds like a wonderful trip, Cindy! I have only been to Israel once (30 years ago!) but that trip impacted so many parts of my life. Both of my kids went on separate Birthright trips this year (Do they have Birthright in Canada too?). Each reacted to Israel in her/his own way. Both would love to go back but for different reasons. How wonderful to have an opportunity to learn from a chef while in Israel!

    Reply
  4. Virginia Gonzales

    Jacque is my favorite chef. I can’t imagine how wonderful this cooking experience must have been. You only have one degree of separation. We made the Eggplant Carpaccio this weekend and we too were all licking our plates. I even forgot the drizzle of olive oil and didn’t even miss it. We were thinking of you all weekend because we also made the roasted vegetable tart with ricotta and feta. My only regret is not making two crusts since I had enough veggies for a second. It was even better the second day. Made pita and hummus sandwiches with leftovers instead.
    You are my favorite food blog. I started following you through Bread Bakers Challenge and have been inspired ever since.
    Virginia

    Reply
    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Wow, what a lovely compliment Virginia. I hadn’t thought about my class with Chef Kedem as just one degree of separation from Jaques, but you are correct. Glad you liked the Eggplant Carpaccio. I agree that the Vegetable tart was even better the next day.

      Reply

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