Tag Archives: Israel

The Best Thing I Ate All Day in Israel: Part 1

A few years ago, on a trip to Umbria, I started playing a little travel game in my mind. Each day I  kept track of all the things I ate. At the end of the night, I decided which bite reigned supreme. I had the opportunity to play last month when I visited Israel to attend my nephew’s induction ceremony into the Israeli army.Richard Flag and RileyThis was my 13th trip to Israel. Each time I visit, I marvel at how much there is to do and see in this tiny country. If you have never been, or it’s been a while since you last visited, you will be amazed by how modern and sophisticated the culinary scene has become. It’s not all hummus and falafel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.sabichfalafel at at miznonTo understand how the new Israeli cuisine evolved, you need to take a look in the rear-view mirror to examine the roots of the people of this nation.  One of the most multi-ethnic countries in the world, Chef Rozanne Gold said that “I can’t think of another group of people with a spoon in so many pots.” Immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, France, England, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Syria, to name a few, have all influenced Israeli cuisine. Add to that the proclivity of Israeli youth to travel the world once their mandatory military service is over, bringing back with them ingredient and techniques of a multitude of cuisines, and the result is a new Israeli cuisine that is boldly flavourful, unabashedly joyous and wildly innovative. 

The best bite of our third day was at OCD, in Tel Aviv. This restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Raz Rahav. At only 25 years old, he is creating some of the most exciting food in Tel Aviv in a stunning setting.Raz Rahav forbesI don’t think that industrial-barn falls under any design style I have ever heard of but it describes the interior perfectly.seatingAs the name suggests, Chef Rahav is obsessed with precision and complex artistic plating. But flavour does not take a back seat.plating duckThere are 2 seatings every night, each accommodating 18 guests around a u-shaped bar with an open kitchen in the center. Watching the chefs plate each course, you get the sense that this is more theatre than restaurant. There is no written menu. As each course is set before you, the chef gives a verbal explanation, either in English or Hebrew.

The day before our dinner, the restaurant emailed us to find out if we had any dietary restrictions. They will tailor the meal for you if there are certain things you do not eat, but, they ask you to come with an open mind. On their website they promise that there are no insects on the menu!

Often restaurants offering tasting menus can be a little formal and stuffy. Not OCD! You know that any meal that begins with a donut is going to be a fun night. Just a heads up here, we shot  with my daughter’s iPhone and the lighting was not the greatest for food photography. Luckily Elliott S over at trip advisor had many of the same courses and got way better shots than we did. I have tagged his photos appropriately. Thanks Elliott! I also used some of Chef Rahav’s  photos from his instagram account @razi_barvazi

We were greeted with a Sufganiya (hebrew for donut). A tiny little bite, about the size of a Timbit, filled with smoked labneh, sherry vinegar, and a rosemary and olive tapenade. A little flavour bomb. 001. SufganiyaWatching them plate the dishes was almost as much fun as eating the delicious results.plating Israeli dounutsThe first course was a Red Snapper Tartare. It was served with a Whipped Tomato Bavarois, Seaweed and a Poppy Seed Parker House Roll. What surprised us was that the tomato component was white—because it was made only from the water in which the tomato was simmered.  The tartare was fresh and delicate, but it was the Parker House Roll that stole my heart. Chef Rahav respects textural contrasts. The crunch of the wafer thin fried seaweed garnish and those poppy seeds made me very happy.002. Red Snapper TartareThe second course was a Trout Sashimi with Smoked Cucumbers, Melon, Sorrel Flowers and Nigella Seeds Crackers.03. Trout SashimiThe tartare was followed up with an amuse bouche of Fried Mochi with Shallot Cream, Pickled Shallots and Cured Sardines. Our server suggested we eat it in one bite. We obliged and were rewarded with a flavour explosion in the mouth.004. MochiThird course was Beef Tartare with Smoked Ratte Potato and Red Sorrel.

Our fourth course was Steamed European Seabass with Oats, Cashew and Pumpkin-Curry Crab Bisque. That crispy thing you see on top is an oat tuile! Chef Rahav is a master at contrasting textures. 006. Steamed European Seabass 2The fifth course was a love letter to the humble parsnip. The parsnips were roasted to coax out their natural sweetness. Salted pecans provided the crunch and a bone marrow maple jus added the perfect sweet-savory balance. instagram ParsnipsCourse number six was Duck Breast with Turnips, Brandy and Bone Marrow Crumble.duck-breast by elliott SThe careful attention to detail extended even to the bathrooms where the hand towels are lined up like little soldiers.towels in bathroomWhen dinner begins with a donut and ends with three desserts, it’s a good night in my world.

Course seven was the best bite of the day! Aerated Honey Parfait, (dusted with carrot powder)  Candied Walnuts, Goat Cheese and Raisins. The texture of the aerated parfait was like chiffon. It just dissolved in my mouth. It reminded us of carrot cake, but a very sophisticated one!honey-parfait by ElliottScarrot powderThe honey parfait was followed up with the most unusual palate cleanser I have ever eaten. It was a G&T Granita with Sour Cream, Pears, Parsnips and Pine Nuts. Not being a gin lover, it was the only dish I did not finish.g-t-granita by elliott sThe second dessert was called, Buckwheat Textures, which featured pickled cherries and salted caramel. Enough said!011. Buckwheat texturesOur final course of the night was a Sweet Pea Ice Cream Bar. A perfect end to a very special evening.012a. Sweet pea Ice cream Bar

 

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.