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Land of Plenty

Dining out in Israel with food aficionado Janna Gur

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Janna Gur

For most people, the words “Israeli cuisine” probably bring to mind little more than falafel, pita, and perhaps a finely-diced cucumber salad. But according to Janna Gur, the founder and editor of Al Hashulchan Gastronomic Monthly, Israel’s leading food and wine magazine, that view is outdated.

Gur is also the author of a new cookbook called The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey (Schocken, 2008), and she invited Nextbook to join her for a tasting at the popular restaurant Lechem Erez in Herzliya Pituach, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Over plate after plate of scrumptious food, Gur talks about everything from the wide range of influences on Israeli cuisine to the merits of having salad for breakfast.

* * *

With the upcoming holidays in mind, here are a few recipes from The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey by Janna Gur:

hand holding a cut pomegranate

Beet and Pomegranate Salad
Special thanks to Erez Komarovsky of Lechem Erez

Ingredients (serves 6)
3–4 medium beets
2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate
2–3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2–3 dried chili peppers, crushed
Coarse sea salt
1/4 cup delicate olive oil
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves
1 cup pomegranate seeds

  1. Boil the beets in water until tender. Cool, peel, and cut into very small dice.
  2. Mix with the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, peppers, and coarse sea salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
  3. Mix the salad with the coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds, pour the olive oil on top, and serve.
*

Chicken Casserole with Dried Fruit on a Bed of Couscous

Inspired by Moroccan tagine cooking, this dish contains modern additions: wine, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce. Like the Moroccan original, it is served over a bed of couscous, which lovingly absorbs the rich sauce. Chicken is considered “everyday” food, but this dish is fit for the most festive occasion.

Ingredients (serves 4–6)
12 chicken drumsticks
6 whole small red onions, peeled
12 pieces (each 2 inches long) of Jerusalem artichoke, peeled
9 oz. dried figs
7 oz. prunes
7 oz. dried apricots

The Marinade
1/2 cup oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 sticks cinnamon
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 level teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups dry red wine

To Serve
1 lb. 2 oz. instant couscous
1/2 cup walnuts, roasted

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade.
  2. Arrange the chicken, onions, Jerusalem artichoke, and dried fruit in a baking dish and pour over the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours, up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  4. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until the chicken turns shiny and brown. Baste the chicken occasionally with the liquid from the bottom of the pan. The dish up to this point may be prepared in advance and later heated in the oven.
  5. Before serving, prepare instant couscous as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  6. Arrange the chicken casserole and sauce over a mound of couscous, sprinkle the walnuts on top, and serve immediately.
*

Magical Honey Cake
Special thanks to Dalia Zarchiya

“Do you have a really good recipe for a honey cake?” This is a standard query of the pre–Rosh Hashanah rush. The following recipe was given to us by an enthusiastic amateur cook, Dalia Zarchiya, and has been our favorite for years.

Pay attention: the cake should “mature” for seven days before serving.

Ingredients (for 3 loaf pans)
6 cups + 3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups honey
1 cup oil
4 eggs
2 tablespoons instant coffee
2 level teaspoons baking soda
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C).
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the honey, oil, and eggs and beat into a smooth batter with a whisk or a mixer.
  3. Dissolve the instant coffee in 1 cup of boiling water. Stir the baking soda and then the coffee into the batter. Gently fold in the raisins and walnuts.
  4. Pour the batter into greased pans and bake for about 45 minutes, until the top of the cake is dark brown and a toothpick comes out dry with a few crumbs adhering.
  5. Allow the cakes to cool completely, wrap with aluminum foil, and place in a cool, dry place (not in the refrigerator) to mature for 7 days.

Variation: If you don’t like the taste of coffee in your honey cake, replace it with one cup of strong dark tea.

Recipes courtesy of Janna Gur, The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey, Schocken Books.

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now i need a ‘sir pela’

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Land of Plenty

Dining out in Israel with food aficionado Janna Gur

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