“Mishenichnas Adar marbim be-simcha,” goes the popular Purim song: When the month of Adar comes we increase in joy. That joy is certainly felt while downing a chaser of Arak moments before indulging in a mushroom and chestnut risotto made from brown rice cooked in hazelnut milk. And it should be—it’s part of the Adar menu at Meshek Barzilay.
Meshek Barzilay is an organic vegetarian restaurant (most of the dishes on the menu are actually vegan) in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek neighborhood. Merav Barzilay, the granddaughter of the farm’s founders, first opened the restaurant on the Barzilay family farm in 2002. Since then it has become one of Israel’s leading organic vegetarian restaurants—incorporating more and more vegan dishes over time—and in March 2013 Barzilay moved the restaurant to Tel Aviv.
In October 2013, Meshek Barzilay launched a new concept called the Hebrew Menu, which means that each Hebrew month the restaurant’s chef, Shelly Laron, and pastry chef, Shanie Banai, build a seasonal menu specifically for that month, using fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. The Hebrew Menu is offered alongside the restaurant’s regular menu, and this month Adar is what’s for dinner. Adar is supposed to be “the happiest month,” and the poppy seed and lemon pie—Adar’s special dessert—doesn’t leave much room for doubt.
“Our restaurant used to be in Moshav Yarkona, and I used to be involved with organic farming, which naturally is linked to the seasons,” Merav Barzilay told me. “I found the connection between what nature offers in different seasons and the Hebrew calendar fascinating and enchanting. If you look at Judaism and agriculture and the holidays and seasons, it’s amazing to see how it’s all interconnected and fits together perfectly. So we decided to dedicate our specials to each month of the Hebrew calendar.”
They first tried it out in Tishrei. “We incorporated quince and apples and pomegranates—all the classic Tishrei fruits that ripen at that time of year,” Barzilay explained. Now they’re into the Adar menu, which this year is a bit more complicated. “This year is a leap year so we have Adar Alef and Adar Bet, but Adar is the month of Purim and one of the mitzvahs is to drink alcohol, so we decided to really use that in our Adar menu, with a special cocktail, a tomato and Arak soup, and more. Adar is still winter so we have lots of winter dishes with wild leaves like malva, chard, and wild spinach, and with root vegetables.”
Barzilay is more than happy with how the seasonal experiment is going. “Each month we fall in love with the concept more and more and each month we discover Jewish customs that perhaps are less well known, and have to do with the month and the season. It’s lots of fun and very creative.” Plus, it’s good for you. “It’s also very healthy to eat according to season and it’s an integral part of our organic outlook, Barzilay explained. “We don’t believe in refrigerating fruit and vegetables for months in order to eat them all year long—the right way to eat is fresh from the field.”