International Meals – Israel

Israeli cuisine is a bit of a difficult subject.  The sovereign state of Israel as it exists today was only established in 1948.  But the area has been continuously inhabited for just about as long as we have evidence that humans have existed at all.

So what IS Israeli food?  Is it the food of the region in general? Israel has a simmering argument with Lebanon over who can lay claim to hummus. The argument, is of course, nonsense – hummus is substantially older than either Israel or Lebanon, and is ubiquitous throughout the middle east.

Is Israeli food the food of the diaspora, brought back to the region by returning Jews?  Should we perhaps focus on the food of modern Israeli chefs like Eyal Shani, whose whole roasted cauliflower can be found all over the internet?

In the end, we decided these questions are above our pay grade, tried to pick a few recipes that we believe would be reasonably typical in a modern Israeli household, and got on with it.

We ARE making hummus, but from a recipe which claims to be “Israeli style.”  This is another somewhat dubious claim, since there’s not actually a lot to vary here.  The basic ingredients of hummus everywhere are chickpeas (soaked and cooked), lemon juice, salt, and tahini. This version also includes quite a bit of garlic, which is not at all unusual.

A word about tahini, however.  Tahini has only one ingredient – sesame seeds.  In principle, we could have made it from scratch, but we decided to just get a jar of ground up sesame seeds.  At which point it occurred to me – I already HAD a jar of ground up sesame seeds.

Jars of sesame paste

Did I really need to buy the one on the left?  As it turns out, yes.  While both jars contain nothing but ground sesame, the one on the right contains ground TOASTED sesame, which has a slightly different flavor profile. Great for Dan Dan noodles, which is why we have it, less good for hummus.

Once you’ve cooked the chickpeas, the process for making hummus is: “blend everything together.”


Bam. Hummus.  For our main dish, we’re making a lamb kebab with a tahini sauce.  Let’s see what the ingredients for this sauce are.

Lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt….

Tahini sauce

….waaaait a minute.  This sauce is just hummus without the chickpeas.  Oh wait – it gets some mint and parsley too.  Thank goodness.

The actual kebabs are seasoned with mint and parsley as well, in addition to pine nuts which, at the time of this writing, are roughly twice as expensive (by weight) as neodymium.

I am not making this up.

Kebab mixture.
We live in Canada, and it’s winter, so clearly grilling would be out of the question.

I’m kidding, of course – we live in Vancouver, so it was in the 40s F, or… some other temperature C.  Perfectly fine for grilling, anyway.

Grilling kebabs.

For our final dish, we DID make cauliflower, although we decided to eschew the trendy “whole cauliflower” thing for a battered and fried version.  The cauliflower got a quick blanch in boiling water, and was then put through a rigorous dunk in three separate stations.

Cauliflower cooking process
First flour, then egg, and finally breadcrumbs and spices.  (“spices” in this case means turmeric, chicken bullion powder, and pepper.) These are then fried up in olive oil until crispy and brown.  Wouldn’t want the cauliflower to be HEALTHY, after all.

To accompany the meal, we bought the only Israeli wine (other than Manischewitz) available at our local liquor store.

Israeli wine

And here’s the final spread.

Israeli Meal
Full confession, the pita was also just purchased off the shelf.

And… it was pretty darn good!  The cauliflower, in particular, was excellent – crunchy on the outside, not too soft in the middle, with a nice bite from the pepper and the bread crumbs.  The kebabs were tasty, and hummus is always great.

Was there anything on this table that is uniquely Israeli? Probably not.  Is this a meal that would be absolutely normal to see on an Israeli table?  Probably.  Was it delicious? Yes.

And that’s probably the most important thing.

Next up, our fifth country that’s going to need to be split into multiple meals, and then we’re out of the “I”s!

Extra garlicky “Israeli style” Hummus
Ground Lamb Kebabs with Pine Nuts and Tahini Sauce
Fried Cauliflower


International Meals – Ireland

I had four different possible ways to start this entry.  Rather than choose one, I’ve decided to just include them all, and you can pick which one you prefer. If this were an actual recipe blog, this would be infuriating, since it just delays getting to the actual recipe.  But this ISN’T a recipe blog – it’s just me babbling about our cooking. So here are your babble choices:

A. In 2011, within the space of a week, we saw two different Irish bands named after classified aircraft.  U2 we saw at Spartan Stadium, with 70,000 of our closest friends.  Bell X1, on the other hand, was at a tiny venue in Ann Arbor.  Both shows had their appeal, and neither leant us the slightest insight into Irish food…

B. “I am so sorry.”  I have an Irish coworker, James, who is aware of our food project.  I’ve shown him the blog, and pictures of our efforts, and he was aware that his homeland was approaching.  And for some reason, all he wanted to do was apologize…

C. “Raw scallops taste a bit like lamb testicles!” was NOT a phrase I expected to encounter while shopping for this (or frankly, ANY) meal.  But there it was, floating around the butcher shop where I acquired the lamb roast for this stew…

D. At some point, I swear I am going to go back through this blog and do actual statistics on what fraction of the recipes start with chopping an onion.  I will be SHOCKED if I find that the number is less than 80 percent…

E. When I was in college, my friend Ethan had a running gag of “jokes without punchlines” and “punchlines without jokes.” For example – “A nun, a priest, and a rabbi are walking down the street. The nun bends over to pick up a quarter, and the priest says to the rabbi…”

That last one has nothing to do with Irish food, but serves to make the point that NONE of those ellipses are going to get resolved, sorry.

So anyway, Ireland.  First off, Irish food is NOT the same thing as Irish-American food, and as such there will be no corned beef and cabbage, nor will there be any green beer.  That’s not even Irish American food, that’s just drunken idiots at 8 am on St. Patrick’s Day, and let me tell you I do NOT miss living in a college town.

Instead, we’re going to go with a basic lamb stew, which as far as I can determine absolutely IS traditional Irish food.  We will start, as always, by chopping up some onions. Also potatoes, carrots, and lamb.

Once we’ve mised our en place, we need to render some bacon.  If I had read the directions more carefully, I would have chopped up the bacon BEFORE cooking it, but at least we managed to NOT set off the fire alarm this time.

Bacon cooking
Bacon fat rendered, it was time to brown the lamb.  No, first it was time to transfer the fat over to our Dutch oven, where I should have just rendered the bacon in the first place.  THEN we browned the lamb.
Browning lamb
Once the lamb is seared, it comes out, and the veggies go in to soften up a bit. then you return the lamb to the pot with some stock (I used beef – who has time to make stock?) the veg, and some pearl barley.
Veggies, lamb, and barley

And at this point, you may ask yourself, “Self?” (you may ask) “don’t we still have six potatoes to add to this pot?  How are we going to stir those in without making a colossal mess?”  (Admit it – you thought I was going to make a “Once in A Lifetime” reference there, didn’t you?)

Fortunately, the recipe says to simply layer the potatoes on top to steam, so no further stirring was required.

This was supposed to go in the oven for a few hours, but we just kept it on the stovetop on low heat, because we needed the oven at a completely different temperature to make the one dish that James actually DOES concede is pretty good – soda bread!

“Soda” in this case means baking soda, not Faygo.  I don’t know where I’d even GET Faygo around here, but if I could, it wouldn’t be a good choice for making this (or probably any) bread.  Soda bread uses baking soda and something acidic (usually buttermilk) for leavening.  It requires no kneading, no rise time, and only has four ingredients.  It is the most absurdly simple loaf of bread I have ever made.



Bam. Done.

And here’s the full meal, with a Guinness for me, and a Guinness lager for Leigh, who does not particularly care for stouts. Also some nice Kerrygold cheese.

Irish meal

And frankly – it was good!  Not a bonkers complicated spice palate like some countries, but just hearty comfort food.  We got a good cut of lamb, and I suspect that made a big difference in the quality of the dish, since the meat could speak for itself.

Oh, and the bread was absolutely bangin’.  I am literally making another loaf as I am typing this.

Irish food is tasty, and there’s no doubt we’ll finish the big pile of leftovers this meal produced.  Next up, Israel!

Irish Stew
Irish Soda Bread