Eat like a Sabra

— by Laurel Fairworth

Shakshouka in sauceThe Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF) is celebrating an important milestone from March 12 through April 3, 2016: two decades of showcasing the best movies from Israel and the Middle East. The IFF is the only independent non-profit Israeli film festival in the country. What started as a passion project has grown into an eagerly awaited cinematic occurrence.

In honor of the IFF’s 20th anniversary season, Giovani’s Bar and Grill, at 15th and Chestnut Streets in Center City, has concocted a dish called the Israeli “Big Picture” Shakshouka. For every platter ordered, which includes pita and Israeli chopped salad, the restaurant will make a donation to the film festival.

Shakshouka, a traditional Mediterranean dish, is made up of a spicy tomato sauce with the Middle Eastern herb and spice blend za’atar. The dish also contains paprika, parsley, garlic, feta, olives, onions, hot peppers and of course, perfectly poached eggs. Simon Atiya, his brother Ami and his brother-in-law Haim Atias have been running Giovani’s for more than a decade, and are excited that Israeli cuisine is finally catching on.

“This reminds us of home,” says Atias. “The hearty stew-like meal is often served at breakfast, but can really be enjoyed any time of the day.”

The Israeli Big Picture Shakshouka is not on the menu at Giovani’s, but it is available during the Israeli Film Festival’s run from March 12 through April 3. The dish must be requested and will be made fresh on the spot. Says festival founder Mindy Chiqui, “Watching movies from the Middle East can whet your appetite for foods from the same region.”

“The Modern Kosher Kitchen” by Ronnie Fein

Recipes in The Modern Kosher Kitchen Book-Kosher-Kitchenby Ronnie Fein offer gourmet training wheels for the aspiring Kosher cook. In our lifetime a revolution has taken place in Kosher recipe books and cooking. The bland kosher recipe books on the shelves of all-too-many Ashkenazi parents and grandparents were also problematic due to high fat and sugar content.

For those unaccustomed to the pedal-to-the-metal spice revolution of our times, The Modern Kosher Kitchen offers opportunities to explore creative contemporary additions such as Siriracha sauce (a chili sauce named after the coastal city of Si Racha, in Chonburi Province of eastern Thailand), that helps kosher cooks to bridge the bland/sweet divide.

For example: White Bean and Vegetable Hurry-Up Salad

  • 1 can (15 oz or 425 g) white beans
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced thin
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup (130 g) frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup (15 g) chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup (24 g) chopped fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) lemon juice
  • Salt, to taste

Rinse the white beans under cold running water; let drain and place them in a bowl. Add the carrots, avocado, peas, onion, parsley, mint, cumin, and cayenne pepper and toss to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Pour in the olive oil and lemon juice. Toss again to coat the ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. Let rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 servings

Serving Suggestions and Variations: Use chickpeas or black beans instead of white beans; use any cooked chopped green vegetable (such as broccoli, green string beans, thawed frozen lima beans, or edamame) instead of peas.

And secure many happy dining comments at your meal by making halibut or salmon on the grill and serving atop:

Spicy Marinated Pineapple

  • 1 whole pineapple
  • 3 tablespoons (60 g) honey
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) siriracha
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lime juice
  • Kosher salt or Maldon sea salt
  • Mint, for garnish

Cut the leaves off the pineapple. Remove the outer fibrous rind. Cut the peeled pineapple in slices about 3/4-inch (1.9 cm) thick. Set aside in a single layer in a pan. Heat the honey with the vegetable oil and siriracha in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the ingredients are well mixed. Add the time juice. Pour over the pineapple slices. Coat the pineapples slices on both sides and let marinate at least 1 hour (and as long as 12 hours). Preheat an outdoor grill to medium (or use a grill pan or the oven broiler.) Grill the slices for about 4 minutes per side or until well glazed and tender, brushing occasionally with some of the honey mixture. Serve sprinkled lightly with salt. Garnish with fresh mint. You can make these ahead and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature or reheat to warm in a pre-heated 350°F (190°C, or gas mark 4) oven for a few minutes.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

Serving Suggestions and Variations: Grilled, speed pineapple lens monumental flavor to mild main-course foods such as fish and chicken.

Your family and guests will delight in the evolution of Kosher cuisine, combined, as has been the case throughout Jewish history, with the elements of the cultures among which Jewish people dwell. I bought our sriracha sauce at an International Market while visiting family who live in Passaic and it’s available on line, too. The Modern Kosher Kitchen by Ronnie Fein definitely and deftly adds spice to life!

In Search of Israeli Cuisine at the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival

— by Debbie Fleischman

The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival kicks off its CineMonday series on Monday, March 28 at 7:30 PM at the Gershman Y with the Philadelphia Premiere of In Search of Israeli Cuisine, directed by Robert Sherman.

A portrait of the Israeli people through food, In Search of Israeli Cuisine is a mouth-watering documentary that follows Michael Solomonov, the James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur behind the Philadelphia dining establishment Zahav, as he returns to his homeland to discuss his culinary heritage. From Tel Aviv’s most exclusive eateries to street bazaars and simmering pots in family kitchens, Solomonov travels the length and breadth of Israel, meeting with an eclectic group of professional and amateur chefs, cheese makers, vintners, farmers, and fisherman, to define the ever-growing lexicon of Israeli cuisine. As Solomonov immerses himself in the local flavors of the myriad cultures that make up the Israeli people – Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian and Druze–Oscar-nominated documentarian Roger Sherman offers a behind-the-scenes look at a dynamic Israeli food scene rooted in centuries-old tradition. Sherman shines a light on the sectarian conflict when Palestinian cooks chafe as their savory secrets are adapted by Jewish chefs, and the story behind the ingredients that Israel produces using both ancient farming techniques and high-tech innovations.

The screening will be followed by a conversation with celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Solomonov and director Roger Sherman, moderated by the Senior Editor of New York Magazine’s Grub Street, Sierra Tishgart. After the talk, Michael will be signing his cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, during a separately-ticketed book signing/reception featuring hummus by Dizengoff (and other tasty treats) and Israeli wine.

Tickets to the Opening Night Film only are $15; $30 if attending the post-film book signing and reception; $60 for the film, book signing/reception, and Zahav cookbook. Tickets are available online or by calling 215-545-4400.

Turkish Coffee Cookies

Photo by PROmmatins

Photo: PROmmatins

If the person whose heart you hope to win is not a fan of chocolate, try the exotic flavors of the Middle East instead. Stir that special person’s heart with a combination of freshly brewed Turkish coffee, fragrant ground cardamom and golden toasted nuts. The following recipe, which combines these alluring ingredients into a cookie, has been adapted from Israeli chef Pine Giron, the proprietor of the Cooking Culinary Center.

Turkish Coffee, Cardamom and Nut Cookies

  1. Preheat the oven to 320°F.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a food processor except for the whole almonds, pistachios or walnuts.
  3. Place the dough in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  4. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  5. Roll out the dough on a surface sprinkled with flour.
  6. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the cookies.
  7. Place the cookies on the cookie sheet.
  8. Press whole almonds, walnuts or pistachios into each cookie.
  9. Bake for 18 minutes.

Israeli Roasted Chickpeas

If you are going to a Super Bowl party, it is always a good idea to bring a snack for the group. Making your own special homemade treat is a nice touch. This year, you may prepare something that I have been buying from the open-air markets in Israel ever since I can remember. Roasted chickpeas are easy to prepare, versatile, and new to the palates of many of my American friends. I always bought them prepared very simply, with a sprinkle of sea salt. Roasted hummus is crunchy, like nuts, and very versatile. It will take on the flavor of any spice mix you like. Here is the basic roasted chickpea recipe, with a few variations using several popular Israeli spice mixtures.

Basic recipe for Israeli Roasted Chickpeas

  •  2 cans chickpeas
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Drain the chickpeas.
  3. Dry them with a paper towel.
  4. Spread onto a cookie sheet.
  5. Drizzle the olive oil over the chickpeas.
  6. Sprinkle some sea salt.
  7. Roast for 45 minutes.

This is the basic recipe. You may accentuate your roasted chickpeas by adding one tablespoon of  any of the following Israeli spice mixes before placing in the oven .

Zaatar is an ancient Mediterranean spice blend. It is called Ezov (Hyssop) in the Torah, and is mentioned in Babylonian tablets in Akkadian. You may purchase it or mix your own.

Zaatar Spice Blend

  • 1/4 cup sumac
  • 2 tbsp. oregano
  • 2 tbsp. thyme
  • 2 tbsp. marjoram
  • 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  1. Mix together

Lamb was eaten only on special occasions in antiquity. Chunks of meat were speared on skewers and roasted over an open fire. In the 19th century, a Turkish Efendi had the idea of cooking the meat vertically. This is the shawarma or donner kebab we enjoy today. The traditional spice blend works very well without the meat when combined with hummus and roasted. You may purchase premixed shawarma spices, or blend your own.

Shawarma Spice Blend

  • 1 1/4 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 tbsp. ground coriander
  • 1 1/4 tbsp. ground garlic
  • 3/4 tbsp. ground paprika
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  1. Mix together

In Yemen, spice mixtures are popular additions to two favorite delicacies, soup and coffee. These mixes are called hawaij. The savory one works very well with our delicious snack. You may purchase some savory hawaij spice mix, or make your own.

Hawaij spice blend

  • 3 tbsp. ground coriander
  • 3 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  1. Mix together

Sephardic Tu b’Shevat Confection

photo (2)Sephardic families are known for their tradition of hospitality toward friends, neighbors, and even strangers. During Tu b’Shevat, some Turkish Jews prepare a special dessert called trigo koço. “Trigo” means “wheat” in Spanish. This sweet wheat berry dish originated in the Middle East, and traveled with the Jews to Spain. Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the Jews took it with them to the Ottoman Empire. To this day, every guest who stops by for a Tu b’Shevat visit at their home is offered a bowl of trigo koço with a cup of hot mint tea.

Trigo Koço

  • 1 1/4 cup wheat berries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. orange blossom water
  • 2 tbsp. rose water
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Walnuts
  1. Pour the wheat berries and 4 cups of water into a heavy pot.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, and then lower the flame.
  3. Allow the wheat to simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Turn off the heat, and stir in the sugar, cinnamon, orange blossom water, and rose water.
  5. Serve garnished with walnuts.

Zucchini-Cheese “Falafel”

20150509_123855I was inspired by some ripe zucchini that I purchased. There is a Greek recipe for chickpea-free “falafel.” I decided to prepare it.

Zucchini-Cheese “Falafel”

  • 6 ripe zucchini
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 9 oz. grated Feta cheese
  • 8 oz. crumbled blue cheese
  • olive oil
  1. Wash and grate the zucchini in a food processor.
  2. Place the zucchini in a microwave-safe bowl, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap.
  3. Steam the zucchini in the microwave for 6 minutes.
  4. Check if it is tender.
  5. If necessary, steam for an additional minute.
  6. Set the zucchini aside.
  7. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, flour, and cheese.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
  9. Mix the zucchini into the cheese “dough.”
  10. Heat some olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat.
  11. Moisten your hands and pinch a walnut-sized piece of zucchini-cheese “dough.”
  12. Fry until the “falafel” ball is golden-brown.
  13. Transfer to a casserole dish covered with paper towels to absorb the oil.
  14. Keep the zucchini “falafel” warm in the oven until ready to eat.
  15. Serve with Tzatziki sauce.

Food Chat With Michael Solomonov

Remember a few years back when Americans thought Israeli food meant hummus (which they mistakenly pronounced as hum-mus, as in soil or decayed plant matter)?  Michael Solomonov was amongst the individuals who changed the public’s perception of Israeli cuisine.  On Sunday, Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr welcomed superstar chef Solomonov and his partner, Steve Cook to speak about their new cookbook, Zahav, which has been selling like the proverbial hotcakes.  The cookbook is fine for kosher households, because the recipes do not call for shellfish and do not mix meat and dairy ingredients.  If you cannot get a table at the restaurant, do get the gorgeous book and have fun trying the recipes!

Before Solomonov won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011 and he became a national celebrity through the pages of Bon Appetit and Food and Wine, Michael was a youngster who moved between Israel and the United States with his parents.  He was a picky eater and he had no ambition in life.  When he got a job at a bakery in Israel, working 14-hour days for $2.50 an hour, his family was simply relieved that he was not in jail.  However, the pivotal moment for Michael’s life was the death of his younger brother, David, who was killed while on volunteer duty during Yom Kippur of 2003, just days before his release from the Israeli Army service.

The search for meaning eventually led Michael to a sober life, focused on presenting the best of Israeli cuisine, applying Middle Eastern techniques and spices to locally sourced produce.  When it’s not sustainable to import tomatoes in January, he can simulate the taste of Israeli food with local pumpkin and persimmon.  What is particularly inspirational about his journey is that he and his family could not have predicted his career trajectory.  With much hard work and learning on the job — they were on the brink of closing the currently wildly popular restaurant Zahav — Michael can serve as a poster child for the late bloomer, one who was not engaged by school.

Solomonov and his partner will soon launch the Rooster Soup Company, a deli-style place that serves only sandwiches and soup, the latter made from the bones and parts of the 1,000-plus chickens used in their Federal Donuts operation (that serves only donuts in the morning and fried chicken in the afternoon).  All the proceeds from Rooster Soup will benefit the Broad Street Ministry to their work in providing meals and services to vulnerable and homeless Philadelphians.  It is set to open at 1526 Sansom Street (in the former home of Sansom Street Kabob House).

Another exciting project of his of note to foodies is the January release date of his documentary, >The Search for Israeli Cuisine, which will be picked up by PBS in the spring.  Solomonov was followed around Israel by two-time Academy Award nominee and James Beard Award-winning filmmaker Roger Sherman.  They filmed each day at five locations and Michael marveled that each food venue was new to him, who’d lived there.  So imagine the novelty to us Americans, who are merely visitors to the Holy Land.

It may be surprising to learn that a major culinary revolution is taking place in a country so frequently associated with political drama. In just thirty years, Israel has gone from having no fine food to call its own to a cuisine that is world-renowned.

Chef Michael Solomonov, a young, inspiring Israeli born American grew up in Pittsburgh. Solo, as he's known, travels all over Israel, eating and talking about how ethnic traditions from across the diaspora have been incorporated into one diverse Israeli cuisine.
This is the story of cultures coming together, foods that are brought from far and wide and become Israeli cuisine. Our cameras follow Solo as he shows Americans a cuisine whose time has come.

The Maccabees’ Victory Feast

Photo by Triggerhippie4

Judah Maccabee coin.

Two thousand years ago, a group of Judean rebels called the Maccabees waged a guerrilla war against the Seleucid Empire. This war was sparked by a decree issued by King Antiochus that forbade Jewish religious practice. Hanukkah is the celebration of the Maccabees’ military victory. “Hanukkah” means “dedication,” in honor of the purification and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees celebrated the rededication with a victory feast.

The Maccabean Revolt lasted seven years. During that time, the men neglected their crops and herds. In Ancient Israel, meat was only served on special occasions. The rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem was the type of ceremony that merited a savory meat stew. Since their flocks were lean, the Maccabees probably caught wild deer for this gathering.

Photo by Fae

Cuneiform tablet with oldest recorded recipe for venison stew

Here is the oldest recorded recipe for venison stew, imprinted on a clay tablet from the time of King Hammurabi (1700 BCE). It is a recipe from Babylonia, written in Akkadian. This recipe predates the Maccabees by 1,500 years, yet meat was still prepared in this manner during their time. The stew was served with flat-bread, wine, and pressed, dried fig cake for dessert.

Babylonian Venison Stew

Adapted from The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia by Jean Bottero

For the marinade:

  • 3 1/2 lbs. venison stew meat
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves

For the stew:
Photo by Diego y tal

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 leeks, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup marinade (recipe above)
  • Sea salt
  1. Place the venison and all the ingredients for the marinade in a large glass bowl.
  2. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 265°F.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven.
  5. Mix in the cumin, coriander, onions, garlic, and leeks.
  6. Remove the venison from the marinade and add it to the pot.
  7. Once the meat is browned, add the stock and marinating liquid.
  8. Bring to a boil.
  9. Cover the pot and place in the oven.
  10. Bake the stew for 90 minutes.

Vegging Out at Miss Rachel’s Pantry

Miss Rachel's Pantry

Miss Rachel’s Pantry
1938 South Chadwick Street
Philadelphia, PA 19145
Hours: Friday 7am-6pm, Saturday 8am-3pm, Sunday 8am-3pm, Closed Monday-Thursday


South Philly is home to a kosher vegan treasure. It is Miss Rachel’s Pantry. This establishment is a market, a catering company, a host of communal dinners, and a cooking school. Chef-owner Rachel Klein and her team prepare and deliver meals to homes as well.

The specialties of the house include “cheeses” made from cultured cashew nuts. I had never tasted nut “cheese” before. I smeared some cashew butter “cream cheese” on a bagel. It tasted surprisingly cream cheesy.

Miss Rachel’s serves creative homemade soups. I tried the honey crisp apple and celery root bisque and the tomato bisque. Both use vegan creme fraiche to achieve the right consistency. The flavor combinations were unexpected, sweet and tart and creamy all at the same time.

11951929_1083286115032390_1707358112680740726_nFor dessert, I had the house baked vegan sticky buns. I got them fresh out of the oven, hot, fragrant, sweet, and yeasty. I don’t know how they turned out so well without eggs or butter. To conclude my meal, I had a fresh cup of Green Street Organic coffee with some almond milk. The coffee was piping hot, with a rich mellow flavor. It was the perfect end to a delicious meal.

The pantry is certified kosher by the International Kosher Council. The restaurant is BYOB, and diners are encouraged to bring wine, beer, sparkling juice, or kombucha (a type of fermented, effervescent sweet tea).