By: Shannon Smith | Category: Restaurants | Issue: March 2019
World traveler and professional chef, Shannon Smith, owner of Beads and Basil.
Of the many countries I’ve visited over the years, one of my very favorites is Israel. My first trip was 10 years ago when I traveled with a large group to do the mandatory “pilgrimage tours” of ancient biblical history. I’ve actually done those tours on two different trips, and they were perfectly enjoyable and educational. But last year I decided I wanted to see what the buzz in the Israel food scene was all about.
Israel is a melting pot of cultures who have brought their foods, recipes and traditions to the promised land. Many Jewish customs and holidays are represented in a plethora of delicious food, as well as Arab and Christian influences. I did my research and found a celebrity foodie named Gil Hovav, a food writer, tv host and writer. We spent two days together walking through the markets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, sampling dozens of pastries, cheeses, dried fruits, falafel, shawarma and other middle eastern delicacies. We also ate at some “hot spot” restaurants and toured the Domaine Du Castel winery in the desert between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
I enjoyed learning about Israel’s food culture so much, I returned to Tel Aviv a few months later following a trip to Moscow, only a four-hour flight away. Since Gil was out of the country, I found two new friends and fellow foodies, Inbal and Adeena. Inbal owns an Israel food tour company called Delicious Israel, and we spent a day in Tel Aviv eating at six different restaurants, all with different cultural dishes.
That evening I was privileged to cook with chef Nir Feller in Inbal’s rooftop apartment. We made homemade pita, hummus, poached fish in a spicy Libyan sauce called fifel chuma and a Jewish milk dessert, malabi.
An assortment of traditional Israeli spices on display for sale at a market.
The following day I met Adeena Sussman, a cookbook writer who had recently moved to Tel Aviv from New York City. She took me back to the Carmel Market and Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv where I saw some familiar faces from my previous visit with Gil. We tasted more delicious treats, and I bought enough spices, nuts and dried
fruits to fill a new suitcase I found in the market.
I learned many things on these tours of Israel, and since I’ve been home, I’ve cooked a lot of foods I learned while I was there. One of my favorite dishes that is very popular in Israel is Shakshuka, a North African dish that has made its way all over Europe, but particularly Israel. It’s a stew of tomatoes and vegetables with eggs gently baked into it. In Israel, Shakshuka is on many menus for breakfast or brunch, and it’s served with fresh pita. I also make a variation called Green Shakshuka, which is made with green herbs and chard instead of tomatoes. You can find my story about my visit with Gil Hovav on my website beadsandbasil.com, as well as both recipes for Shakshuka and homemade pita.
Traditionally, Shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato stew, but I like to make this green version using herbs and Swiss chard. If green tomatoes were in season, they would be delicious is this version too. Make this for breakfast or brunch, and serve it with crusty bread to scoop up all the yolky goodness.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In the bowl of a food processor, put the cilantro leaves, parsley leaves, mint leaves, garlic, juice of one lime, cumin, coriander, and 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Pulse a few times, and slowly add the 1/2 cup of olive oil. You may need to add more oil until mixture becomes a loose sauce (not too thick). It should be coarsely processed, not puréed. Scrape into a bowl and set aside. Cut out the stems from the Swiss chard. Chop the stems and coarsely and tear the leaves. In a 10” heavy skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chard stems, celery, and onion, and cook until just soft. Add the jalapeño, chard leaves, reserved herb sauce, 1/2 cup water, and cook until leaves are just wilted. Using a spoon, make four “wells” in the sauce to hold the eggs. Break each egg and carefully place into the wells. Sprinkle a little salt onto each egg and do not stir. Let eggs cook for one minute over medium high heat, then put skillet into preheated oven to allow eggs to finish cooking, about 7 minutes. Make sure egg whites are cooked through, but yolks are still runny. Remove from oven and serve immediately with crusty bread.
Fresh dough for pita bread being prepared by hand.
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