During my recent trip to Israel, I did a four day extension Birthright extension program called Foods of Israel. Through this program I got to explore the melting pot of Israeli cuisine alongside peers from North and Latin America. The trip was a whirlwind of smells, sights and adventure, and I wanted to share my top 5 experiences from the trip here with you all (more pictures from other parts of the trip can be found below).
- We started off the trip in Meshek Helbrecht, an agricultural farm where vegetables are grown organically. During this trip we learned about the sophisticated, environmentally friendly hydroponics system used in the farm, and handpicked vegetables, fruits and herbs from the garden. With our freshly picked herbs and vegetables we made homemade focaccia in an outdoor hot stone oven. I added olive oil, zaatar, dried rosemary, red onion, and cherry tomatoes to mine, and the combination was simply divine. At this farm we also got to make fresh smoothies with local fruits, including tangerines from the bountiful trees surrounding us.
- We then headed to Haifa for a tour of Talpiot Market with Vered, our local guide. Haifa is a unique city as Muslims, Jews and Christians coexist peacefully, rather than living in separate cities/neighborhoods. The stops we made at the market tour were fantastic, but even more exciting were the dishes Vered made for us using fresh ingredients from the market. My favorite dish was an ice cream sundae she made with roasted bananas, homemade chocolate sauce, fresh strawberries, and marshmallows. She made the ice cream by blending 200g of Roasted peanuts with 200g of Madjoul dates and ice. The sauce she made by heating 200g bitter chocolate with coconut cream. I already love the combination of peanut butter, chocolate and banana, and having this combination made with fresh, local ingredients made the dish even more satisfying. (Plus this recipe is incredibly indulgent for being dairy-free, vegan and parve!)
- The next day we went to an olive oil farm at Rish Lakish. Our host at the olive oil farm explained that recent archaeology has found that the use of olive oil started in the Galilee of Israel 8000 years ago. She explained that olive oil was used in biblical times for light (lamps) and anointing kings. From this tour I also learned the enemies of olive oil: lightly colored bottles (dark bottles and cans preserve the nutrition and flavor of the oil), flavor infusions (leads to shorter shelf-life for the oil), and plastic (olive oil is a living oil and it extracts chemicals from the plastic). Our host also to always pair fats like olive oil with vegetables for maximal nutritional absorption. She let us try all different kinds of olive oils, including in different food items like labane and cake. I also enjoyed learning about all of the creative measures taken by this family farm to make their olive oil press environmentally friendly.
- We then headed to an Arab village called Kefar Qara for a cooking lesson at the home of Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the winner of Israeli MasterChef in 2014. Nof taught us how to make traditional Arabic food including stuffed grape leaves, fattoosh salad, kibbeh, mujadaara, and sahleb. Even more than the food, it was incredible to hear about Nof’s vision to promote peaceful coexistence by creating a Jewish-Muslim cooking school in her welcoming home. Nof had such a vibrant personality, and it was incredible to hear her story transitioning from working as a microbiologist in Weizmann Institute, one of the world’s most elite universities, to MasterChef Israel.
- The next day, we had a cooking lesson with the women of Yerucham. Yerucham is a tiny town with only a few hundred people in the middle of the desert. (Fun fact, Yerucham is the sister city of my hometown, Miami!) The citizens here are largely from Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) countries and from India, and were brought to this town by the Jewish Agency. Yerucham is referred to as a development town, which according to Wikipedia is, “a term used to refer to the new settlements that were built in Israel during the 1950s in order to provide permanent housing to a large influx of Jewish immigrants”. Our group was split in two, and I was paired in the group that learned to cook in the home of Hadara, who was of Moroccan descent. During this cooking lesson we learned to make homemade rolls, salads, Moroccan fish, rice with peas and carrots, meatballs, and homemade carrot cake. I’ve been to Yerucham before, and am continuously impressed by how the community has been able to maintain cultural practices from different places around the world in a tiny community in the desert.
Some other highlights from my trip included:
Baking workshop at @GaliaCakes in Jerusalem
Tasting home-brewed Beer in Haifa with my 25 person group from Canada, USA, Argentina and Chile
Made to order knafe from our tour of Mahne Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
Thank you for reading! Let me know if you have the chance to visit any of these places by tagging me on social media @ahavabite.