Spelt Flour – In Biblical Portions

Stybl Spelt Flour

I have been baking exclusively with spelt flour for the last several months and it all began when I bought a kilo of organic spelt flour from the Stybel flour stand at Orbanics. I had heard that spelt is supposed to be better for you: that it is easier to digest, higher in protein, high in complex carbohydrates, contains all 8 essential amino acids needed by the human body, and is loaded with key essential minerals and vitamins. But, it has taken me a long time to actually buy some to bake with. I bake almost exclusively with whole wheat flour, so I am used to working with a whole grain flour. I actually like the nuttiness of some of the heartier whole wheat flours and would always buy bread and other baked goods from the Vollkorn (Wholemeal) bakery when I lived in Germany. The funny thing is after all these years I didn’t realize that bread I used to buy the most was a whole kernel spelt bread (Dinkelflockenbrot).

Italians call it “Farro” and it is found in gourmet soups, pizza crusts, breads and cakes; in Umbria it is even used instead of durum wheat to make pasta.

Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an ancient grain that is member of the same grain family as common bread wheat, rye, oats and barley, but is an entirely different species. It is one of the original seven grains mentioned in Ezekiel 4:9: “Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof …”. Sister Hildegard von Bingen (St. Hildegard), touted as one of the earliest health food nuts, said “the spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful. If someone is ill, boil some spelt, mix it with egg and this will heal him like a fine ointment.”

Spelt Grain

Spelt was a popular grain up until the 19th century, when the common bread wheat was discovered to be easier to mill and give a much higher yield than spelt which was harder to process because it contains a very thick husk unlike its cousin. Spelt started showing up in health food stores in the 1980s, but has only recently shown a tremendous comeback since whole foods are shown to be much better for us.

Spelt is not wheat-free like some people are saying, and is definitely not gluten free. Celiac sufferers cannot consume products made from spelt, but some people with wheat allergies or wheat intolerance can eat small quantities of spelt. If, however, you have an allergy or intolerance to wheat, consult a doctor before you try eating products made with spelt.

Spelt is not difficult to bake with, but there are a few important pointers to ensure a successful baked-good:

  • Unlike all-purpose flour, where you can get away with not always sifting the flour, it is important to sift spelt flour before using it. Otherwise, you may end up with a lumpy dough or cake batter.
  • Compared to wheat flour, spelt flour needs less liquid to make the same consistency dough. Use three-quarters the amount of liquid relative to that you would use with wheat flour. For example, if a particular recipe requires 1 cup of liquid when mixed with wheat flour, it would need ¾ of a cup when using spelt flour.
  • Do not overmix the batter or overknead the dough. The gluten in spelt is not as durable as in other wheat and may result in a crumbly or tough texture.
  • It is recommended to keep spelt flour in your refrigerator or freezer to maintain its freshness.

Don’t be afraid to bake with spelt, it makes a really light loaf of bread with an appealing nutty flavour. The high protein in the spelt results in a very light, soft-textured bread that isn’t crumbly when sliced. It also makes a light, soft-textured cake.

Spelt Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie with Spelt Flour and Cream Cheese Pie Crust

Serving Size: 8

Pie crust adapted from a recipe from the The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Pastry for a two-crust 9-inch pie:

170g (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold

2 cups spelt flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

127g (4.5 ounces) cream cheese, cold and cut into 3 or 4 pieces

2 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Egg wash

1 tablespoon caster sugar

Cherry filling:

1/4 cup Demerara sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1kg (2-1/4 pounds) fresh sour cherries, pitted, or 3 packages of 380 grams (2 pounds) frozen sour cherries, partially thawed and drained

For the cherry filling:

In a large bowl, mix the cherries with the sugar, cornstarch and cardamom. Add more sugar if the cherries are too tart.

Spelt Cherry Pie

For the pastry:

Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until frozen solid. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. Add the cream cheese and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the butter and pulse until it is in even small pieces, each a little larger than a pea. Add the water and the vinegar and pulse until the pieces of butter are the size of tiny peas. The mixture will be separate tiny pieces. Do not pulse into a mass.

Divide the mixture into two ziploc bags and knead the mixture just until the dough comes together. Flatten into discs and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or overnight.

Grease a 22-inch (9-inch) pie pan. Roll out the bottom crust and place in the pan. Add the cherry filling and cover with the top crust. Cut slits in the top crust or cut out a decorative design to let the steam out of the pie while it is baking. Crimp the edges decoratively. Brush the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle the top with caster sugar.

Place the pie on baking sheet and bake at 200C (400F) for 20 minutes. Cover the edges with a foil collar to prevent over-browning. Continue to bake until the filling bubbles and the crust is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes longer. Transfer the pie to rack and cool for at least 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Organic Farmers Market in Tel Aviv

Organic farming is nothing new in Israel, but given the fact that several Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms have popped up over the last several years and regular supermarkets are pushing organic products, not to mention the Eden Teva supermarket chain, you would think that Israel has just been introduced to the organic way of life.

It is quite the contrary. In 1958, a group of people of various backgrounds decided to create a moshav based on a vegetarian, vegan, and organic lifestyle and ideology. The founders of Amirim were among the pioneers of the vegetarian movement in Israel. The Israel Bio-Organic Agricultural Association (Tuv Hassadeh) was founded in the late 1970s by an 84-year-old farmer, Mario Levy, from Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the north of the country. It was quite difficult in the beginning to convince Israeli farmers to forego the use of pesticides, but now there are over 500 farmers who are members of the association and produce 13% of farm products in Israel.

Organic products and produce could always be found in the various health food stores in Tel Aviv, but now there is a dedicated famers market at HaTahana (The Train Station), the beautifully renovated Ottoman-period train station on the Tel Aviv-Yafo border. The Tel Aviv municipality and the Israel Bio-Organic Agricultural Association opened the farmers market as a joint project.

Every Friday, approximately 40 stalls with food growers and manufacturers, all certified members of the association, sell products such as cakes, dairy products, eggs, and of course beautiful seasonal fruits and vegetables.

The vendors at Shuk HaCarmel are always finding clever, but generally noisy, ways to advertise their products to the crowd of shoppers. The organic farmers market, by contrast, was relaxed, peaceful and unpushy.

At Orbanic, the attractive vendors smile and proudly talk about their produce, with passion in their eyes, and visible pleasure, the results of their hard work. Like on the face of Or Glicksman, who gives you a big beautiful smile when he describes his organic vegetables from his father’s farm on Kibbutz Gal-On in the southern part of the country.

And the cute guy from the Negev who was selling his sweet and juicy little mangoes and perfectly round cherry tomatoes.

There are vendors selling organic large-leafed purslane, from imported seedlings from France that are acclimated in hothouses at Kardesh Barnea in the Negev, and large shoots of lemongrass, waiting for a Vietnamese stir fry.

You can even take home the much sought after Aba Gil’s organic hummous, quiches, and brown rice pilaf. Their quiches are egg, wheat and dairy free.

And you can also take home romaine lettuce seedlings, which I bought for my garden along with 1 kg of spelt flour, 3 desert mangoes, a yellow and green striped pumpkin, olives marinated in red wine and herbs, and pickled baby eggplants.

Mario Levy must be smiling on his cloud as he looks down and sees how even in the big city, the movement that he helped start has achieved so much popularity.

Orbanic Farmers Market
2 Yehezkel Kaufmann Street
Tel Aviv
Open: Fridays, 0800-1500

Cheeses for the Tasting

Yossi and the Gang

Thirty years ago, when my husband moved to Israel, there were basically six types of cheese available in supermarkets and groceries, all from the monopolist dairy cooperative Tnuva: one type of cottage cheese, one soft white cheese to spread, two hard “white” cheeses — Tzfatit and Bulgarian — and two hard “yellow” cheeses. Since then, the variety of cheese available in Israel has multiplied more than 100 times, with boutique cheese makers sprouting up all over the country and producing cheeses that can compare favorably with anything from France or Italy. And Tnuva, after facing massive competition from both the boutiques and several medium sized dairy food companies, is now privatized.

The selection of boutique cow, sheep and goat cheeses that one can find at almost any supermarket in Israel, let alone farmers’ markets or food fairs, now rivals that of the average large European supermarket, and certainly outweighs what you normally find in Britain and the United States. To slightly misquote the well known saying, “not only the appetite comes with the eating, but also the curiosity”: Israeli consumers have become more and more ambitious in their tastes both thanks to the growing variety of local products and their passion for foreign travel, and the result has been that there is also tremendous demand for imported cheese, as well as wine and other products.

Recently, we went to a cheese tasting at a food importer located near our home, organized by our friend Yossi David, whom we first met when he organized a wine tasting at his home outside Jerusalem last year. The importer, Shevic, has a big metal barn sitting on what is probably worth US $1 million of land in one of the most expensive villages in the country, Bnei Tzion, but the stock of cheese that he keeps in the refrigerated store room on one side probably justifies the location, because he is one of the main suppliers of premium imported cheeses as well as a few other products to supermarkets, high-end groceries and specialist cheese shops, such as Basher in Machane Yehuda.

Shevi Cheese Importers

Alon Aberbuch and his partner Eyal normally don’t sell directly to the public, but because Yossi promised to bring two dozen odd discriminating cheeseaholics to try their wares, they laid on a beautiful spread, complete with some homemade bread that Yossi’s wife Dina contributed to the festivities, as well as some some smoked salmon and imported Greek olives.

Italian Provolone

Shevic imports some very interesting cheeses and I had fun perusing a world of different varieties, such as the beautiful Italian provolone above.

Cheese for the Tasting

The tasting offered both kosher and non-kosher cheeses: Sage Derby from England, French Brie, Montagnolo, which is a Gorgonzola-like creamy blue cheese from Germany, Dutch Gouda, and a couple of French goat cheeses.

They also served a variety of sheep cheeses from the Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash (Land of Milk and Honey) dairy in Moshav Nechalim, near Petach Tikvah. This dairy makes delicious kosher sheep cheese of which I brought home two samplings: sheep cheese wrapped in vine leaves and one with a vein of red wine.

French Basque Sheep Cheese

I also found some cheeses I had never tried before: one was a French Basque semi-firm sheep cheese called Baskeriu, which has a slightly nutty taste. I also found a very interesting soft Circassian goat cheese, a round flat cheese without a rind, made in Rekhaniya, a Circassian village in northern Israel near Tzfat.

Greek Olives

Shevic also imports delicious Greek olives and olive oil as well as some Mexican salsas, barbecue and hot sauces from the United States.

My husband and I had a wonderful time meeting other foodies, tasting the delicious cheeses, and drinking a delicious 2007 Shaked Cabernet Sauvignon that Yossi had brought from Yehuda Winery, located in Moshav Shoresh, near Jerusalem. We came home with Belgian butter which I will only use to make my grandmother’s butter cookies, Montagnolo cheese, two cheeses from Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash, two bottles of Yehuda Cabernet Sauvignon, and a big smile.

Tulip Winery: not just a business

Tulip Winery Sign

Tulip Winery, located in Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope), was established in 2003 by the Itzhaki family. The youngest son, Roy Itzhaki, established the Tulip Winery with a family investment. “I come from a family that works in construction and real estate, and we are wine freaks,” he says. “Seven years ago, we visited a wine exhibition at the Scottish House, and we saw someone sell 1,000 bottles he made at home. I started doing some research and found out that for 15,000 NIS, you can make two barrels of wine at home. Because it’s a messy process, I told my parents, ‘Let’s rent a place.'”

Kfar Tikva, which is close to the Itzhaki’s home, was already established as a long-term home for people with special needs, and had a small, experimental winery for its working residents. “The village had financial difficulties at the time, and they were trying to privatize a few of the occupational departments,” recalls Itzhaki. “I went to see it and they told me the winery was for sale. So I discussed with the family and we decided to buy it.”

Tulip Winery’s vineyards are located at Kfar Yuval and below Keren ben Zimra, in the North, where they grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. They have also have vineyards in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem at Moshav Matta and Karmei Yosef where they grow Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes.

Tulip Winery Exterior

Tulip Winery employs Kfar Tikva residents in harvesting, bottling, and packaging the wine as well as welcoming guests in the visitors’ center. The winery also promotes joint activities with Kfar Tikva, including the sale of crafts made by the community members. During the holidays the winery offers holiday gift packages that include artworks created by the members, with revenues donated directly to Kfar Tikva and its members.

Michal Negrin Tulip Winery Bottles

Notwithstanding the emphasis on contributing to the community, Tulip Winery’s main goal is to produce top quality wine that not only tastes good but also looks good in the bottle: for example, one series had labels designed by the well-known Israeli jewellery and fashion designer Michal Negrin. Even the normal series pay serious attention to the aesthetics of their labels in order to catch the buyers’ eye, something that is now typical of Israeli boutique wineries.

Tulip Wines

The range of grapes that Tulip uses is a little more varied than most Israeli boutique wineries: only a few others, for example, have a Cabernet Franc, a grape that produces wines with a powerful and chunky taste that is difficult to balance. But what’s perhaps more unusual is that in a country where the climate and soil — and habit — make red wine far more popular than white (and where rosé is mainly very new), this winery has also developed what it calls White Tulip, a blend of Gewürtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc that combines the fruitiness of both varieties without the natural sweetness of the Gewürtztraminer and so is suitable both as an aperitif and for drinking throughout a meal.

Tulip Winery Interior

The irony is that although Itzhaki calls himself and his family ‘wine freaks,’ their whole enthusiasm for wine started out of ignorance: his father was dining at a top restaurant in Paris, he told Israeli daily Haaretz in a profile article, and aroused the staff’s disdain by ordering beer. The result was that father Itzhak was given a swift education in drinking wine with gourmet food, and then passed on his newly-acquired knowledge to Roy and the rest of the family. But from the establishment of the winery in 2003, success didn’t take long to arrive: they already received silver medals at the Finger Lake competition in the USA for their 2004 Syrah Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; the 2005 vintages of the same wines were recommended by international guru Robert Parker in the Wine Spectator. Virtue, it appears, does get rewarded, at least when accompanied by skill.

Tulip Winery’s Visitors Center
Open every Friday 10:00-13:00 and every Saturday 11:00-16:00
Now Kosher (as of end of 2010)

A Great Lady, A Great Loss – Vera Rozsa-Nordell

This past Friday afternoon, my mother-in-law, the much revered and loved singing teacher, Vera Rozsa-Nordell passed away. She wasn’t just a great artist to me, she was my personal inspiration because of her personality and energy. When I first met her, I was afraid of her awesome presence, but she welcomed me and I knew she loved me when she kept telling me I was good for her son and that she would kill for my hair. Her great love and incredible knowledge of music, especially Schubert’s Lieder cannot be replaced. Her Hungarian accent, her great beauty, her wonderful laugh, her stern look and then her lovely smile, her glint in her eyes when she was satisfied that her students were singing to the best of their ability, and her own beautiful voice will be sorely missed. But in the end, she was just Mommy to me.

Best Ice Cream Shops in Israel (Part 2) – Vaniglia and Shaked

Vaniglia Gelateria

Brothers Nitzan and Itay Rogozinski opened their first branch of the Vaniglia ice cream boutique in 2001 at Basel Square in Tel Aviv. Anything that goes into the ice cream is made on the premises, from cheesecake to poppy seed cake. They use pistachio paste from Sicily, truffle oil from Umbria, orange flower petals from Turkey, camomile flowers from Egypt, tonka beans from Guinea and vanilla from Madagascar; to mention but a few.

Vaniglia in a Cup

Vaniglia offers a nice selection of sorbets with a very high percentage of fruit (over 70%). The dairy ice creams are delicious too, and they are also producing a new line of 100% organic ice creams made with rice milk or soy milk, and a line that is sugar-free.

I visited the new Hod HaSharon branch that is located in a cute little “house” that was built for the ice cream shop. It might look small from the outside, but this branch offers a good selection, such as the following highly recommended flavors:

  • Yogurt with orange flower water, Sicilian pistachios and apricot compote
  • Yogurt with honey and pine nuts
  • Plum sorbet
  • Valharona chocolate with an infusion of cocoa beans and chocolate crunch
  • Sicilian pistachio
  • Coconut
  • Mango sorbet
  • Blackberry sorbet
  • Oh, just try them all!!!

Vaniglia has several locations:

22a Eshtori Hafarchi Street (off Basel Street)
Tel Aviv

98 Ibn Gvirol Street
Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

18 Derech Ramatayim
Hod HaSharon

Shaked Gelateria

Shaked Gelateria (pronounced Sha-Ked) was originally started as a pizzeria in the leafy town of Ramat Gan, just next to Tel Aviv, then turned into a cafe, and eventually branched out into homemade ice creams. Today, Shaked also has a branch in the entertainment zone of the old Tel Aviv Port, which is also a cafe, even though it is better known for its ice cream (something which obviously appeals to the patrons of the toy shop strategically located next door).

Shaked in a Cup

Shaked offers some interesting flavors of ice cream, such Kremschnitt, sabra (prickly pear) sorbet, olive oil and za’aatar (hyssop), tehina and humous. They also produced a special for the World Cup, which is no longer available: beer ice cream with sunflower seeds! Unfortunately, they didn’t have some of these flavors on offer when I visited the Tel Aviv Port location, but I do recommend the following:

  • Frutti di Bosco (Forest Fruits)
  • Chocolate sorbet
  • Cheesecake
  • Mango
  • Limoncello

Shaked Gelateria has two locations:

Hangar 7, Tel Aviv Port
Tel Aviv

40 Aluf David
Ramat Gan

Best Ice Cream Shops in Israel (Part 1) – Iceberg and Doro

I am on a mission to find the best ice cream in Israel and it is a task that I do not take lightly, at least not around my waist. I have a confession to make: I am an ice cream snob and am not embarrassed to admit it.

Ice cream is in my blood. My earliest memory is eating peppermint ice cream at the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on our way to the annual family vacation in Miami, Clearwater or Daytona Beach, Florida. Howard Johnson’s ice creams were the best and when I got older I graduated to eating their pistachio ice cream which was considered an exotic treat. In 1980, my father and my uncle opened a ice cream and game room shop, called the Cream Machine, in the neighboring university town where I grew up. I worked there on weekends making black pepper brownies for our hot fudge sundae brownies and selling ice cream. Our gimmick was our ice cream sundae bar. You could put as many toppings on as you like and you paid by the weight.

After living in a Swiss town on the Italian border and travelling around Europe, I can say that I have tasted some of the best gelato in Italy and France. I also like to experiment making ice cream and sorbets at home. So, when I moved to Israel over 10 years ago, I had to make sure I was moving to a country with some form of ice cream culture and I was happy to find out that there was one. There wasn’t as much experimentation in some of the older shops as there is now, but by 2007, the boutique ice cream shops started appearing. Now, I am happy to say, Israel can compete with the big boys and I am going to show you the best-of-the-best in this series.

Iceberg Storefront

Since Iceberg first opened in Tel Aviv, its shops have become known for some of the best boutique ice cream in the country. They have a variety of water-based and cream-based ice creams to choose from and are happy for you to try-before-you-buy. I went to the newly opened Iceberg and Vulcano Cafe in Hod Hasharon. This is a new concept cafe that has the ice cream shop on one side and a pizza and pinchos restaurant on the other.

Iceberg, which has been open since 1999, markets itself as “100% Low Tech Ice Cream”. It is a clever statement that really means they make all natural ice creams. According to Haaretz, whose restaurant reviews and articles on food and cooking have contributed considerably to the development of a more sophisticated food culture in Israel, “when Dalit and Ilan Bar decided to go into the ice cream business, they took it very seriously. The journey in search of the perfect ice cream included Italy, France and the United States. They took from here, they took from there, they adapted the percentages of fat, the flavor and the texture to the Israeli climate and character.”

Iceberg in a Cup

What I like about Iceberg is that they are not afraid to experiment and even take ideas from others, such as their new chefs’ series. They also have Israeli-, Middle Eastern-, and Jewish-fusion flavors on offer. Along with their interesting home-grown offerings such as halva & pistachio, guava-mint, apricot-amaretto & almonds and lychee-ginger-pecan, they went to some of Israel’s well known chefs and asked them to come up with interesting flavor combinations:

Vanilla Ice Cream with Lavender and Lavender HoneyIsrael Aharoni (chef, restaurant owner, TV personality, food writer, cookbook author, eyebrow style model, and part-time DJ)

Poppy Seed Yeast Cake with Crème Pâtissière Ice Cream – Aviv Moshe (chef of Messa Chef Restaurant)

Mascarpone Ice Cream with Caramelised Pistachios, Baharat and Rosewater – Ronen Skinzes (chef of Manta Ray)

Black Coffee with Cardamom and Date HoneyChaim Cohen (chef, TV personality, owner of Dixie Grill Bar and consultant)

Cream Ice Cream with Forest Fruits, Nougatine and MeringueAyal Lavi (chef of Rokach 73)

My favorite of the chef ice creams were Israel Aharoni’s, Ronen Skinzes’ and Chaim Cohen’s. Iceberg will not disappoint you. Make sure you try their sorbets; the lychee-ginger-pecan is delicious.

Several locations in Tel Aviv: Ben Yehuda 108, Rothschild 31 and Ibn Gvirol 24
Iceberg Vulcano Cafe: Tel Aviv Port, Rishon Letzion, Ramat Hasharon and Hod Hasharon
Not kosher

Doro Gelateria

Doro, who markets itself as “Chef’s Ice Cream”, is the creation of pastry chef Doron Fishel and his business partner Oshri Azulay, who manages the shop. Doron studied the pastry arts and learned his craft in France, was pastry chef at Chloelys, custom-made ice cream for Herbert Samuel restaurant, and was also a manager of Arlekino (it should be spelled Arlecchino (harlequin), but Israelis are famous for mangling foreign names and words) ice cream shop before opening Doro.

Doro Gelato

Doro was recommended to me by one of my blog fans, and now I have to thank her and hate her at the same time for introducing me to some of the best ice cream I have tasted so far in Israel. Run, do not walk to Doro and try EVERYTHING!! The owner/manager, Oshri Azulay, is passionate about what he sells. So much so, he let me taste a few flavors that were not on offer that day. What I really like about Doro is that they are not afraid to experiment, they use fresh, all natural ingredients, and they do not skimp on anything.

Doro Gelato2

They make water-based and cream-based ice creams and rotate their flavors on a daily basis. So, you have to visit there more than once to really get a feel for all they have to offer. One of his regulars, who stops by three times a week, passed through while we were there.

Doro in a Cup

Some of the most interesting flavors we tried were:

  • Black sesame
  • Apples in cream with kadayif
  • Brazilian coffee with coffee beans and coconut
  • Pears in Merlot
  • Pear sorbet with arak and mint
  • Finchi — vanilla ice cream with salted chocolate
  • Kadayif

I think their passionfruit sorbet is some of the best I have ever had. Frankly, everything I tried was delicious.

Doron and Oshri had the bad luck to open Doro a short while before a big building project (to build a large underground car park, much needed in Tel Aviv) started almost touching distance from their front door, and as a result you have to walk down a narrow and crowded pavement, with a big corrugated wall blocking off one side of it, to get there. The result, Oshri told me, was that business dropped drastically. Even so, he said, people are coming specially from towns outside Tel Aviv because the place’s reputation has spread so rapidly. They are also thinking about opening additional branches, but insist on having a limited number of branches under their own management rather than more branches under franchise in order to ensure that their quality isn’t compromised.

Doro – Chef’s Ice Cream
Rothschild Boulevard 8
Tel Aviv
Phone: 03-5106664
Not kosher

Best Bourekas in Israel

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The food-culture diversity in Israel was born from the influx of immigrants from around the world. And because of this, certain foods have become “Israeli” dishes. It doesn’t mean that we now own these dishes like some would have you believe, but we have grown to love them just like their countrymen who brought their beloved recipes with them. Everyone likes to bring the flavours of home with them where ever they may roam.

Turkish and Balkan Jews who came to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s brought their country’s rich Ottoman recipes of long ago. One of these popular foods is the bureka (in Israel), börek (in Turkey), and byurek (in Bulgaria).In Israel, bourekas are typically served with a hard-boiled egg, a Jewish idea that has now become an Israeli custom. In Jewish communities, such as in Turkey, Bulgaria and Iraq, bourekas were served for a late breakfast on Shabbat, when the men returned from prayer in the synagogue, and the hard-boiled eggs that had been cooked in a slow oven, below the hamin, were a natural accompaniment. Sometimes the larger bourekas are split in half and filled with a little salad and a hard-boiled egg.

These flaky pastries were invented in Central Asia by nomadic Turks and became a popular element of Ottoman cuisine.

According to Ayla Algar’s book, Classical Turkish Cooking:

Börek was an established part of Ottoman cuisine by the time of the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. At least two varieties of it were prepared for Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The position of chief börek maker in the palace kitchens was always an important one. Numerous apprentices labored under his watchful eye rolling out the dough on huge marble slabs. Evliya Çelebi (1611-1682), a Turkish traveler who journeyed through the territory of the Ottoman Empire and neighboring lands over a period of forty years, tells us that Istanbul in his time had no fewer than 4,000 börek shops — interestingly enough, a figure four times higher than he gives for baker’s shops.

Here are some of the best bourekas shops in Israel. Is your favorite one of these or do you have another favorite?

Leon and Son

Julie Cohen and her family came from Bulgaria in 1948 and set up a phyllo production to make a living. They were the first and only people who did this in Jaffo. They used to stretch the phyllo on their beds. People would come from all over Israel to buy their phyllo and people still flock to their store for their delicious pastries. Leon, her son, joined the business, and then Leon’s son’s Avi and Eli.

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Leon and Son’s Turkish Bourekas shop in Jaffo sells a variety of Turkish and Balkan savory and sweet treats. Make sure you try a selection of their bourekas. Take home their baklava which is not too sweet, and the long pastries filled with sweet cheese and raisins. The truth is, you will have a hard time walking out without buying everything. And for the skilled baker, you can buy fresh phyllo and kadaief to make your own treats.

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Leon and Sons Bourekas
17 Olei Tzion Street, Jaffo
(03) 683-3123

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Moshe Pinchas is a third generation Turkish-Israeli who follows a tradition set by his maternal grandfather, who sold bourekas in Istanbul. In Yehud, a town southeast of Tel Aviv with many Turkish immigrants, he doesn’t do the baking himself, but has two Turkish bakers who come in early every morning: one of them, master baker Mehmet Kazelrak, has been doing it nearly all of his life after leaving school at the age of eight to apprentice with a master baker in city of Urfa, in southeastern Anatolia, famous for the birthplace of Abraham.

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Turkish Delicacies is a meat and dairy shop that makes bourekas stuffed with cheese, potato, and spinach and also make Turkish water börek (su böreği), which is stuffed with spinach or cheese.

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Make sure you try the Anatolian pide, which is shaped like a torpedo and stuffed with cheese, spinach and topped with an egg that is “soft-cooked” when it bakes.

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They also make lahmacun (pronounced lahmajoun), a flat pide that is covered with a spicy lamb filling, Anatolian pide stuffed with lamb filling, and pide stuffed with vegetables. Don’t leave here without trying at least one pide and one boureka, and be sure to take home several pieces of kadaief stuffed with walnuts.

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Turkish Delicacies
10 Zvi Yishai Street, Yehud

Photo by Sarah Melamed

The small stand of the Original Turkish Bourekas is in the heart of the Ramle market. Haim Kulo’s father, who immigrated from Istanbul, started selling these flaky and mouthwatering delicious pastries in 1957. Today the third generation is proudly selling their bourekas. The “original” also has branches in Ramat Gan and Jerusalem, but the original wagon and the old-fashioned lemonade siphon make those bourekas taste that much better.

Photo by Sarah Melamed

Original Turkish Bourekas
3 Jabotinsky Street, Ramle
(08) 925-5911

In a neglected municipal market built in the 1950s, is a boureka shop that is hidden in an alley behind a blue tarp. You would never imagine that you would find some of the best spinach bourekas in Israel among the crumbling buildings. The Hazan family uses an heirloom spinach called Galilee spinach (sbanach) to make these delicious treats. Sbanach, which you can buy at the shuk, are vibrant green leaves that make an appealing and flavorful addition to salads, and hold up well when cooked. Be sure to try the bourekas with an eggplant filling that is slow-cooked instead of being grilled.

Hazan Bourekas
Ashkenazi Market, Ashkenazi Street, Yehud
A few doors down from the fruit and vegetable stand. Look for the blue tarp.
(03) 536-1649

Honey for a Sweet Year, and a Fruitful One Too

Bee sculpture

A guest post from my other half, Mr. BT:

One of the great pleasures of living in Israel is the country’s agricultural riches, something that already led to the Land of Israel being described in the Bible as eretz zavat chalav u’dvash – ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ The milk in this description was probably more from sheep and goats than cows; and the ‘honey’ was almost certainly the sweet syrup of the dates that grow all over the country, not bee honey. Nevertheless, the historical image of honey as an integral part of the country’s agricultural tradition remains strong within Jewish culture, and especially so at this time of year, the early autumn, when we celebrate Rosh Hashana, the New Year.

Like Pesach in the springtime, when Jewish tradition dictates that we place on the Seder table, and eat, certain foods with symbolic religious significance, we put on the Rosh Hashana table foods with symbolic importance. But unlike the Seder, where we eat bitter herbs and unleavened matza to remind ourselves of the Children of Israel’s suffering as slaves in Egypt before the Exodus, and hasty exit without having time to let our dough rise, the symbols on the Rosh Hashana table are all about the sweetness and success we wish upon ourselves for the coming year.

Of all the culinary symbols – which according to tradition include pomegranates, a fish, courgettes, and carrots – the most important, and the ones most associated with the festival, are apples and honey. We sprinkle honey on the challah or other festival bread to express our hope for a sweet year, instead of the salt that is traditionally used on Shabbat; we eat slices of apple dipped in honey as well; and the blessings over all these foods reflect our desire for success, fertility and sweetness. And of course, we keep on using honey during the following three weeks of festival period to reinforce the message.

Honey Making Factory

It’s not only the honey itself that it important in Jewish culture. The honeybee, too, has a special significance in Jewish history: the name of the Biblical prophetess and judge Dvora (Deborah) – the Jewish people’s only woman leader until Golda Meir, and a pretty feisty leader in her own right – means ‘bee,’ and her name is still popular among Jewish and non-Jewish girls alike.

Simon's Honey Shop

It’s hardly a surprise, then, that when Baroness Tapuzina and I go shopping during the whole month before Rosh Hashana, every supermarket, grocery and stall in the shopping malls is crammed with jars of honey waiting to be consumed during the holiday period, and all of it locally produced. But, like pretty well everything else in Israeli food culture today, we have a tremendous variety of honey: from eucalyptus blossoms, thistle, clover, citrus, avocado and more. Not only that, but on top of the mass-market labels, there is a good variety of artisanal honey from small producers all over Israel.

To celebrate this wealth, the Baroness and I decided to visit a couple of local producers during the annual honey festival shortly before Rosh Hashana, both to taste a good selection, and to learn more about the Israeli honey industry.

Simon's Bee Farm Shop

Our first stop was at the shop of Simon’s Bee Farm in Kfar Sirkin, a moshav (agricultural village) just on the edge of highly urban Petach Tikva. Simon’s is special for two things in particular: one is that they sell all the output from their hives, which are scattered around most of the country, whereas most Israeli beekeepers sell at least part of their output to large companies, in particular the Yad Mordekhai label (originally owned entirely by the kibbutz of that name, but now owned by the Strauss food conglomerate). The other is that they have ten different varietals, including a honey that comes mainly from onion flowers, one from avocado and mango blossoms, and a Jordan Hills honey that the bees gather from avocado and lychee blossoms. Although we’re familiar with most of the other types, we had never tried these three before: I liked the onion honey more than the Baroness did (she found the oniony flavour off-putting), but we agreed that the other two were delicious, and bought a jar of each one.

Orna Simon

Unlike in the United States, where honey is usually pasteurised and therefore remains clear and liquid, Orna Simon explained to us that none of the Simon’s honey is pasteurised, so some of it becomes thick and even crystallises in the jar. But she says that for many of their customers, especially the Russian immigrants, this is a sign of high quality.

Bee Keeper's Outfits

From Kfar Sirkin, we went on to another moshav not far from our own called Tsofit (we do have beehives on the moshav where we live, but their output isn’t sold in the village). Here at Tsofit, beekeeper Yanay Sachs has a small factory at the back of his house, not only to produce and package the honey from his hives, but also to educate Israeli children about bees and honey.

Honey Comb

Yanay showed us a very cute film (made mainly for children) about beekeeping and how honey is extracted from the hives, and then took us on a tour of the production facilities. Here, the beeswax seals covering the hexagonal cells in each frame are scraped off with a broad mechanical knife, so that the honey can flow out into a separator (where any solid bits of dead bees are removed) and then to large storage containers, from which the jars are filled.

Yanai Sachs

Yanay doesn’t have the same wide selection of varietals as the Simon family bee farm, but he says that in the case of honey, as opposed to wine grapes, talking about varietals “is a bluff, because the bees fly to all the flowers within a range of three kilometres, and you don’t know where they’ve been.” A former head of the national beekeepers council, he also dismisses other beekeepers’ marketing of organic honey as a gimmick, saying that “organic honey is no more organic than anything else.”

Honey Extractor

However valid Yanay Sachs’ comments may be, we Israelis certainly like our honey: some 400-500 beekeepers around the country, of whom 100 are full-time professionals, own 90,000 hives, each one of which produces 30-40kg of honey every year. But this isn’t all for the sake of satisfying the national sweet tooth. Agriculture is still a central part of Israeli life just as it was part of the history of the Jewish people going back more than 3,500 years, and all the honey that Israelis consume during Rosh Hashana, and the rest of the year, is just a by-product of the bees’ real work: pollinating the country’s crops and ensuring the country’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural sector continues to produce all our wonderful food.

Chicken with Clove, Cinnamon and Chestnuts

Chicken with Cloves, Cinnamon and Chestnuts

Today, with a heavy heart Sarah, Miriam, and I shut down Flavors of Israel. It was a project that we were all very excited about, but work and other things interfered with us devoting as much time as we needed to devote on the website. I haven’t talked about my professional life on the blog, but I do have a demanding full time job in the software industry. This really only leaves me with the weekend to find exciting and interesting food-related adventures to write about and photograph. In my case, maintaining two websites was more than I could handle. But don’t worry, we are all still great friends and plan to continue collaboration in the future. The most important thing is that we all still have our own blogs, with different flavors of Israel; and I intend on still showing you the beauty and bounty, dear readers, of the country that I found love and grown to love, my home, Israel.

Enough with the tears now…

I hope that all of my Jewish friends and family are having a nice time in their Succahs, enjoying family time. David and I spent the first night with a lovely couple in our Moshav.

I already showed you the light dessert I made for the pre-fast dinner for Yom Kippur. The main course was a delicious Spanish dish that originally called for pheasant and pancetta. Since we don’t have access to pheasant here, I made the dish with chicken and did not substitute the pancetta, which you can substitute with smoked goose.

Chicken with Clove, Cinnamon and Chestnuts

Serving Size: 4 to 6

(Pollo con Clavo, Canela y Castañas) Recipe adapted from Moro: The Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 bay leaves

2 cinnamon sticks

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 teaspoon Piment d'Espelette - Basque Red Chili Pepper

6 whole cloves, roughly ground

1 x 400g (14oz) tin plum tomatoes, drained, broken up

1 large chicken, cut into 8 pieces

300ml (1-1/4 cup) dry white wine

200g (7oz) chestnuts, boiled, fresh or vacuum-packed, cut in half

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

In a large, deep frying pan with a lid over medium-high heat, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, brown all sides of the chicken pieces and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the remaining olive oil, and add the onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon, and cook for 5-10 minutes until the vegetables begin to caramelize. Add the thyme, paprika and cloves, and stir well for a minute, then add the tomatoes and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken to the tomato mixture and then add the white wine. Reduce the heat and simmer over a low heat with the lid on for 20-40 minutes. Then add the chestnuts and continue to cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.


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