Monday, October 4, 2010

A Land Flowing with Yogurt and Date Syrup, by Lisa Crystal

One of my favorite parts about living in Israel is the food.  I love fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and yogurt.  In Be’er Sheva, fresh produce stands and bakeries are abundant and the last grocery store I went to had around 50 types of cheese.  Yogurt is sold by the gallon.  I have been trying new fruits, vegetables, and cheeses every time I shop.  These have included the sabra cactus fruit, persimmons, mangos, apple guava, kohlrabi, dates (did you know date honey, silan, may have been the honey of “land of milk and honey”?), figs, laban cheese (like sour cream), and Safed (Tsafit) cheese (like fresh mozzarella).

I have also learned to cook differently here.  Although I can find most ingredients, some new foods are more abundant–and less expensive–than in Minnesota.  One such food is the eggplant.  Before I came to Israel, I borrowed an Israeli cookbook from the library and discovered that Israelis take their eggplants seriously.  I tried to flame-broil an eggplant, which was moderately successful and extremely messy.
Since moving here, I learned a much easier way to cook eggplant.  Imagine it as the Israeli equivalent of a baked potato.  Pop it in the oven until tender, usually around an hour an in the toaster oven, then drizzle with tahini sauce.  To prepare the sauce, start with raw tahini (the sesame seed equivalent of peanut butter, available in the U.S.) and add lemon juice, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic.  Easy and delicious!  I also made an eggplant soup last week, which added a little variety to the baked eggplant.  Ingredients like chives and mint leaves gave me something to talk to the vegetable man about.

Another common Israeli dish is a vegetable salad of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and parsley, in a light dressing of lemon juice and olive oil.  Falafel in pita and schwarma (similar to a gyro, but different flavors and meat) are common street foods.  Delicious, but not so nutritious.  - by Lisa Crystal, our MSIH September blogger.