When one travels great distances it is like spending time in suspended animation. The cocoon of space inside the plane fosters a sense of slowness; time lags as if the day wills simply last forever. You are almost afraid to question how long it has been in fear of discovering that time really has slowed down to insignificant strikes of the second hand. The dark stillness of the air inside the plane exacerbates the insulation of the individuals. Even with ones travel companion, conversation halts to terminal slowness, books meant to be read are forgotten, and drowsy sleep comes fitfully and incompletely. The time is broken by the carts which amble up the aisle with ‘snacks’ or water, the inpalatability punctures the dark in an almost carnal way. The act of chewing a roll, (hard, brittle and stale) or using the lavatory punctuates the minutes and becomes so profoundly real compared to the ephemeral nature of all other acts.
With the final whoosh and bump of landing the passengers neatly divide themselves into two categories. Those who are content to wait and debark a plane in order of rows and those who must jump to fill the holes in rows, arms akimbo and shoulders slammed between overhead compartments, heads jutting like giraffes thorough the crevices of the seats. Seemingly normal individuals (who must function in their lives and jobs) become depraved line jumpers and shovers determined to vacate the plane as quickly as is humanly possible.
I am always a bit giddy with my first steps on foreign soil. Like the brush of a new lover, every sense is heightened in anticipation and awareness of what is happening. Even eighteen hours travelling can’t dampen the keen sense that something special is about to begin. The first advertisements in the airport always catch my breath; languages, images, products, all so unfamiliar and yet so universal with their longing images. Customs and immigration; I might be the only person alive who likes this process, the opening of the passport and then the WHUMP of the stamp is so final. You are here now. This is your journey. The opening of the door into the real airport (everything before was just foreplay) to all the cabdrivers who wait like patient raptors for their prey to descend. And now it begins. The foreignness of it all…
The light is brighter here; both the fluorescents and the daylight. It is almost as if as desert people they need more light to thrive and produce a combination of artificial and natural to meet their photosynthesis needs. Arising like Agribah from the desert, the swirls of lights; colored and white envelop you in their swirl with each dance down a city sidewalk. Lighting appears to be random, not so much suited to function but to form. The architectural details and relief are set in Technicolor shadow.
The city is surprisingly quiet as I step into it. Shabbat has just ended and the streets are empty. The city has not yet awakened from its religious slumber. By the time I have showered and changed and emerged into the streets the people are beginning to stretch their collective arms, sigh their joint sighs and emerge blinking into the night. Families are promenading, sitting in the plaza and generally behaving the same as they do in small towns the world over.
One step into the markets and I am home. The familiar smell of murky morning and earth with a faint hint of brine and rotted flesh, produce stacked in pyramidal forms, cheeses in their water brine, and men and women of indeterminate age pushing carts through the early morning steam are like every fresh produce market in every country I have ever been. While each have their own distinct flavor, the commonalities are more redolent. Instead of Hebrew I could easily be hearing Spanish or Italian or Greek as the merchants set up their stalls, shouting greetings to each other and barking prices to the first customers of the day. The streets are cobblestoned and wet from the early morning rain; slippery and treacherous in sandals. Making the mistake of wearing a hemline that touches the ground I look all the word like an American tourist as I hold my dress up from the muddy streets. My first stop is the cheese seller. Cases and cases of cheese both fresh and aged fill the tiny stall occupied by some four different salesmen in a space no larger than my bedroom. I am immediately ignored as I speak no Hebrew, but can recognize many of my favorites. Fresh feta and white cheese are everywhere. Different spices are both incorporated in the cheese and brine, I recognize Zaatar and pimento from the smell and color but the rest elude me, I must come back with someone to interpret for me. The next tour is to peruse the fruits and vegetables and see if there are any friends I have yet to know lurking in the depths of the stalls. There are many favorites; purple artichokes with crisp sharp spines, radish the size of your hand, tender and tiny Armenian cucumbers, red and lush Israeli tomatoes that you can smell from almost ten feet away, and a jumbled myriad of green herbs, sprouts and lettuces stacked well over head height. Tucked in all this treasure I find two things I cannot identify, a red fruit that looks like one of Hadyn’s bouncy balls with wobbly spikes (later identified as being a ‘patuta’ from Thailand) and a grey feathery herb that has a smell not unlike sage but a flavor as a cross from licorice and lavender.
The Carmel market covers about 15 city blocks in a haphazard fashion, with the main thoroughfare devoted to the fruits, vegetables, spices and teas that Israel is famous for. Juice stands squeeze an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables at block intervals and tea merchants with little sipping cups of tea flog them to passersby to draw you in. I am immediately pulled in by a tea seller that offers me a beautiful pink brew with the smell of rose hips and pomegranate. Each tea is its own visual work of art for the color and texture contained in the bulk bins. And then there is the fragrance…. with the hand that has yet to stop smoking he grabs my head (no kidding) and shoves it towards the boxes grabbing handfuls with his free hand and holding them to my nose. “Here smell, smell” as far as I can tell this is the full extent of his English because no matter what I ask this is the answer. I dutifully smell each box until coming back to the one that I tasted in the beginning. The flavor is slightly lemon and sweet even without sugar. The color is so beautiful that it looks like rubies in the sunlight. It is one of those perfect moments; the tea, the smell, the fullness in my mouth, the light bouncing off the wet cobblestones causing the steam to rise and jettison a purplish hue from my glass. It is moments like these that I am completely in love with what I do. The sheer joy of exploring and knowing and discovering all over again the things you had quite forgotten. Of course, I buy too much tea. Happily and unreservedly and quite like an American I don’t even care how much it costs.
The juice bars are as common as Starbucks in New York; at least two per corner. They are readily identified by the piles of fresh fruits and vegetables on the outside of the stand you can select from and the violent yellow, orange and lime green of the decor. It is hard to gauge prices here since the dollar is so depressed but it seems affordable to Israelis. My favorites are pomegranate and grapefruit but there are a myriad of offerings from the patuta (surprisingly vivid purple and floury) to beet and carrot. Each juice barista has their own shtick. Entertaining me with their broken English, their stories of America and Americans (“My cousin lives in Brooklyn, perhaps you know him?” no kidding) and their desire to help you get to wherever it is you are trying to go. This last is fraught with difficulties. It’s not that they deliberately intend to get you lost; it’s just that Israeli directions are so much more vague. “Go straight, then left, then right” no street names, no markers, no identifiers it’s like playing twenty questions without adjectives to get anywhere. Even the maps leave about fifty percent of the streets unidentified.
We journeyed into the old port city of Jaffe tonight. Jaffe is predominately Arab and is a distinctly separate city from Tel Aviv. It is ancient, as well, compared to Tel Aviv’s infant status of 103 years. Everywhere you look vaulted ceilings of exposed brick house commonplace place shops, groceries, restaurants indiscriminately. There appears to be a “paint color code” because everything is white, white, white and then to break it up some plain brick or iron work. While looking at the architecture and the skyline you would feel that nothing had changed here in a very long time the actuality is that this is a vibrant artist’s community with many artists from Tel Aviv setting up shop in the Old Town. While my companions were noticeably more skittish in the Arab Quarter, I actually felt more comfortable. Ironically, despite Tel Aviv’s sex shops and stripper clubs there is an exclusive prudishness that overlies the city. In Jaffe the men walk with a swagger that you can almost smell it’s so redolent with testosterone. My waiter, who was easily fifteen years younger than me, flirted indiscriminately with me and my companion who is twenty years younger (they pool tips; I asked) and you almost felt as if his day wouldn’t be complete unless you gave back something in return even if only a coquettish smile and a blush. It was easy to fawn all over him though. Not only was he so cute I wanted to pinch him, the food was simply fantastic… I had a falafel plate with fifteen side salads, twelve of which were vegan and three vegetarian. Utterly, in complete vegan heaven; hummus so rich and thick with tahini that your fork could stand straight up in it without falling over, fresh flat bread that is charcoal scented it is so recently out of the wood burning stove and vegetables and herbs too numerous to list but you could just tell they were straight from the market that morning. The Middle Eastern tradition (claimed by many cultures) of the multiple salads (mezze) at your table is one I am adopting as soon as I get home. They load your table up with these tiny little taster plates of different types of savory spreads, sauces and salads and Arabic flatbread. Each restaurant has its own selection but there are definitely some favorites that repeat everywhere. Hummus, babaganoush, green cabbage health salad, cucumber and dill with yogurt, tabbouleh, pickled red cabbage, it goes on and on. The tea is a fennel tea served with mint and lemon in a tall straight glass and the lemonade fresh squeezed with too much sugar but still as fresh as could be. Falafel is apparently considered fast food here and very low class (who knew!) but it was delicious. I would venture to say that other than my spinach falafel it is probably one of the best I have ever had, so moist and succulent that you don’t even need anything to dip it in. Hummus comes in so many varieties and flavors here that you have entire restaurants designed around hummus. It is also a subject of much passion and ardent conversation, about which everyone has an opinion, as I discovered on the cab ride over… As if the Arabs and Jews don’t have enough to quarrel over.
It is morning and I am discovering, much to my joy, how utterly foul unwashed bodies can smell in close proximity. The cab driver to Jerusalem has already managed to drop my computer, place my luggage in the filthy sludge of the sidewalk and put his seat back so far my feet and knees are in the middle bump. Computer fine (obviously) and I prepare to meditate for peace and patience through the remaining hour long ride.
After an hour of writing fervishly and breathing through my mouth we begin the ascent and descent into the city. Amazingly my conception of Jerusalem must have been completely confined to what must be the Old City and I am completely stunned at how large and urban it is. There are building cranes everywhere towering above the building at their base I can count at least thirty on one hillside alone.
The Old City is nothing like I imagined it. It is amazing how you build up things in your mind (sort of like a blind date with no descriptors) and then find that the reality is nothing like the vision. There is construction and excavation seemingly everywhere; and people, masses of people in every manner of traditional dress pushing and jostling their way through the gates. The first obstacle though is not really the pilgrims or the holes in the ground, but rather the tour guides (easily one per meter of sidewalk) that are even more aggressive than those working their way to the holy sites; and then come the shop keepers, every manner of byzantine bazaar craft and relic and souvenir is tucked into the labyrinth of tunnels and covered streets. You literally disappear from the outside and get sucked into this underground underworld grotto with vaulted ceiling and roofs and tiny steep cobblestone alleyways. I am not fond of being touched by people I don’t know and this was an exercise in self restraint not to push people away as I coast down the hill barely of my own volition. There are no signs and I am focused on keeping my feet squarely on each slippery cobblestone without ending up under the rush of people. Frequently during the fifteen minute slide downhill I am saluted (I am taller than almost everyone) and told that I would bring luck by visiting their shop. (Not if you knew me, I mutter to no one in particular). I have walked downhill (already thinking about up) forever, when I see a tiny sign pointing in an indeterminate direction between alleys and I follow the masses making the bet that the group with more yarmulkes is heading in the right direction. Success, I am at security and the Western Wall is right around the corner.
It’s small. Like the Sistine Chapel the first time. You think it’s going to be so big and then it isn’t and there is a moment that you are caught in limbo between expectation and disappointment and then just as you are preparing yourself for the twinge it becomes something that simply is. Because that is exactly how to describe it, IT IS filled with the strongest energy that I have ever felt in a place. In one single horriplated moment I am swept up with the whooping and singing groups that are surprisingly not rushing to make their way to the wall. There is the journey to the woman’s side, the ritual hand washing, the prayer writing, and then the approach. It is loud and noisy and so unlike a Christian service I start laughing, only to cry instead and find tears streaming down my face with no regard for the fact that I am not Jewish. I am at this moment a child of God and He is here in the singing and the dancing and the weddings and bar mitzvahs all simultaneously going on. As sure as I have been about anything in my life I know God is here right now in this moment. It is as real as the joy and love and celebration that are so evidently a part of this journey. I stay for a very long time. Absorbing the celebrations, the prayers, the joy, the pain of those around me; I am firmly entrenched in all tenses, all subjects of the verb “to be.”
Dutifully, I then went to the Temple of the Mount expecting to feel the same magnificent sensation. Let me back up and state that I am wearing the modest garment I own covered by a full length sweater and scarf. I thought carefully about coming here and actually went out and purchased a head covering and said sweater and yet I am barked at as I walk through security that I need to cover up more modestly. OUCH. The architecture is stunning. It is a beautiful building but has no resonance for me. It is, however, the call of the Muja din to prayers that I find strangely haunting and compelling. Oddly enough, the Muslims are far and away the friendliest inhabitants of this little city. I make friends with one falafel maker and his wife who feed me, show me how they make falafel and hold my bags from the market till I can return later that night. They are delightful and while I continue my tour Muhammad goes to the market to get me a “coop” or falafel maker to take home.
Kindness and hospitality are an integral part of their religion and culture; and I realize that I haven’t actually spent time in the company of Arabs other than the simplest of interactions. There is one market that I frequent at home that no matter how little I buy the Elderly man who owns it always includes a candy for me and the baby. And yet as Americans we instantly see them as the ‘other’ in spite of their generosity and hospitality. I make a solemn vow that I will focus my religious wanderings when I get home on making concerted effort to grasp the intricacies of the Muslim faith. I hope it will last longer than my vow to have tolerance this morning while I was contemplating which long lasting deodorant would best suit our cabdriver.
Jumping a millennia or so, we follow the fourteen Stations of the Cross and end up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I am again awash with the passion of the pilgrim as I touch the stone on which Jesus’ body lay after the crucifixion. I do not know if your DNA is imprinted with the memories of your ancestors but I am engulfed in an intensity and ardor so much larger than my small life. The overwhelming longing and sadness are combined with joy and grief simultaneously. Almost as if you want to sing and sob at the same time. The odd thing is that this time I am relatively alone. Scattered women from different religious orders and church groups come and go but it is very quiet, people speak in reverent whispers and creep across the stones. The woman next to me lays her forehead on the stone slab and I follow suit. It is cool and comforting. I feel still and yet at the same time electric. My only explanation for this is collective memory. Whatever this is; it does not belong to me.
A majority of the world has the beginning and imagined glorious end of their religious traditions in this tiny little city begun some three thousand years ago. Christians, Jews, Muslims gather side by side to pray to their Holiest of Holy spots; each literally within spitting distance of each other. Each tradition overlaps and grows out of traditions of the other. For now there is an uneasy truce but it won’t last. It will never last. Not until the world changes to the point where people can share equally without agenda or malice. Until the time when we can respect the beliefs of another without feeling morally superior or even recognize that there is but one God who can be revered in so many ways.
Imagine if you will a rock. This rock is the size of your palm and you can just cover it so it doesn’t show. The rock is smooth and compelling and has every color in the rainbow when you look into its depths. This rock is figuratively and literally Jerusalem. The problem lies in the fact that everyone in the world wants to put the rock in their hand, cover it up, and claim it for their own. But there is only one and everyone wants it because this rock is so special that you are virtually guaranteed eternal life if you own it. The other clincher is that only you must own it, it can’t belong to someone else, it can’t be shared. So kings and paupers and generals and pilgrims all want it, not simply for its intrinsic value but for the divine value of life everlasting.
So I get it, all at once, what has been eluding me in all my religious study, my quest for God, my typical Western crisis of faith. I get the passion of the faithful, the devotion of the believer, and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In my epiphany I understand why this tiny little place, the birthplace of mankind, the epicenter of Creation is so controversial. Everyone wants access to the Holiest of Holy Spots and the Foundation of Faith. At the end of the day the Jews can’t have their third temple and the coming of the Messiah and the Muslims are in hostile territory with their bitter prize on the rock. Everyone is waiting for the Day of Days when the true Messiah comes and everyone is nervous the other guy is going to be in the spot they need. Of course they want to get them out. Of course they fight. The religions are simply incompatible from a logistical standpoint; forget about the ideology. I have no answer (of course) but I understand the anxiety, I can empathize for the first time with the anger and the violence seems less random and more attributable. I do not approve; I do not condone; but I understand.
A small story illustrates the uneasy juxtaposition of the religions. The eighth gate of Jerusalem is sealed until the Messiah comes. The Jews have buried their dead on the hill facing the gate for front row seats for the coming of the Messiah; the Muslims have put a graveyard right in front of the gate so that the most religious of the Jews, who aren’t allowed around the dead, cannot come through the gate. The Christians wait at the sidelines to lead the true Messiah over to their team. As our guide Mitch says in his Yiddish accent “First coming? Second coming? If someone
comes and brings world peace we’ll dicker about the details later.”
My last stop in Jerusalem is the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. No language has yet been written to convey the depth of despair and pain captured in this soaring monument to the human spirit, will to survive and courage. The horror is punctuated by moments of humanity that leave your breath ragged and your soul reeling. The last room in the thirty odd exhibitions after five hours of wracking emotion is the “Hall of Names.” The room is circular and in the middle there is a bottomless pool that reflects the light of the open ceiling. Around the outside of the wall separated by a parapet are the black volumes that record the names of all who perished. The exit takes you from this enclosed concrete tomb to a soaring expanse of glass and wind and light. People and history fall away and all that exists is the sensation of soaring and freedom and life. If you time it just right you stand on this balcony alone and the wind rushes over and lifts you. Surrounded and suspended in the hand of God.
The Israelis do not fool around when it comes to airport security. You are separated from your companions, asked questions and then the answers are compared between personnel. Don’t elaborate, don’t be too friendly, and don’t give answers to what they don’t ask. My companions are nervous people. Always the first in line, jostling their way to the front rather than be left behind, always worried about what is on the other side of the hill rather than enjoying the view. Surprisingly (or not) they are the ones that get singled out. I sit and watch with wry amusement as they squirm answering too many questions and acting like they are guilty of some nefarious act simply by virtue of their own discomfort with the foreignness of the Israeli culture and their own Jewish place in it. The attempts to explain my place in this little group I find humorous and at the same time roughly invasive; “No, not wife, friend, not mother, friend, not Jewish, no Hebrew.” Everyone seeks to give me definition as the ‘other’ and yet strangely enough it is not my luggage being torn apart.
Imagine you are in a room with five hundred people who all believe that it is their divine right to be first. This could begin to describe the exodus to Eliat but really misses the full richness of the smells, sounds, shoving and utter humanness of it all. My companions are first bouncing off the bench shoving their way to the middle of the fray bound and determined to be on the bus and board the plane. My western reluctance to being touched by strangers aside, I simply cannot fathom any earthly reason that I would wish to prolong this experience so I hang to the back waiting till the last tram pulls into the gate before reluctantly climbing aboard. Lest you think I am one of those world travelers filled with boredom and ennui let me reassure you that I am not, I am just as excitable as the next person. I simply can see no joy in being jostled off an armrest and six inches from a seat back for longer than necessary. (Also, and more tellingly, I am crouched beside the one electrical outlet I can find, frantically charging my computer.) As this trip is completely Middle Eastern in its cultural makeup (as far as I can tell I am actually the only American and one of three Westerners) it is actually fascinating to lose yourself in the behavior and allow me to make a couple of gross generalizations:
1. There is no concept of personal space. None whatsoever. There is just space that you are not using and that should be filled. A vacuum that you just neglected to notice but don’t worry it will be addressed. You will be touched, shoved, pushed and no one will even think anything twice about it. If you move them or their body parts or their luggage from pressing against you they will look at you askance as if you suffer from agoraphobia.
2. Line jumping is a time honored tradition. It is not considered rude since everyone is trying to do the same thing and be right at the same place. The ones that win are better. If you let people pass that is a sign of weakness not good upbringing.
3. All the men smoke. All of them from the first second in the morning till last one at night. It is as pervasive and present as a peculiar cologne and gamey mouthwash. The cigarettes don’t smell like they do at home. It is much less acrid and actually pleasant. After a couple of days you can pick out the American cigarettes in the crowd by the recoil of your nasal passages.
4. They have a weird fondness for American music of the 30s and 40s. This is my theory on this: since the cultural history of the Jews is obliterated by tragedy during this time period the co-opted music is an attempt to redefine those years with something other than horror. One cannot live perpetually in sadness.
5. There exists a very uneasy truce with Israel and the Gentile and Muslim world. Tolerated, yes. Welcomed, no. You are always being watched. I have actually been congratulated by my companions for my ability to blend on this trip. I quickly assessed the local fashion trends and with a few purchases adjusted so I fit in. It saves a lot of staring and helps me out in the markets.
My companions have taken their leave of me for the time being. With a breath of relief we have both gone off to our own vices. There is a moment in every trip where you are weary and bitchy and simply long for something familiar. I am at that moment. It is not the environment, not the locals, simply travelling with people that are as unlike me as a mouse to a magpie. Add to that all the normal complaints and whininess and I am completely out of tune with myself. If you met me in the street you would think me a kind person. I actively look for ways to help people; I carry bags for old ladies, hold open doors, put money in parking meters and pick up litter off the streets. But I am not today. I am with two people who think me incredibly dear, one of whom would do literally anything for me and all I can think about is getting away from them and having some time to myself. I feel guilty and still I just want to hide in the sauna or the gym and tune to a different channel. Normally I would blame my hormones, lack of sex in my life, my crappy day but here I have nothing to blame but myself and I am left to face my own moral center. I do not like this middle aged white woman. I do not like who she has become. I am questioning my journey and I really don’t even like that.
You cannot sit in the hand of God and not come away with some sort of profound growth or learning. I feel, given my absolute bitchiness, that I am failing miserably in my quest during this journey. The whole point was to be closer to God, closer to following the path I know to be the right one. As it is, I feel like my middle class doubts are just the self-absorbed verbal masturbation of my generation. Even writing it feels as false and indulgent as I do.
It is at these worst moments of cringing self loathing that I try and remember what I am best at. With an inner dialogue that sounds remarkably like a 70’s self help book, I form a mantra of things I am proud of; shake myself off and move on to what I do well….
Let me take a moment to talk about the bread. I am spoiled. Good bread is something I expect as a matter of course but the bread here exceeds all tastes and expectation. They have something equivalent to a steam table in which street vendors keep the bread warm. It looks like a large flat tray set over a wheelbarrow and makes the long thin loaves taste just like they came fresh out of the oven. The loaves are shaped like elongated O’s with semolina and sesame as the predominant tastes. A packet of Zaatar is given to dip the bread in (it needs olive oil and feta and some tomatoes) but it is too dry for that. The bread itself is magnificent, looking at the loaf I never intend to eat more than one side (as long as my forearm) but find that the flaky wisps inside the crisp crust have simply evaporated. And that is just one type of street vendor; there are so many, from the flat breads to the “pizzas” to the fresh loaves in a multicolored, multi seeded and multi topping array. The commonality, I decide, is the use of fresh ingredients, unbleached flours, no chemicals and preservatives. Of course, this suits my theory, so I will have to do some research to make sure it is not just wishful thinking. I believe that I can taste the difference between unbleached and bleached flour and this will give me a chance to prove that.
Because Israel is predominately kosher the restaurants, kiosks, street vendors and literally everything but the grocery stores are divided into two basic categories: meat and dairy. Because it is forbidden for kosher dietary laws to mix the two, restaurants must make a choice of which they wish to serve or have two completely different kitchens and several hours between transitions. Ironically it is actually easier to be vegan in the meat restaurants. The main dishes are meat based but everything else generally is vegan. In the dairy restaurants somehow cream and cheese and yogurt find their way into virtually every dish. While I have not been vegan here even for two meals strung together, let me say in my defense that Israel practices exactly what I preach in terms of local and uncontaminated food sources. The dairy is RGbH free and fresh; unspoilt by steroid or hormone enhanced milk. Kosher standards are high and the kibbutzes are a humane bastion of dairy production. Strangely, I am having no allergic reaction to the cheese which normally happens when I stray.
Most hotels offer an unlimited Israeli breakfast in the morning. Fruit juices, generally including orange, grapefruit and lemon are pulpy and fresh squeezed; cappuccinos are steamed while you watch and there is a surprisingly good Turkish instant coffee plus an amazing variety of local teas. Fresh bread of many varieties is in endless supply and oftentimes wood fired pizza. This is not a traditional western pizza but more doughy with tomato sauce and feta. The fresh cheese bar usually has a selection of fresh white cheese, labne, cottage cheese, feta, mozzarella and chevre as well as yogurt in about four forms. The cheeses will come with a variety of seasoning swirled through them and some of my favorites are hyssop, sour goat cheese balls in olive oil and sundried tomato pesto, and white cheese with Zaatar, olive oil and olives. Smoked or pickled fish including herring and bonito and salmon are a breakfast essential. The lox here has a combination of dill and mustard seeds that is particularly pungent and compelling after the first tiny sliver. There is always a tuna salad of mixed vegetables and dry tuna which may or may not have vinaigrette on it. The salad bar at breakfast is not as complex as the dinner version and generally has the varieties of vegetables separated so that you can mix your own. The composed salads are simple and do not include mayonnaise but rather yogurt as a binder. Some of these are cucumber salad with yogurt and dill, couscous salad with cucumbers, scallions, tomatoes and parsley. There are hardboiled eggs stamped with their slightly blurry little kosher marks signifying their purity. There are tiny little timbales of roasted vegetables and eggs along with an omelets bar where the omelets are prepared on a flat top griddle rather than a pan. Approximately a twelve inch diameter of thin egg slurry is poured on the flattop, sprinkled with parsley, peppers and onions and optional cheese (only one sliced variety similar to Gouda) and then turned onto each other in origami squares. The outside cooks the inside with the heat and the end result is a four by four envelope with little egg sheets of paper in between. One of my favorite breakfast discoveries is a tiny little pancake/latke combination. It is puffy and as you bite into it you are stunned to discover flavors far more chewy, dense and complex than expected. They need none of the syrup or nutella provided to moisten these tiny little buttery morsels. The fresh fruits such as grapefruit and oranges are peeled and sliced, there is the full range of dried fruits, olives granolas, and if you are simply in need of something more a puff pastry bar of tiny stuffed morsels of sweet cheese, potato and dried fruit to round out the assortment. I can say in all sincerity that Israel has the most compelling breakfast tradition of any country I have ever been in. Not only has each breakfast been simply superlative at every single place I tried, breakfast is an event, a gathering, a literal break fast of the night and joining again with family and friends. I am guilty of the Western habit of skipping breakfast on a daily basis and if I wake up literally starving I will grab a quick piece of fruit or something far worse just to quell my hunger.
I have been heaping my plate full of all the salads and then just because I can the feta and bread. In five days when I leave I will go cold turkey vegan again but until then I love intensely every warm milk coffee and fresh feta morsel that passes my lips. For lunch and dinner the same format is followed but you would order a main dish as well as the salad bar. The Israeli salad bar puts anything in the states to shame not because of size but because of the quality of the offerings. Each salad is fresh, perfect, prepared from scratch and has the finest possible vegetables and ingredients. The produce is consistent perfection. The weakness, if it is one, is the lack of strong flavors and seasonings. Personally I prefer a much more defined palate with stronger flavors but the Israeli obligingly provide condiment trays if you wish to enhance the dishes. Little bowls of Zaatar, Hyssop, Lemon Juice, Harissa, Oils, Mustards, Pesto, Aioli, Sundried Tomato and Olive Tapenades wait on each buffet.
It occurs to me that I have said little of Eliat: probably because it is so remarkably similar to an American seaside resort with its boardwalks and large hotels; perhaps because I have insulated myself with my computer and books to catch up on schoolwork and writing and have had little contact with the locals or the outside. I have had a ‘fish spa’ of little doctor fish that have reportedly antiseptic powers as they nibble the dead skin of your feet like tiny benign toothless pinpricks. A month old cut reopens and the little bastards turn into swirling Piranhas feeling like razorblades against the open flesh. I have worked out at the worst gym in the world and I have a hot oil massage only memorable in that Olga and I, between our combined eight languages, share not one in common.
Crossing the border into Petra is like stepping back to my mid twenties. This is a REAL border crossing, no jokes, no games, yes they are all armed with machine guns and no, not one of them will smile at you. As Americans we get used to being the privileged ones that everyone wants in their country but here you are also an object of suspicion. There is a no man’s land approximately the length of a football stadium between Israel and Jordan and in the process of crossing you must go through three different checkpoints, be questioned potentially three times and pass muster with the guards stationed the whole way of the journey by foot. It is eerie and quiet in the very morning light. We are the first group to go through so it is desolate as well and that only lends to the illusion of border crossing made many years ago. If this were a movie one of the watchtower guards would shout ‘Halt’ in a bad German accent and our plucky heroine would run dodging bullets to the very last steps to freedom where she be hit fatally and at the same moment press the war changing communiqué into the hands of her lover waiting for her at the gates. It could happen…
But it doesn’t and I am firmly entrenched in 2011 as I cross. Everyone is exceedingly businesslike and matter of fact about your journey. As far as I can tell there is but one reason to go into Jordan and that is tourism. Petra to be exact, the millennial old stone carved cliffs of royal tombs and Bedouin dwellings, or Indiana Jones fame. We are met by Amir, our guide on this side, and he urges us to buy at the souvenir shop, get drinks, and to use bathroom for the bus ride is very long. I happily oblige on all points; the souvenirs are much more fun here; dusty as if they might actually be old or really come from the desert, and amazingly most all of them are one item. Not mass produced snow globes or magnets although there is definitely some tackiness in evidence. Our little band of eight individuals from all corners of the globe clambor aboard the bus and settle in for the three hour drive to Petra. We drive through the sister city of Eliat called Aqabar It is desolate, filled with half constructed building bearing graffiti and concrete tenement housing. There is little foliage or greenery and our guide gives us a sales pitch on how great the income from tourism is and will be in the future. I can see no one even walking the streets and the building projects have obviously been sitting abandoned for quite some time.
We travel up the mountains for about an hour supposedly following the tracks of Moses in the desert till we stop at a small desert dwelling in the middle of nowhere for you guessed it souvenirs, bathrooms and drinks. It turns out to be utterly delightful inside with a dozen or so men in native dress drinking Turkish coffee and tea, eating sandwiches and huddled by the propane heaters. I quickly talk my way into the kitchen and am shown where they prepare the food and coffees. Astoundingly everything is handmade with the exception of the valves, pipes and tanks. They have fashioned a propane system that heats a large kettle drum while pressing the sandwich on the top with a mutated flatiron. Everything is spotless and covered with tinfoil to keep it clean and prevent the desert sand from eroding it. I am unwilling to try the grilled sandwiches of a funky bologna and creamy white cheese (although the searing bread smells delicious) but the tea is potent and minty and unsweetened.
We travel further on, passing thorough the town of Wadi Musa on the outskirts of Petra. The desolation is equally evident here. As we wind our way through the streets you can glimpse in the tiny shops no more than twenty square feet and see the variety of goods sold. There are never many and the shoppers are all local, I can see no evidence of tourism and little evidence of people. There are however many hotels and restaurants that proclaim that they are expected.
A little farther on is the National Park and Petra. The entrance is a good kilometer walk from the site and this is where the horses and carriages will meet you and talk you down the steep incline if you don’t choose to walk. We opt for the walking tour to the downhill and with yet another stop for bathrooms, drinks and souvenirs we take off down the hill. I will later grow to appreciate our guide, but for different reasons altogether. He simply is no storyteller. These magnificent ruins are anywhere from five to three millennium old and so fraught with history I literally can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I consult my glossy English guidebook of Petra to determine if they are dwellings, tombs or effigies and make my way to the bottom. Wow. Even though you can no longer enter these royal tombs, amphitheatre, facades, dwellings, there is a profound appreciation of the master craftsmen that toiled away at the sandstone rocks to build this. One of our companions asked the question of “why” they would waste their time carving if there was nothing behind it. For the unspeakable beauty I think; to create something from nothing that glorifies your life as homage to God…I too easily understand.
The Bedouin still dwell here towards the bottom of the hill. I locate several open fires where they are cooking bits of meat and chicken and teapots brewing and caves where they are apparently oblivious to the rule that the park must be vacated at dark. The children sell postcards and necklaces and tell you how beautiful your eyes are for money. One little girl had me pegged in an instant when she told me she wanted to open her own business. I, of course, gave her money for simply being so clever at nailing me. The Bedouin are actually quite garrulous, have strong linguistic skills and will tell you all manner of things if you ask questions. Their version of Nabatean history is infinitely more colorful than our guides and weaves around the souvenirs in the shops set on virtually every escarpment. If you would believe half the stories you are buying museum quality antiques for 15 dinar or approximately twenty dollars. I walk away clutching a “true Bedouin silver antique from the time of Laurence of Arabia” for thirty dollars. It was pretty and I didn’t care.
We climbed all over the spots you could climb, rode camels, took pictures, ooh and ahhed at the vistas and the stone (magnificent color striations) and I spoke with as many Bedouins as I could and then it was time to make our way back up the hill. The price of the horse to ride you out of the park was included in the exorbitant price of the day’s sojourn. My companions would happily have opted to walk rather than come within twenty feet of such things but I am deeply and profoundly horse crazy. I literally swoon at the possibility of riding and turn into a love struck teenager. I learned to ride when I was two, spent a summer cutting cattle and busting broncs on a subsidiary of the King Ranch and have loved more horses than I can comfortably count. I also am a damn good rider. Damn good.
I immediately pick out the horse I want she is almost two hands taller than any of the rest and looks regal, proud and a little bit bitchy. I get that, and like it too. So I hop up, hand my companion my wallet and camera and bribe the guide to let me ride on my own. It took nothing more than a pretty please and batting of the eyelashes to get my way. I move to the front of the chain gang and at the front ask the other guide if I can go on ahead. You can ride he asks? Like a dream, I answer and before he can say anything more I give her head, a flick of my wrist and the tiniest touch of my heel and we are off. She has a fluid gate and is as fast and strong as I think she will be and as we round the first empty stretch at a cantor I am at her neck, urging her on and she is happily obliging. The second stretch we start flying with a full gallop and are about halfway up the hill in about three minutes when the next bend brings trouble to our path. An elderly Bedouin man is leading his horse down the left side of the stone enclosed alley and I move farther to the right. He looks at me with abject terror in his eyes and starts backing his horse in path. I must have maybe fifteen feet to impact and I pull up as hard as I can to the right to get around screaming at the same time for him to get out of my way. He moves his horse more completely to block me and there is nowhere to go. We crash going a full thirty miles per hour into the body of his horse. My horse goes down and I fly over her doing a face plant, tuck and roll in the gravel. Groggily both my horse and I struggle to our feet and then the anger rushes over me and I scream at him “why are you trying to kill me?’ he replies in perfect English (ironically) that “women cannot ride like that, the horse was running away.” No kidding. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t called him a stupid idiot; in retrospect I wish I hadn’t been so angry; in retrospect I wish I had focused on gratitude instead; in retrospect I wish I had understood that from his cultural prejudice woman can’t ride like that not just don’t. In retrospect I wish I had done many things but riding her would never have been one of them. It would have been like wishing not to soar when you had wings.
So, it is not many travelogues when you are given an inside description of the hospitals. Not many you would wish to read anyway. The hardest part of the whole thing is overcoming my pride and arrogance to realize that I am actually injured (the blood spurting from my head was a dead give away to everyone else) because I am still too busy having a screaming match with the man who tried to kill me. Unfortunately with each new rant the blood is gushing at a more rapid rate out of my head so I literally had to calm down or bleed out and wait for the ambulance to arrive. The ambulance drivers are darling with their English and insistent use of the pronoun ma’am. They must have heard it in an old movie because it is their most commonly used vocabulary word and it is pronounced with a John Wayne type drawl. My bleeding addressed, they pile ice on the contusions and we begin the tortuous ascent to the hospital meanwhile collecting my belongings, guide, and companions, in a bizarre sort of caravan. All I will say is that I felt very lucky that I was American when I arrived in the ER. I realized how much we take for granted and even complain about that is so foreign to the comforts of this part of the world. It took the stretcher ride in to realize that I do not want to be treated here and I begin to get a very creepy feeling like if I don’t get out before the process starts I will never be allowed to leave. (sort of like a Twilight Zone episode) My injuries are not life threatening, I will easily survive a trip back to Israel via bus and I ask to leave. Then the tricky part happens; they do not want to let me go. I am told various reasons by my guide (also Jordanian) but whatever the truth is they are reluctant to release me without filing a police report and having, at a minimum, x-rays and stitches. I simply get up and walk out, being blocked every five feet with a new police officer or doctor and reason I should not leave. I politely and firmly reiterate my made up story that a family friend is a doctor in Eliat and I have called him to be waiting for me at the border. This is completely fabricated but allows me and my guide (who thankfully followed the ambulance) to barrel my way through the obstacle course and find my companions in the van outside. I get in the van and say “I’m starving, let’s get something to eat.” Everyone laughs and we escape, literally barreling down the hill towards the Promised Land.
We do stop for food, however, and undeniably it is the highlight of this journey into Jordan. While meat is definitely a status symbol (and as visitors we are afforded the best) there is no shortage of vegan dishes and each is more superlative than the last. The eggplant baked, stuffed with couscous and topped with a roasted pepper puree, the aromatic rice with an allspice and cinnamon perfume, the lentil soup as simple as it is satisfying are just a few of the dishes that await us on a twenty foot buffet. The salad bar has the best Tabbouleh I have ever tasted and several eggplant salads that I will recreate the minute I get into my kitchen. We all eat till we can do little more than moan (mine a little louder than the rest) and make our way back to our van and begin the reverse trek to Israel. This border crossing is even more interrogatory and if there is a common theme to all the questions I have endured for the last four hours one it is that somehow the accident was my fault and that I should not blame anything other than my western arrogance. I will skip over the next couple of hours; one hospital trip is enough per travelogue and focus instead on my gratitude for the outcome and the privilege of being in an industrialized nation.
Back to Tel Aviv
Making our way back to Tel Aviv the next morning proves infinitely more arduous than the first leg. As overwhelmingly kind as the hospital and hotel personnel have been the airport police are that suspicious. We are separated and asked many, many, questions; the whole general jist of the inquiry being that somehow while in Jordan we obtained phone numbers and email addresses of new friends that promised us money in exchange for carrying their terrorist bombs across the sands. No kidding. This lasts for so long that I am certain we will miss our plane. When I point out that I am American and we don’t ‘DO’ terrorism the comment is that perhaps I didn’t know I could be its victim. Now, where were the bags that I was asked to carry on board? In desperation I point out my injuries for the sympathy vote. How were they sustained? Let me elaborate….upon completion of the tale I am told that Arabs do stupid things but there is a smile on her face as she puts the ‘pass’ sticker on my luggage and passport. So glad I could amuse…
Bundle of bruises and aches and pains that I am, I insist on going to the Arab quarter again for vegan comfort food. We go back to the one with the waiter as cute as a button and there he is again. His name is Mohammed and it turns out he is as sweet and nice as he is cute and he takes me on a complete tour of the restaurant. I even see the several hundred year old olive oil well that is about 10 yards deep and filled with olive oil. We go into the kitchen and go through each dish and I dutifully write down the phonetic Arab name and the ingredients I do not know. He gets the chef and we talk for a while. We swap stories of lousy waiters and worse customers, we laugh and moan about what we do, we friend each other on facebook and swap techniques for picklemaking. After an hour of the best conversation I have had in a week and I realize I have actually forgotten how bad I look or that one side of my body is double the other side or that I look like I had a bad argument with a gravel path and the path won….I am at home with my new restaurant family. Despite religious and cultural barriers we speak a common language that is not just a smattering of French and English. We speak the language of food; the passion for feeding people and find such joy for our work that it amounts to its own religion.
Burgers Ballgowns and Boots. If you were to spin a dreidel on the Tel Aviv map chances are that it would land on one of these shops. For reasons I cannot explain, Israeli woman have leaped from shunning fashion as a matter of national pride to embracing ballgowns in a way I have not seen outside of …well anywhere. On one street I literally count twelve formal dress shops and each area of a shopping district boasts one or two, but twelve? I remember shortly after my daughter was born going to one of those off the rack department stores and finding this beautiful formal dress of teal washed silk that had layers of the most beautiful gossamer fabric that literally danced in the air as you swirled. I looked stunning, like a princess as I twirled and spun in front of the communal mirror in the dressing room. “Very nice,” my friend commented, “where are you going to wear it? Tea with the Queen?” It was then that I realized that my fancy dress days were done and there was no point in buying such costumes. So my question really is; where do they wear them? I scour my guide books and English newspapers for a clue, a cotillion, an Opera season in full swing…nothing. It is a mystery.
The burger shops I quite understand. They are burger gourmet paradises. Everything from emu and bison burgers to twenty types of sauces and five types of mushrooms are on the toppings list. Most all of these are kosher, meaning no cheese, but you don’t need it with the array of condiments and toppings to chose from. These are as far away from Mickey D’s as you can imagine, but even the golden arches have a somewhat modified kosher presence in this country. The boot shops are as ubiquitous as the ballgowns but let’s face it that just makes sense: a girl can never have enough boots. If the exchange rate weren’t so bad I would have done some serious damage on that front but as it is I simply cannot justify it even for the thigh high rain boots of polished cami plastic or the purple patent glossy ankle boots …. They will haunt my dreams no question.
My trip back to the market is a slow meander that takes most of my last day in Tel Aviv. If you were to imagine an open air Wal-Mart where everyone smoked while they worked and talked over each other and had the most tantalizing smells you could possibly imagine that would give you an idea of the scope of products and merchandise available here. Jewelry? Sure thing. Electronics? You name it. Snack bar? Got twenty or so. Clothing? Kitchen wares? Household goods? Party supplies? Yup, yup, yup, and yup. You name it and it is at the Carmel Market. A full day alone is nowhere near enough to take in all the goodies and treasures that abound in the tight little stalls. Spice stores alone keep me busy for half the time. Any country that support this many spice stalls per capita has my vote. I review all the spices I don’t know and buy them all, dramatically careening over my weight allowance for later. Anything to declare? Seventeen varieties of Zaatar, fourteen aromatic blends and seven different chili powders… Walking down the hill farther the smells from the street vendors dramatically bring my veganism into question. Why do those grilled lamb morsels smell so good? My knees give out and I am leaning nose pressed against the glass watching the tender little nuggets sized kebabs sizzle on the open flame brazier. I settle for a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice from the stall next door and savor the sour sweet flavor pelting my palate. The ruby red of the juice, the smell of the brazier mingled with cigarettes, the loud cries of the vendors…this is what Israel tastes like.
Recipes from a Middle Eastern buffet
4 cups Garbonzo beans cooked
Liquid to cover
½ cup EVOO
½ cup Roasted onions
¼ cup Roasted Garlic
½ tsp Sumac
1 tsp salt
1 tsp White pepper
4 TB Tahini
Put the garbonzo beans plus cooking or canning liquid in food processor and blend completely. Add all other ingredients but tahini and EVOO. Puree together then add tahini. Taste and correct seasonings. Remove drizzle with evoo and sprinkle with a little more sumac.
I cup tahini ( I like Beirut brand)
2 Tb Lemon Juice
4 cloves garlic smashed
4 scallions finely sliced
½ cup finely diced parsley
¼ cup finely diced mint
Whisk all ingredients together.
Whole Roasted Eggplant with Tahini
1 large Eggplant
1 cup tahini sauce
2 TB diced parsley
Roast a whole eggplant in the oven or on the open flame. Leaving whole and stem on split open and fan out flesh. Pour tahini sauce over, sprinkle with diced parsley and serve.
Labne with Zaatar
Labne is a Middle Eastern cheese or yogurt. To serve simply sprinkle the Zaatar over top and drizzle with olive oil. Several brands are available in the US in a pinch Greek Yogurt will do.
Oil Cured Olives
Mix 2 TB Zaatar, 4 crushed garlic cloves, 1 tsp crushed red pepper with ½ cup EVOO and add to two pounds oil cured olives
Roasted whole Garlic Cloves
Method 1: Cut root end off of head of garlic. Place in shallow baking dish with EVOO to cover halfway up each clove. Bake in a 400 degree oven till the color of light brown sugar. Remove and store in cool dry place or refrigerator.
Method 2: In small saucepan place peeled garlic cloves and EVOO to cover on top of low flame. Heat until cloves begin to be the color of light brown sugar and remove immediately. They will continue to cook for a good five minutes afterwards so watch this carefully. Store in a cool dry place or in the refrigerator. Use for almost anything.
2 cups basil leaves
2 cups parsley leaves
10 fresh garlic cloves
1 tsp salt (plus more to taste if necessary)
½ tsp white pepper
1 cup EVOO
Optional add 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Puree all ingredients in a food processor making sure there is enough oil to cover and that the leaves have no water on them.
Israeli Sundried Tomato Pesto
2 cups sundried tomatoes
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves
½ cup EVOO
½ tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh
¼ cup black pitted olives (optional)
If sundried tomatoes are dessicated put barely enough water to cover in a small pan and bring to a rapid bowl. Turn off heat and let sit. Drain and puree tomatoes with other ingredients.
Labne Balls with Sundried Tomato Pesto
3 lbs labne cheese
¼ cup sun dried tomato pesto
2 TB harissa
2 cups evoo
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Form cheese into balls by using a melon baller. Whisk remaining ingredients together and pour over top. Allow to marinate. If you don’t want dish to be spicy leave out harissa and pepper flakes and substitute with 1 tsp thyme 1 tsp oregano and 1 tsp sumac
1 red bell pepper diced
1 sweet onion
5 cloves roasted garlic
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup parsley
¼ cup EVOO
1 tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
Bake eggplant, fist oiling skin and then putting in a 350 degree oven till soft through. Sautee till soft he onion and red pepper in half the olive oil. Scrape out the flesh when cool and mash by hand till smooth. Stir in all other ingredients.
Fennel with Dill and Onion
2 large fennel heads
1 large red onion
¼ cup Lemon juice (plus more to taste)
2 TB Vinegar
¼ cup Dill
¼ cup EVOO
3 garlic cloves
½ tsp Salt
Optional add 2 tsp green peppercorn mustard to whisked ingredients
Remove fennel core and slice very thin. Slice onion very thin. Mash garlic cloves with salt. Whisk all remaining ingredients and toss everything together
1 lb brown lentils cleaned and picked over
4 carrots diced
1 large yellow potato diced
1 large yellow onion diced
8 garlic cloves smashed
1 ½ TB Cumin
1 tsp allspice
¼ cup EVOO
1 tsp Sea salt
1 tsp White pepper
Wash lentils and put in large stockpot with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and turn off heat allowing to sit for 20 minutes. Drain and repeat procedure this time using vegetable broth to cover. Bring to high simmer. Sautee all vegetables in olive oil till onions are brown and carmelized adding more oil as needed. Add to stockpot with seasonings. Cook till lentils dissolve. Using a potato masher or immersion blender to smash the vegetables. If you wish you can also add turmeric and cayenne (1/2 tsp each) to significantly change the flavor.
Cucumber Tomato Pepper lemon and Parsley
4 Armenian cucumbers
4 Israeli tomatoes
2 sweet red peppers
3 lemons squeezed
1 bunch parsley
¼ cup parsley chopped
Sea salt and white pepper to taste
Chop or dice vegetables to size preference. Whisk other ingredients. Combine.
Cucumber Salad with Dill and Yogurt
8 Armenian Cucumber
½ cup chopped Dill
¼ cup diced parsley (optional)
¼ cup fresh Lemon juice
1 cup Greek yogurt or Soy Yogurt
1 tsp Salt
1 bunch Scallion sliced
½ tsp white pepper
Whisk lemon juice into yogurt. Add salt, pepper and dill, toss in cucumbers and scallions.
4 cups garbanzo beans dried
1 cup chopped parsely
12 garlic cloves
2 large onion chopped
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp white pepper
½ tsp cayenne
2 TB unbleached flour
½ tsp coriander
1 tsp baking soda
Vegetable oil for frying
Soak beans in water to cover for 24 hours and then drain and peel the tough outer skin off. Mix beans, garlic, parsley, onions and puree, Add all other ingredients and puree again. Set mixture aside for thirty minutes or longer and then knead thoroughly adding more flour or water depending on consistency. Spoon mixture into coop and eject into fryer. Cook till the color of dark brown sugar on both sides.
Stuffed Baked Eggplant
8 small eggplant
1 cup fine bulghur
1 cup roasted onion
1 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves
1 cup tomato juice plus more to cover eggplants
½ cup veg stock
¼ cup sundried tomato pesto
1 tsp Pomegranate molasses
3 red peppers diced
3 TB EVOO
Core small eggplant with melon baller. Bring ½ cup veg stock plus one cup tomato juice to boil and add equal amounts of bulghur to boiling liquid. Cover and allow to steam. Sautee red peppers in 3 TB EVOO till soft. Pour extra tomato juice over eggplant and bake in 350 oven for one hour or until soft. Add more tomato juice as needed.
3 large eggplants
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup tahini
5 roasted garlic cloves
3 TB parsley chopped (optional)
1/3 cup EVOO
½ tsp sumac
1 tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
Rub oil over the skin of eggplants and bake in 375 degree oven till cooked through. Probably at least an hour. When cool, scrape the tender flesh into the bowl of food processor or large bowl to mash. Gradually add all other ingredients ending with lemon juice and olive oil, adjusting for more or less depending on consistency. Add in parsley if desired.
2 Eggplant diced and roasted in a high heat oven
3 sweet Onions roasted
1 bunch chopped Parsley
6 Eggs plus 4 egg white beaten well
1/3 unbleached organic Flour
4 Zucchini mandolined
2 Sweet red pepper finely diced
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Thyme
½ tsp Sumac
½ tsp Baking powder
¼ tsp allspice
½ tsp white pepper
¼ cup Vegetable oil (plus some for oiling ramekins)
Bake eggplant and onion in high heat oven till roasted. Sautee zucchini and red pepper in vegetable oil till soft. Beat flour and baking powder into the eggs. Mix all ingredients together and bake in oiled ramekins in a 350 degree oven till cooked through. About 20 minutes.
3 Pita bread torn in pieces
5 Israeli Tomatoes sliced
5 Armenian cucumbers chopped
Lettuce preferably boston or romaine about 4 cups torn in pieces
1 cup Radish sliced and kept crisp in cold water
5 Scallions sliced
1 medium Red onion chopped
2/3 cup Lemon juice
1 tsp Pomegranate molasses
2/3 cup extra virgin Olive oil
4 cloves Garlic
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Sumac
3 TB Vinegar
½ cup chopped Mint
1 cup Parsley chopped
1 cup Purslane
Toast pita bread pieces and set aside. Mash crushed garlic with salt to form a paste then mix with olive oil, lemon juice, sumac, pom molasses and vinegar. Mix all other ingredients in large bowl and toss with dressing and bread. Serve immediately.
½ cup fine Bulghur
½ Onion finely diced
4 Scallions sliced
4 medium Tomatoes finely diced
5 Garlic cloves
½ tsp Salt
½ cup diced Mint
2 bunches Parsley chopped
1 tsp sumac (optional)
2 Armenian cucumbers diced (optional)
1sweet pepper diced (optional)
2/3 cup fresh Lemon juice
2/3 cup Extra virgin olive oil
Boil 1 cup of vegetable stock or water and add equal amount of hot liquid to fine bulghur, cover and let steam. Meanwhile chop or squeeze all other ingredients and toss with fluffed bulghur.
2 lbs peeled and sliced carrots
2 red jalapenos in a fine dice
¼ cup lemon juice
4 TB chopped cilantro
1 tsp cumin
1 TB spicy red harissa
¼ cup EVOO
Diced red onion
4 diced garlic cloves
Boil pot of water and blanch carrots rounds, plunging directly in cold water and drain. Mix all other ingredients and pour over carrots, allow to marinate.
Spicy Red Harissa
12 chili peppers
10 garlic cloves
3 sweet roasted red peppers
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes
1 tsp hot paprika
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp allspice
Puree in food processor and store in refrigerator.
4 lbs kohlrahbi
½ cup peeled garlic
1 cup celery leaves
1 lb celery root
2 quarts water
2 cups vinegar
2 TB mustard seed
2 TB sea salt
¼ cup organic sugar
Peel and dice kohlrahbi and celery root. Chop celery leaves. Put all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, turn off heat and let cool.
• Virtually any vegetable that doesn’t requiring cooking to consume can be substituted for kohlrahbi and celery root. For softer vegetables you will want to pour boiling liquid over and let cool.
2 cups couscous
1 ½ cups vegetable stock
½ cups tomato juice
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp white pepper
1 cup roasted eggplant
½ cup roasted onion
½ cup roasted red pepper
4 roasted garlic cloves mashed
1 TB pesto
¼ cup EVOO
2 TB red wine vinegar
½ cup diced tomato
6 cups torn lettuce leaves
6 roasted artichoke hearts
Boil vegetable stock and tomato juice. Pour over coucous in a large bowl and stir till incorporated drizzle with EVOO and cover with saran wrap till cool. Fluff with a fork. Add all roasted vegetables and spices and mix. You can serve at this point or hold for a day in the refrigerator for flavors to incorporate. Toss with remaining ingredients.
2 cups fine bulghur
1 Eggplant roasted
2 potatoes boiled and mashed
1 cup TVP reconstituted
1 cup vegetable stock
1 lb soy sausage (Gimme Lean is best)
2 cups carmelized yellow onions
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pine nuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp sumac
½ cup white pepper
1 tsp sea salt
Wash bulghur in a very fine sieve. Cover with 2 cups of boiling water and let sit till cool. Mash boiled potatoes and eggplant together with TVP that has been reconstituted in vegetable stock. Mix all of these together with ½ measures of all spices and 1 cup of carmelized onions. Process till it forms a paste, cover and put in refrigerator to chill. Meanwhile cook soy sausage and mix with pine nuts and onions and remaining spices. Make kibbeh balls* and stuff with sausage mixture. Fry in EVOO till even and brown.
• To make kibbeh balls you coat hands in oil and form a gold ball size ball of bulghur mixture. Make a hole through the center of the ball and widen evenly with your fingers basically a hollow sphere. Fill with stuffing and close opening.
Aromatic Rice with Allspice Perfume
2 cups basmati rice
½ tsp Coriander
½ tsp Cumin
½ tsp ground Ginger
1 tsp Allspice
4 cups Vegetable stock
¼ tsp Nutmeg
¼ cup EVOO
½ tsp salt
¼ cup Carmelized onions
Optional – ½ cup golden raisins and ½ cup roasted cashews
Heat olive oil over low heat and sautee carmelized onions with spices and rice till rice is golden. Add stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 15 minutes. Add raisins and cashews.
Lentils and Rice
1 lb lentils
2 cups basmati or jasmine rice
5 cups vegetable stock
3 onions diced
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp white pepper
Wash lentils and put in a pot to cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and turn off heat let sit till cool. Drain. Sautee onions in olive oil and add rice stirring till browned, add spices and lentils and cover with 4 cups of hot vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes and check for doneness adding last cup of stock as needed then cook another 5 to 10 minutes if necessary. Turn off flame but leave covered for 5 minutes then serve.
Shakshuka (Baked Egg Casserole)
¼ cup olive oil
2 cage free organic eggs
1 yellow onion chopped
1 cup diced eggplant
½ cup tomato paste
16 oz can peeled tomatoes
3 crushed garlic cloves
½ tsp sea salt or to taste
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp paprika
2 TB red harissa
Sautee onions, eggplant and garlic cloves in olive oil till carmelized and brown. Add tomatoes, seasonings and harissa and cook until all vegetables break down adding water as needed. Pour cooked tomato sauce in greased casserole and make two holes to break the cage free eggs into. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes till whites are firm but yellows still runny.