It may not be kosher, but Israeli cuisine certainly is creative

When it comes to food, Israelis seem to live double culinary lives.

Regardless of their origin, they eat Jewish ethnic foods like falafel and gefilte fish that connect them to their cultural roots, but also indulge in sushi and foie gras to feel a part of the larger world. I am amazed at the dynamic food scene every time I go to Israel, and my last visit was no exception.

At a new restaurant near Mann Auditorium, the waiter, carrying a chalkboard listing the day’s specials, introduced himself and then proceeded to describe each dish. He proudly listed prosciutto, pancetta, bacon and ham in just about all of them. I had to pinch myself as a reminder that I was in Tel Aviv, where not so long ago the “p” word was never even mentioned, let alone offered.

So what is Israeli cuisine today? A fusion of street food eaten on the run and professionally trained chefs creating dishes which incorporate past and present with superb local ingredients, resulting in a varied and rich quality cuisine. Although my palate’s allegiance will always be with Israel’s “soul food” (fresh pita, hummus, salads, etc.), the new Israeli cuisine is cutting edge and is making its mark on the culinary map.

Avocado Cucumber Salad with Mint | Serves 4 to 6

2 ripe avocadoes
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into small chunks
8 mint leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup thick yogurt
olive oil
2 Tbs. lemon juice
salt to taste
Slice avocadoes in half. Remove pits and skins. Dice and place in a bowl with cucumber. Add the chopped mint leaves, garlic, yogurt and lemon juice. Toss gently and salt to taste.

Chickpea Soup with Parmesan Cheese | Serves 6

4 large Portobello mushroom caps
2 Tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 15-oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
5 to 6 cups vegetable stock or parve “chicken” stock
8 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
1 whole pita bread, cut into bite-sized pieces
dried oregano or za’atar for garnish
Cut mushroom caps into 1/4-inch wide strips. In a medium skillet, heat oil. Cook mushrooms until brown around the edges. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
In a food processor or blender, puree 3 cups of the chickpeas. In a medium saucepan combine puree with stock and add the cheese. Bring to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Thin soup as desired with water. Stir in remaining chickpeas.
To serve, put a few pieces of pita and some mushrooms into each of 6 soup bowls. Pour soup over and garnish with oregano.

Stuffed Figs with Chopped Liver | Serves 4

20 dried figs
1/2 lb. goose or chicken livers cut into small pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 cups clear chicken stock
2/3 cup Benedictine liqueur or brandy
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a sharp knife, make a slit in the stem end of the figs, prodding it open with a finger. Sprinkle the livers with salt, pepper and tarragon leaves.
Stuff each fig carefully with a small amount of this mixture. Place the figs stem side up in one layer in an ovenproof dish. Pour the stock and liqueur over them and cover with foil. Place in preheated oven and bake about 25 minutes until sauce has reduced and thickened. Serve as a first course over a bed of greens.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].