Bring home the tastes of Israeli street fare

Walk down any main street in Israel and your senses become acutely aware of food. You see people eating out of hand while rushing or strolling, smell the rich, smokey aromas of a grill and hear vendors calling out their taste-tempting wares. Falafel is the national preferred dish for a quick, filling meal Other street snacks are boiled fresh corn, hot bourekas (spinach-filled pastry), cheese pastries (sambousak) and hot bagels (not like ours) sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Shwarma, strips of chicken, turkey or lamb cooked on a large upright spit, is yet another pita-filled favorite. Israel’s food fest lasts long into the wee hours with sidewalk cafes serving everything from coffee and cake to a full meal.

Shwarma | Serves 6-8

5-6 chicken breasts, cut into pieces
1 cup mayonnaise
2 lemons
1 onion (chopped)
10 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. coriander
Add all ingredients except lemons and chicken in a bowl. Squeeze in the juice of the lemons and mix very well. Add the chicken and marinate in refrigerator overnight, or up to two days for really strong flavor. Grill chicken pieces until well browned on both sides, checking to make sure the insides are thoroughly cooked. Serve with mejadra and a salad or fill in warm pita, along with tehina and Israeli salad.

Mejadra (Middle Eastern Rice and Lentil Dish) | Serves 6

1 cup brown lentils
1 cup brown or white rice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 onions, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
Cover lentils with water and cook about 45 minutes or until tender. Drain.
Put rice, water, salt, pepper and cumin in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all moisture is absorbed and rice is tender. In a skillet sauté onions in olive oil until golden. Add to rice mixture. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot or room temperature mixed with yogurt.

Fried Eggplant | Serves 6-8

3 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices
4 canned or jarred roasted red peppers, cut into strips
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup vinegar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying
chopped fresh parsley
Sprinkle both sides of eggplant slices with salt and put into colander to drain for 30 minutes. Blot dry with paper towel.
In a large skillet heat oil and fry eggplant slices until golden. Drain on paper towels.
In a bowl, combine with pepper strips. In a small bowl mix ketchup, vinegar, garlic, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour over eggplant. Gently mix and chill for 2 hours before serving. Garnish with parsley.

Falafel | Makes about 60 balls

2 1/2 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbs. chopped fresh
coriander leaves
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 cup flour
oil for frying
In a food processor puree all ingredients except oil. Make small balls about 1 1/4-inch in diameter. Place on waxed paper.
Heat oil in medium saucepan and deep fry a few balls at a time. Drain on paper towels.
Serve about 6 balls in pita bread with salad, hummus and tehina.

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].