Today, you can go to Israel for the food

Every time I visit Israel I am dazzled by the diversity of the cuisine. In its 60th year of existence, this little country has much to be proud of — and its food is no exception.

“Don’t go there for the food” was always a cautionary remark. Hummus and a hearty Israeli breakfast was about all one could expect as far as a culinary experience. Now, tourists can sample world-class wines, sip a perfect espresso at a seaside café and try a variety of excellent cheeses from Galilee goat and sheep farms. Outdoor markets are redolent with exotic spices such as za’atar, hyssop and sumac, as well as the freshest produce I have seen anywhere.

The restaurant scene is dominated by young chefs who are experimenting with fusing classic European and traditional dishes with those of the Middle East. There are TV cooking shows and cooking classes given by famous chefs. Bookstores are full of cookbooks. One that captured my attention is a beauty — “The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey” by Janna Gur. The photos by Eilon Paz make the recipes jump off the page and reflect how far Israeli cuisine has come from falafel and chopped liver.

Fennel and Pistachio Salad

Chef Erez Komarovsky, Erez Restaurant

Serves 4-6

3-4 small fennel bulbs

1/2 cup peeled and pithed lemon sections

kosher salt

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small hot green pepper, seeded and finely minced

2 Tbs. honey

1/2 cup pistachio nuts, shelled, toasted and crushed

Cut fennel bulbs into thin lengthwise slices. Soak in ice water 30 minutes. Drain, mix the fennel with the lemon slices, sprinkle with salt and let rest 15 minutes.

Toss fennel and lemon with olive oil, hot pepper and honey. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts and serve.

Roasted Eggplant and Goat Cheese Soup

Yaron Kestenbaum, Food Art Catering

Serves 10

1/3 cup olive oil

3 carrots, diced

2 onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper

3 eggplants, roasted, peeled and chopped

2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

2 fresh thyme sprigs

6 oz. fresh goat cheese

2 tomatoes, diced

Heat oil in large pot and add vegetables, garlic and bay leaves. Cook about 3 minutes. Add the wine, salt and pepper and cook until mixture thickens. Add the eggplants, milk, cream and thyme sprigs, bring to a boil then simmer about an hour. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Purée the soup in a blender until smooth. Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese and diced tomatoes.

Moroccan Style Hot Fish

Guy Peretz, Restaurant Gazpacho

Serves 8

8 six-oz. pieces of white fish (halibut, snapper, cod)

4 hot red peppers or to taste, cut into strips

2 sweet red peppers, cut into strips

1 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 cup fresh coriander, chopped

8 Tbs. paprika


1 cup olive oil

20 cloves garlic, peeled

3/4 cup water

Line a wide saucepan with peppers and herbs.

In a small bowl combine paprika, salt and 1/3 cup olive oil. Spread mixture on fish and arrange over peppers. Mix remaining oil with garlic and water and pour over the fish. Cook for 12 minutes over high heat, then lower heat, cover and continue to cook another 15 minutes or until sauce thickens.

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].